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Priest who aided abuse victims ousted; some see retribution

NEW YORK -- The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, the most ardent champion of clergy sex abuse victims among America's Roman Catholic clergy, has been fired by his archbishop and is currently forbidden to lead public Masses.

Doyle said yesterday that Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services withdrew his endorsement of Doyle as a US Air Force chaplain last Sept. 17. Doyle remains a priest, but cannot celebrate sacraments until his career as an Air Force major ends this summer.

The stated reason was disagreement over providing daily Catholic Masses at military bases with few priests. But victim advocates see payback for Doyle's 18 years of activism and sharp criticism of the hierarchy's handling of molestation scandals.

Asked about this, Doyle said ''I certainly would hope not, but I have no way of knowing for sure because I had no opportunity for dialogue."

The archdiocese's chancellor said only O'Brien could discuss the situation, and calls to his office were not returned.

This is Doyle's second career disruption. In 1986, the Vatican Embassy in Washington ended his employment after Doyle became immersed in the molestation issue and coauthored a then-confidential memo that went to all US bishops, warning that abuse was a problem of epidemic proportions. Doyle had been the staff canon lawyer who processed confidential data on US bishop candidates.

Doyle then joined the Air Force. He has provided many victims pastoral counsel, legal advice, and court testimony in suits against the church.

''O'Brien can deny it all he wants," said Jason Berry, a journalist who has covered Catholic abuse cases for two decades, and whose new book ''Vows of Silence" depicts Doyle's career. ''There's not a doubt in my mind that this is retribution for the stand [Doyle] has taken."

David Clohessy of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called retribution ''the only reasonable conclusion."

The ouster mainly involved O'Brien's directive that priest chaplains ''are expected to celebrate Mass daily," though the archbishop acknowledged this ''is not feasible" everywhere.

Doyle was assigned to Germany's Ramstein Air Base, the Air Force's largest overseas facility, and three nearby bases as one of three Catholic priests -- though one is usually deployed elsewhere. Chaplains minister to 15,000 residents and wounded troops, airlifted from the Mideast almost daily.

Colleagues asked Doyle for advice on chaplain staffing under church law, in which he holds a PhD from the Catholic University of America.

O'Brien objected to Doyle's Aug. 16 memo on the subject, which said daily Masses are ''a strong Catholic custom" and ''strongly recommended" by church law, but not mandated.

A laywoman sent the memo to O'Brien, who informed Doyle he was dismissed immediately due to ''your attempt to provide an alternative authority."

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