Catholic Church knew of sex abuse in 1950’s

The National Catholic Reporter writes that as early as the 1950s the US Roman Catholic Church was being warned about sex abuse cases.

As early as the mid-1950s, decades before the clergy sexual-abuse crisis broke publicly across the U.S. Catholic landscape, the founder of a religious order that dealt regularly with priest sex abusers was so convinced of their inability to change that he searched for an island to purchase with the intent of using it as a place to isolate such offenders, according to documents recently obtained by NCR.

Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paracletes, an order established in 1947 to deal with problem priests, wrote regularly to bishops in the United States and to Vatican officials, including the pope, of his opinion that many sexual abusers in the priesthood should be laicized immediately.

Fitzgerald was a prolific correspondent who wrote regularly of his frustration with and disdain for priests “who have seduced or attempted to seduce little boys or girls.” His views are contained in letters and other correspondence that had previously been under court seal and were made available to NCR by a California law firm in February.

Read copies of letters Fitzgerald exchanged with U.S. bishops and one pope.

Fitzgerald’s convictions appear to significantly contradict the claims of contemporary bishops that the hierarchy was unaware until recent years of the danger in shuffling priests from one parish to another and in concealing the priests’ problems from those they served.

It is clear, too, in letters between Fitzgerald and a range of bishops, among bishops themselves, and between Fitzgerald and the Vatican, that the hierarchy was aware of the problem and its implications well before the problem surfaced as a national story in the mid-1980s.

Read the article here.

Rachel Zoll, Salon, reports here.

As horrifying as this lack of reporting and action is, it was standard procedure in many churches, including The Episcopal Church. It was not until the 70s with the ordination of women that the abuse began to be seen for what it is.

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Category : The Lead

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  1. Chas Marks

    I am as horrified as anyone about this situation. The abuse scandal and its handling are among the reasons that I decided to depart the Roman Church. I am confused by this last statement “It was not until the 70s with the ordination of women that the abuse began to be seen for what it is.” Not having been a part of TEC at that time, I was not aware of this. Is there some background information available about this? I would presume that there are lots of things that contributed to Churches taking abuse allegations more seriously in the 1970’s and 80’s; among them more victims coming forward and speaking publicly about their abuse, as well as the shift in world view that began in the 1960’s and 70’s.

  2. Luiz Coelho

    I didn’t get the link with women ordination either, but I imagine it means that there was more transparency in discernment processes after women aspirants were admitted.

  3. My comment comes from when I serving on the National Executive Council of TEC in the early ’80s and are my observation. Men and women were telling women clergy about the abuse they had experienced. The combination of their witness and lawsuits looming – urged the church to get serious about sexual misconduct. The first resolutions to enable the Title IV discipline in this area came from that time. Ellen Cooke, former treasurer of TEC, was a primary force for changing the Church Center’s thinking, Episcopal Church Women and Episcopal Women’s Caucus, and the Task Force on Women in the Church worked on legislation and awareness for this issue. Bishops and Deputies responded with changes to the Canons, training, and screening.

  4. Chas Marks

    Thank-you for the additional information.

  5. tgflux

    (re the post-WO revelations)

    Amazing, the truth that will out, after there’s a crack in the wall of the Old Boy’s Club.

    JC Fisher

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