Diocesan Profiles

May 30, 2009

Since the sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church became more public in 2002 a number of dioceses have been forced to make public the reports of complaints in their files. Although these do not provide a complete picture of the celibate practice in any one diocese, an analysis of the available data can help the Catholic Church in the United States educate and prepare priests better for ministry and protect them and the people they are called to serve, especially children and the vulnerable, from abuse.

All of the following information comes from documentation of complaints registered between 1950 and 2002 and contained in the Burlington Vermont diocesan files.

1.   Sexual Orientation: Of the 102 priests in the Burlington Diocese whose records were available forty-four (44) can be determined to have a heterosexual orientation based on accounts of their behaviors; also from reports of behaviors forty-nine (49) priests can be said to have a homosexual orientation; six (6) priests can be called bi-sexual from accounts of their behaviors. There was insufficient information to determine the orientation of three (3) priests.

2.   Alcohol was noted as an element in eighteen (18) cases of problem behavior. Two priests were sent to treatment specifically for alcoholism.

3.  Sex With Teens: Twenty-nine (29) priests were involved in sex with minors over the age of 14. Two (2) of the priests were sexually active with teen-aged girls, twenty-seven (27) with teen-aged boys.

4. Sex With Children: Twenty-three (23) priests were sexually involved with children under the age of 13 years.  Nineteen (19) priests were sexually in involved with boys. Four (4) priests were sexually involved with girls under the age of 13. Three priests sexually abused both boys and girls under the age of 13. On the basis of these reports these priests can be diagnosed as pedophiles. The youngest child victim reported was a girl 3 years old; the youngest boy was 5 years old.

5.  Behaviors With Minors: The types of sexual behaviors of priests with minors are of special concern. Many records of behaviors with minors are vague and are listed as foundling or “foundling +” to indicate sexually inappropriate touch on the skin, including masturbation, or outside the clothing plus activities minors do not want to specify. Sleeping with minor boys and bathing nude with them was frequently reported. Anal rape of adolescent boys is noted in reports of two priests; in addition anal intercourse is recorded 5 times and oral copulation is also noted 5 times in the list of abuse of minor boys. The use of pornography and incidents of voyeurism were reported. At least two (2) minors were solicited for sex during confession. There is no report that either incident was investigated and processed according to church law. Of all the offenders only two priests were convicted of sexual crimes against minors.

6. Sex With Adult or Married Women: Fifteen priests (15) were reported for involvement with married women; twelve priests (12) had relationships with adult women; two (2) priests impregnated a partner, one was 17 years old; four (4) priests were reported for sexual involvement with housekeepers;

7. Adult Consensual Sex: Although sexual relations between unattached consenting adults is ordinarily a private matter, the power position of a Catholic priest, and the public assurance that he is by profession sexually safe make his sexual activity with adults hypocritical and questionable at the very least. Adult consensual sex is ordinarily not criminal, however, the circumstances listed above create a climate vulnerable to harassment and abuse. Many adult women who report assault register dissatisfaction with church authority when they complain of mistreatment at the hands of a priest. Regardless of the circumstances frequently the woman in such a liaison is branded as the seducer and the priest is easily exonerated and even promoted. This can prevail even following an abortion insisted on by the priest of a pregnancy of his child.

 8. Reports named nineteen (19) priests who had sexual relationships with adult men. There are instances of adult homosexual relations of priests with men or other priests that border on the criminal, however rarely reported.

 9. Notice: Beyond the general notice that all Catholic Bishops have about the sexual activity of clergy due to their position of authority over their priests and the personal communications they receive because of their office, American bishops knew since 1947 of the work of the Servants of the Paracletes (sP) at Via Coeli in New Mexico to help priests with behavioral and moral problems. At one time the Paracletes had long-term half way houses in Minnesota and a seminary in Vermont. Bishops used psychiatric centers and psychiatrists when behaviors, especially sexual activity became a threat of scandal. The records of the Diocese of Burlington show that the bishops received one hundred and forty-two (142) complaints or reports of sexual misbehavior of its priests. The earliest written report dates to 1953 when Edward Ryan was Bishop of Burlington. The first record of priest being sent to Via Coeli was 1954. In 1958 Bishop Joyce referred a sexually active priest for psychiatric treatment in Canada. Although the diocese noted a large number of reports registered in 2002 (16 in the first six months of the year) 10 of the 2002 reports had been made previously, some repeatedly. In some reports sexual activity began in 1940 and consistently the diocese was privy to that activity in the 1950s and 1960s.

10.  Treatment: there are records that fourteen (14) priests were sent for treatment to the Paraclete Center of Via Coeli between 1956 and 1993; ten (10) priests were sent to St. Luke’s Institute between 1978 and 1992; one (1) priest was sent to a priest-psychiatrist in Canada in 1958 for a “homosexual” problem; two (2) priests were sent to the Institute of Living in 1977; two (2) priests were sent, one in 1982 and one in 1990, to Guest House a treatment center for alcoholic priests. Various other treatment centers are mentioned, St. John Vianney in Pennsylvania, St. Francis in New Jersey; retreats were sometimes recommended after priests were reported for sexual violations. There are several notices of psychological or psychiatric evaluations but the reports and providers are not noted.

11.   Disposition after the report of abuse. Some priests were received into service in the Burlington Diocese after they were known to have sexually abused minors previously in other jurisdictions. Seven (7) priests were suspended because of their behavior. Another seven (7) priests sought laicization from the priesthood after sexual involvement with women. Two (2) priests joined the military as chaplains after they were reported for abusing minor boys. Most of the remaining priests were re-assigned to pastoral duties either with or without any indication of psychological treatment. Twenty-nine (29) priests were reported multiple times, i.e. a priest reported for oral and anal sex with teen boys in 1966 and 1970 was sent for treatment only after he was reported a third time in 1992. He was re-assigned to pastoral duties in 1993. Alcoholism was often the stated reason for sending a sexually offending priest for treatment, and indeed alcohol is frequently a component of sexual offences. But only two priests were sent to an institution that treats only alcoholic priests. Bishop Marshall noted in 1983 that he was sending a priest to St. Luke’s who was sent to Guest House in 1975 because he had problems beyond alcoholism. The priest in question was the subject of a report in 1977 of sex with a 14 year-old boy, and solicitation of a minor in 1981. This man had been dismissed from a seminary in 1965 and yet was ordained for Burlington in 1973 after a report of suspicion for bad moral conduct from a seminary in 1971. He was finally suspended in 1990.

 12.   Pattern and Practice of a Diocese: Although the written records supplied do not reflect the total history of sexual activity of priests in the Burlington Diocese or the bishops’ complete knowledge and awareness of celibate violations including the sexual abuse of minors, what is available is valuable.  It is extremely important for the prevention of sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clergy to understand how diocesan and religious order authorities received and responded to all the complaints of sexual misbehavior. I have frequently been summarily dismissed when I have relayed reports of abuse to church officials in other areas.

The documents of the Diocese of Burlington reveal a history of neglect and at times complete disregard for the welfare of minors and others who were sexually assaulted and abused by its clergy. This history is no better or worse than other dioceses or religious orders. It is only one example. We can all learn and profit from understanding the facts and the pressures under which priests are asked to serve their people.

The basic structure of clerical culture and education still exists. We will continue to analyze the data about celibate performance and sexual abuse from the official records already we have on hand with the hope that knowledge will lead to action.

The Visitation of United States’ seminaries has not made any difference in the education for celibacy of clergy. The corruption of clerical life comes from the top down. The attitudes, atmospheres, and behaviors of superiors, seminary faculties, chancery offices, and bishops all contribute to the deterioration of Christian ideals and behavior. There is little evidence that these factors have changed since 2002.

The actions of the bishops and religious superiors in the United States so far (2009) have largely been window dressing. Lay Catholics, the likes of Frank Keating former Governor of Oklahoma and Chief Justice Anne Burke of Illinois, who have been intimately involved in the public efforts of the USCCB to deal with the scandal, have declared as much. Image and the avoidance of scandal are still the motivating factors that drive church action. In addition the sexual double life of a certain number of highly placed clergy is assiduously protected from public view at any cost. Obedience and conformity are the pillars of resistance to change. Fundamental reform—real change in attitude and behavior within the clerical culture—has yet to come. Already 30 percent of men and women brought up Catholic have walked away from the Church—but not from Christ

Cf. also A Review of Abuse from Church Files on this site under Forensic