Monday, April 12, 2010

More charges

Father Gerald Fitzgerald

The Times (in the United Kingdom) continues its Evangelical crusade against the Papacy.

Today its religious affairs correspondent continues her campaign to fasten definite knowledge on the Papacy and the Vatican that predatory priests were "incorrigibly recidivist" and this time at least since the early 1960s :

"Read on for the full text of a letter sent to the Pope in 1963 from a leader in the field of treatment of paedophile priests, warning that they were incorrigibly recidivist. So much for repeated claims that the nature of the disorder was not understood until recently...

Keith Porteous Wood of the NSS [National Secular Society] says: 'The evidence points to the compulsive nature of child abuse being clear by the mid 1960s to the then Pope and also to the RC hierarchy in the UK. In the 1960s his Church opened a special centre in Gloucestershire treating priests involved in sexual abuse including child abuse. It was run by an order that had warned the then Pope in 1963 about this compulsion. This is difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with the claim in 2002 by Cardinal Murphy O’Connor that in dealing with child abuse cases in the 1980s he was "naive and ignorant" and that “there was a genuine ignorance among bishops, priests .... about the compulsive nature of child abuse”. And for this also to be true, the Church, an organisation keen to claim its moral authority, would also have to concede that it was ignorant of something so fundamental appreciated by many of the population at large.'"
Unfortunately for the Religious Correspondent of The Times and the NSS who now seem to be in union, the "letter" is not news. It has been in the public domain for more than one year. It was widely publicised over one year ago by The National Catholic Register and many newspapers at the time including The New York Times. It is not News. It is regurgitated pap with a malicious spin. It would seem only to have been written and published in a mean attempt to smear and defame.
A copy of the original "letter" is below although The Times merely prints a transcript

The letter is dated 27th August 1963 and is from Father Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete to Pope Paul VI

In August 1963, he met with newly elected Pope Paul VI to inform him about his work and problems he perceived in the priesthood. His letter contained a lengthy assessment about various matters relating the priesthood and the problems within it.

Presumably for both the crusading Times and the NSS who think they smell blood, the offending passage in the letter complained of is as follows:

"Problems that arise from abnormal, homosexual tendencies are going to call for, not only spiritual, but understanding psychiatric counselling. Personally I am not sanguine of the return of priests to active duty who have been addicted to abnormal practices, especially sins with the young. However, the needs of the Church must be taken into consideration and activation of priests who have seemingly recovered in this field may be considered but is only recommended where careful guidance and supervision is possible. Where there is indication of incorrigibility, because of the tremendous scandal given, I would most earnestly recommend total laicization. I say “total” designedly because when these men are taken before civil authority the non-Catholic world definitely blames the discipline of celibacy for the perversion of these men. They argue – rightly or wrongly – that these men turn to boys because they are denied the right of marriage."

The Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete is a Catholic religious congregation of men dedicated to ministry to priests and Brothers with personal difficulties such as those who were struggling with alcohol and substance abuse problems.

First, the question of sexual abuse by priests is one of the topics in a lengthy letter about problems in the priesthood.

Second, the revelation of the "letter" is not new as mentioned above

The National Catholic Reporter reported on the matter in March 2009 under the banner Bishops were warned of abusive priests

Third, the "letter" to the Pope was not obtained from the Vatican but was a copy of a letter apparently sent by Father Fitzgerald to the Vatican after his meeting with the new Pope. Father Fitzgerald’s papers were unsealed by a judge in New Mexico in 2007 and became public in litigation

Fourth although Father Fitzgerald`s comments were prescient, his views were generally not accepted. Some psychology experts seemed to hold the position that priest offenders could be returned to ministry. Even the Paracletes, as the order developed and grew, employed experts who said that certain men could be returned to ministry under stringent conditions and with strict supervision
According to the NCR:

"But by 1963, Fitzgerald's powerful hold on the direction of the order was weakening. According to a 1993 affidavit by Fr. Joseph McNamara, who succeeded Fitzgerald as Servant General, the appointment of a new archbishop, James Davis, began a new era of the relationship between the order, which was a "congregation of diocesan right," and the archdiocese. Davis and Fitzgerald apparently clashed over a number of issues. Davis was far more concerned than his predecessor about the business aspects of the Santa Fe facility and demanded greater accountability. He also demanded greater involvement of medical and psychological professionals, while "Fr. Gerald [Fitzgerald] distrusted lay programs, psychologists and psychiatrists," favoring a more spiritual approach, according to McNamara.

McNamara said Fitzgerald was eventually forced from leadership by a combination of factors, not least of which was a growing disagreement with the bishop and other members of the order over the direction of the Paracletes. After 1965, said McNamara, Fitzgerald "never again resided at Via Coeli Monastery, nor did he ever regain the power he had once had.""

Accordingly the extreme leap to (very wrong) conclusion by Miss Gledhill and the NSS is completely without foundation. They argue in effect that Father Fitzgerald founded Stroud in England , He believed that all pedophile priests were incorrigible. Therefore all English bishops were aware that all pedophile priests were incorrigible,

Fifth, as regards the United Kingdom dimension, the English house at Stroud, Gloucestershire, was only founded in 1965, after Father Fitzgerald was no longer head of the Order. He died in 1969. After 1965, Father Fitzgerald`s "spiritual" approach was supplanted by what was then regarded as more up to date psychological and psycho-sexual theories and techniques.

It is therefore perfectly understandable why the English bishops and Cardinal Murphy O’Connor were not au fait with the views of Father Fitzgerald. By the late 1960s, his views on clerical sexual abuse were not accepted by the medical and psychological authorities and the Congregation which then ran the institutions in England and Scotland.

In March 2009, asked why Father Fitzgerald’s advice went largely unheeded for 50 years, Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Rapid City, S.D., chairman of the United States Bishops Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People, said that in the first case, cases of sexually abusive priests were considered to be rare.

Second, Bishop Cupich said of Father Fitzgerald, “His views, by and large, were considered bizarre with regard to not treating people medically, but only spiritually, and also segregating a whole population with sexual problems on a deserted island.”

And finally, he said, “There was mounting evidence in the world of psychology that indicated that when medical treatment is given, these people can, in fact, go back to ministry.” This is a view, he said, that the bishops came to regret.

(See New York Times 2nd April 2009, Laurie Goodstein, Early Alarm for Church on Abusers in the Clergy at

There is an interesting article on Father Fitzgerald in Wikipedia and in the Wikipedia article on the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete

The charge that Popes and the Vatican knew as a matter of fact that clerical sexual abusers were "incorrigibly recidivist" since the 1960s is of course of great assistance to lawyers who are attempting to sue dioceses and also (they hope) the Vatican for the wrongs committed by such priests.

In the heated charge and counter charge of the debate slogans and sound bites seem to be the order of the day.

The writer of The Times piece dismisses the claim that the nature of the disorder was not understood until recently. Of course, the disease or condition is beyond most people`s comprehension.

The Times seems to accept the assumption that all pedophile offenders are "incorrigibly recidivist". It would appear that this claim may not be correct. (see article cited below)

Much of the difficulty in the present controversy is the lack of reliable information about the problem. To determine what is truth from what is myth, what is fact from what is spin.

For those wanting to go beyond the superficial level you might wish to consult RYAN C. W. HALL, MD, AND RICHARD C. W. HALL, MD, PA, A Profile of Pedophilia: Definition, Characteristics of Offenders, Recidivism, Treatment Outcomes, and Forensic Issues in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings April 2007 vol. 82 no. 4 457-471 ( and downloadable as a .pdf file) at this site.

Some passages from the scholarly medical article may be of interest to those who wish to properly assess whether certain bishops, clerical administrators and others should have known better than to shield people whom they knew to be a great danger to children or whether they were acting out of great (but excusable) ignorance

The footnotes from the article seem to indicate that most of what is now known and regarded as the "orthodox view" derives from research starting from the 1990s.

Some of the points in the article make it clear that pedophilia "is a complex, often compulsive, psychosexual disorder with profound implications for the abused child, perpetrator, and community", that celibacy does not predispose celibates towards pedophilia, that doctors do not rule out the efficacy of treatment for sexual offenders (although the underlying predisposition can not be altered) , and very disturbingly that the prevalence of the adult sexual abuse of children is unknown as is the rate of recidivism.