"Zero Tolerance" for Cardinal Sins

Statement by Annie Laurie Gaylor
for Freedom From Religion Foundation

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?"--Luke 11:11

Yes--if that "father" is part of the cabal of Roman Catholic cardinals who recently met at the Vatican, and that "son" is one of many victims of institutionalized child abuse in the church.

Media images caught the beaming faces of waving Cardinals en route to the Vatican, looking like they were off on a light-hearted jaunt, instead of going to a gathering to discuss epidemic, criminal sexual abuse of minors by black-collar predators, let loose on faithful congregations by a knowing Catholic hierarchy.

After this media-billed "extraordinary" gathering, the Cardinals unveiled a "special process" to defrock any priest who is "notorious and guilty of the serial, predatory sexual abuse of minors." Whether or not to defrock priests who are "not notorious" will be left to the local bishop.

"Notorious" clearly is Cardinal-speak for "his name has appeared in the newspapers once too often to look good for the Church." Making "serial" abuse a requirement of defrocking appears to mean the Church will continue to look the other way if a priest sexually exploits one, or maybe two minors.

The "not notorious" language reveals that the Cardinals' real chagrin is not over child-abusing priests--but over child-abusing priests who get caught. The cardinals were resolutely mute on the need to report crimes and allegations to authorities.

The Cardinals reiterated the Catholic party line that condemns, on paper, the molestation of young children. The church loudly claims, without evidence, that "almost all cases involved adolescents and therefore were not cases of true pedophilia" (note that self-serving past tense). Even if true, does that mean it is okay for priests to molest "post-pubescents" (known to us lay-folk as teenagers)?

The Cardinals' big regret was that "episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from this scandal." Translation: they're still gnashing their teeth over crimes and cover-ups that have gone public.

This regret was expressed by the U.S. Cardinals at the Vatican in a letter to U.S. priests at the meeting's conclusion. A letter of condolence, not to victims and their families, but to priests! The Cardinals urged, "let us together beg the eternal high priest for the grace to live this time of trial with courage and confidence in the crucified Lord." Not only does this official missive fail to mention victims, it paints the American priesthood as the injured party!

A stone is what the Pope also lobbed at victims of preying priests, in his April 23 pronunciamento. The pope admitting that sex abuse of minors is a crime (no news to the rest of us) was hailed as a major breakthrough. A Washington Post reporter called it the "most forceful condemnation of priestly sexual misconduct" ever emanating from the mouth of His Holiness.

The Pope's statement contained ominous underlying messages, indicating the Church's continued belief in "salvation" and "forgiveness" as the way to treat priestly pedophilia: "A great work of art may be blemished, but its beauty remains," the Pope intoned. (Priests who molest are "beautiful" because they are priests?) With inadvertent humor, he ended his short homily with this request: "And I ask Catholics to stay close to their priests and bishops . . ."

Individual cardinals and Catholic officials joined the hallelujah chorus with their own distasteful remarks.

There's the stone thrown by Msgr. Eugene V. Clark--a close associate of Cardinal Edward Egan, under attack for cover-ups--who ought to know better than to throw stones. From the pulpit on April 21, Clark blamed the failings of the Roman Catholic hierarchy on gay priests and American society, calling the United States "probably the most immoral country certainly in the Western Hemipshere." If so, the Catholic Church can take a lot of credit!

The president of the U.S. Catholic conference, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, chimed in: "The question of the reassignment of priests or religious who have harmed children is still a thorny issue." Only thorny, it seems, to Catholic hierarchy. Gregory also spoke of the "ongoing struggle" to ensure the priesthood is not dominated by "homosexual men," in the church's avid quest to pin the blame for the church's institutionalized pedophilia on gays.

Detroit's Cardinal Adam Maida concurred, "it's not truly a pedophilia-type problem but a homosexual-type problem."

Yet Maida is familiar with the public statement last month by All-Star pro-baseball player Tom Paciorek, who, at 55, still cried when he relived four years of nightmarish abuse as a teenager by Rev. Gerald Shirilla, who was only removed by the Detroit Archdiocese in March. Paciorek's statement puts the lie to the Church's attempt to blame adolescents for their abuse.

Priests, Paciorek pointed out, "represented Jesus on Earth." Unbeknown to one another, Paciorek and his three brothers were all molested, one by one, by the same priest. "The church back then was so powerful, there's nothing that a kid could do," explained his brother John. Their brother Mike, first victimized at 8 or 9, recalled how Shirilla locked the door, removed his clothes and said, "Your brothers used to love this."

Cardinal Francis George, in a bad choice of words, opined that "a little more wiggle room" might be wiser than "zero tolerance" of abusive priests.

George also said at a recent press conference: "There is a difference between a moral monster like Geoghan who preys upon little children, and does so in a serial fashion, and someone who perhaps under the influence of alcohol engages in an action with a 17- or 16-year-old young woman who returns his affection."

Is it any wonder Rev. Donald Kimball, 58, a priest just convicted this month of molesting a 13-year-old girl in northern California, remains unrepentant, even gloating, over his degrading exploitation of young girls? He insisted to Connie Chung on CNN last week that "women" were "coming on to me," that they went for a guy in a "uniform." His next uniform will be an orange jumpsuit. We can only wish the same "uniform" on many Roman Catholic bishops and archbishops.

As we and others have been asking for more than a decade: When will a prosecutor finally summon the guts to apply the law of the land to Catholic bishops who have colluded and covered-up these crimes? No true reform will occur until criminal bishops are behind bars. It's time for "zero tolerance" over cardinal collusion.


Annie Laurie Gaylor is editor of Freethought Today, the newspaper of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In 1988, she wrote the first nonfiction book about molestation of minors by clergy, Betrayal of Trust: Clergy Abuse of Children (FFRF). The book can be found online at:

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