Matt C. Abbott
November 9, 2007
'Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church'
By Matt C. Abbott

Leon J. Podles, Ph.D., author and a senior editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, has granted me permission to print a significant portion of the Introduction of his new book Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church.


Under the pontificate of John Paul II, the almost one billion members of the Roman Catholic Church faced challenges from the outside: the materialism and secularism of the West eroded faith and practice and led to a decline in the numbers of priests and even in the numbers of laity in most developed countries; extreme poverty afflicted many Catholics in South America and Africa; harassment, persecution, and even martyrdom were inflicted on Christians who lived on the bloody fringes of militant Islam. These external troubles are painful, but were hardly unexpected. The Founder had warned that the faith of some would be choked by the cares and pleasures of life, that the poor would be always present, and that his followers could expect persecution, as He himself was persecuted to death on a cross.

But the Founder's warnings about wolves coming into the sheepfold went largely unheeded. It was a warning that leaders of the Church did not want to call attention to, because it might apply to them. The Church in 2002 had a harsh light cast upon its internal operations, as revelation after revelation about the sexual abuse of minors by priests and about the failure of bishops to protect children shook the church, culminating (so far) in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, in the bankruptcy of several American dioceses, and in the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to victims. Wolves in the guise of shepherds had been loose in the sheepfold, rending and tearing and destroying the souls of young Catholics. The shepherds had failed to protect the sheep. The Church, as the heavenly Bride of Christ, may be without spot or wrinkle, but the earthly institution of the clergy was deformed by its failure to remove clerical molesters from its ranks. Even anti-clericalists were disappointed in the Church; even they expected its faults to be less sordid.

The flood of scandals in 2002 should not have surprised anyone because there were numerous warnings, which the public ignored and which the hierarchy was therefore able to treat as petty annoyances. But something happened to heighten the anxiety of the American public: September 11, 2001. Parents realized that American society was vulnerable to massive attack, and that our government had spent trillions of dollars in defense but could not protect us from nineteen determined men. Then came the revelations about the bizarre sexual hungers of John Geoghan and Paul Shanley in Boston, and the public was shocked at what certain priests had done to children and, perhaps even more, what bishops had allowed priests to do.

The Internet served to spread and magnify the news. What previously had been confined to local papers was now available worldwide. It was possible to get an overview of the problem while sitting at home in front of a computer. The long suppression of scandals, like the suppression of forest fires, made the resulting explosion all the worse. Fifteen years ago it would have been impossible to write this book without thousands of miles of travel and years of research in newspaper archives. But most of the news is now on the Internet. It is harder and harder to suppress or control the flow of information. There is no Index of Forbidden Websites.

I have confined myself almost entirely to using publicly available sources — newspaper and magazine articles, court documents, books — rather than conducting personal interviews. I have sought not to uncover new data but to interpret the data that is already in the public sphere but has often been ignored. I have cited only a small fraction of the material I have consulted, which in turn is only a small fraction of the material that is available (especially in court documents[1]), and that in turn represents only a small fraction of cases of abuse, only a few of which have been documented in detail. But I am confident that further material will only confirm the patterns I have discerned.

The bishops made excuses, but the excuses did not excuse. Bishops claimed they were only following the advice of psychologists, but they put abusive priests in parishes even when the psychologists warned against it. Why hadn't bishops ever gotten angry at abusers? Why were abusers treated so gently, when men who left the priesthood to marry were treated so harshly? Why had bishops lied to parents? Why hadn't they disciplined their clergy, when they seemed so eager to micromanage everything else in America, from what married couples did in bed to what the government did about immigration?

The dismay and revulsion caused by the scandals did not divide along liberal / conservative lines, although the analysis of the causes tended to divide along the usual fault lines in the Church.[2] Some liberals, such as Robert Bennett, were horrified and devoted months of their time to trying to excise this cancer from the Church; others, like Andrew Greeley, Peter Steinfels, and the editors of America magazine, tried to minimize the problem, placing it "in context." They claimed Philip Jenkins, author of Pedophiles and Priests,[3] as a supporter, but his point (despite the misleading title of his book) was that a moral panic was growing up around clerical pedophilia, when the real problem was clerical homosexual molestation of teenagers.[4] Some conservatives followed the minimizing approach: Farley Clinton, a columnist for The Wanderer, a conservative Catholic newspaper, and also initially Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). But other conservatives, such as Rod Dreher and Deal Hudson, were livid at the failures of the hierarchy. At The Wanderer, Paul Likoudis for years had broadcast the sins of abusive priests, sins which he identified with homosexuality.[5] Among those who reacted strongly to the news of abuse, liberal or conservative mindsets did, however, lead to different diagnoses of the cause of the scandals: celibacy and clericalism on the one hand, homosexuality and dissent on the other.

A book such as this one is inevitably something of an essay, the reaction of a person with a particular background to the events he is describing. Readers will ask about my background, and wonder whether I have an ax to grind in writing this book.

I was raised in a generally non-practicing household (my parents had marital difficulties) but we children were sent to Mass and Catholic school. I liked the Catholic elementary school I went to. We had a round of First Friday Masses, May crownings, rosaries, spiritual bouquets, and all the popular devotions of the 1950s. My teachers were pleasant and competent; they occasionally showed irritation, but I now marvel at how they kept order in classes of fifty active children, taught them useful skills, and maintained their own sanity. I was not close to any of the priests of the parish, which was just as well, because one of them, Ross LaPorta, was listed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore as accused of abuse.[6] I remember being very uncomfortable about some of the questions a priest, perhaps LaPorta, asked me in confession; they may have been a preliminary to abuse, or the questions may have been innocently intended.

I won a full academic scholarship to Calvert Hall College High School which was run by the Christian Brothers founded in France by St. John Baptiste de la Salle. I underwent a religious conversion when I discovered G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien. I did extremely well in the liberal arts, and less well in trigonometry and mechanical drawing. In my senior year, my homeroom teacher and religion teacher was a Brother James, who became my nemesis.

He did not get along with the class, which dared to argue with him. Among other things, he was a strong proponent of contraception and small families, and I disagreed with him. In early fall I came down with a severe fever and was absent for ten days. My classmates gave me the religion assignments; I wrote them and put them on his desk the day I returned. When I received my report card I was surprised by the failing grade in religion, and feared for my scholarship. I asked him why I had received the grade, and he replied that since I had not put the assignments in his hand, he had never received them officially. I was infuriated, and returned to my seat and refused to make eye contact with him. He walked to my desk and slugged me so hard on the face that he broke my glasses. I left the classroom (after voicing my opinion of his stupidity and brutality), and reported what had happened to the principal. I was expelled.

Physical abuse sometimes prepares victims for sexual abuse. Boys are intimidated by the physical abuse, and then do not object when they are sexually abused. Such were the tactics several Christian Brothers of Ireland used on the boys at Mount Cashel in Newfoundland and the Christian Brothers of LaSalle used on boys in the reform schools in Ontario. I observed several incidents of physical abuse during my years at Calvert Hall. After I was expelled, the other boys in the school told me they had been intimidated by my fate: if the school could expel one of the best students, what would it do to them? I later heard rumors that that a violent brother had also been sexually interested in or involved with students. It would fit one pattern, although most abusers rely on persuasion and deception rather than force.

A chaplain at Calvert Hall, Lawrence Brett, a priest of the diocese of Bridgeport, was later accused of sexual abuse (see pp. 189–192). Jerome "Jeff" Toohey, who was a student in my year at Calvert Hall, was ordained, returned to the school as chaplain and advisor to the swim team, and fled to Las Vegas when he was accused. He has since returned to Baltimore and pleaded guilty to abuse (see pp. 199–200). I received a letter from Calvert Hall (which considers me an alumnus and still asks for money) informing the alumni that "in 2002, an alumnus wrote to us claiming that he had been sexually molested by Brother . . . Xavier," who had died in 1985. The school then got another letter from an alumnus claiming that this brother had molested him. The school announced that the special education program that had been named after Brother Xavier Langan was being renamed the La Salle Program. An atmosphere of physical abuse had prepared the way for sexual abuse.

I graduated from a public high school and thought I might have a vocation to the priesthood, mostly because of my interest in Thomas Aquinas and medieval philosophy. I therefore entered Guzman Hall at Providence College, a dormitory for college students who were thinking about the priesthood. I grew more and more uncomfortable there, and decided that I could not live in an institution the rest of my life, because I wanted to have a family. One source of my discomfort (although I was not aware of it) was the strong undercurrent of homosexuality at Guzman Hall. My roommate, Jeffrey Tacy, made a sexually aggressive move on me in my sleep. I thought he had gone insane. At dawn I reported the incident to the rector, Father Morris, whose response was, alas, typical of almost all the responses: "Why me, why me?" He focused not on my obvious distress, but on the inconvenience he faced.

I left Guzman Hall within hours and completed my education in the college. Tacy also left, but to my astonishment he was accepted the following year as a novice by the Dominicans. What had happened? Did the rector fail to report the incident? I suspect this was the case. Or did he report it and it was not believed? But no one ever questioned me. Or did he report it and the behavior was accepted as something normal for the priesthood? The rector left to marry. My abuser was eventually asked to leave the Dominicans because he spent his leisure time in gay bars. He got a law degree and entered another religious order. He was asked to leave that order because he developed AIDS. He used the last of his money to fly in a medical plane to his small hometown, and died. I pray every day for his soul. But he never asked me for forgiveness.

After college, I eventually went to the University of Virginia and studied medieval literature, with an emphasis on Old Icelandic and Old English. I taught middle school at the Heights, an Opus Dei school in Washington, D.C., where my future brother-in-law was stationed. To make it possible to marry, I took a federal personnel job in Baltimore, which shortly transmuted into a position as a federal investigator in the Office of Federal Investigations, which mostly performed background investigations for security clearances.

As an investigator I talked to thousands of people and read thousands of pages of legal documents. Some cases involved lying, alcoholism, homosexuality, adultery, violence, blackmail, extortion, suicidal tendencies, incest, and the full range of misbehavior that otherwise responsible adults engage in and the emotional problems they suffer from. (However, people also surprised me with their goodness.) I became moderately proficient at detecting liars and confidence artists. I was always surprised at the ease with which confidence artists fabricated résumés and were hired on the basis of non-existent experience. They were small imposters rather than Great Imposters, but they exploited the same weaknesses in employers: laziness about verifying work, desire to avoid confrontation, and reluctance to admit they had made a mistake in hiring someone.

My family rapidly grew to six children in eight years (twins helped), and when the time came, my wife and I decided to send them to our parish school. Our oldest grew increasingly bored, and I began having grave doubts about the school, doubts which crystallized when the eighth-grade students wrote letters to the Baltimore Catholic Review in which they opined that it was unreasonable to expect middle school students to refrain from sex, and that Catholics schools should distribute condoms. I was astonished that the teacher who collected the letters and forwarded them to the Catholic Review should consider them evidence about how well Catholic education was working, and I was even more astonished that the Catholic Review should print them as evidence of the success of Catholic education. It was not an environment in which I wanted to leave my children, so my wife and I homeschooled them through high school. I also became an assistant scoutmaster, camped many nights with my sons, and organized a trip for the whole troop to Germany.

Although I was not able to pursue my scholarly interests, I took up writing occasional pieces which were published in periodicals ranging from America and The Antioch Review to Crisis and The Wanderer (I may be the only person to have written for all four). The editors of Touchstone, an ecumenical venture of conservative Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants, liked my articles and asked me to become a senior editor. My articles on male-female relationships in Christianity led to my book, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. I had been puzzled by the lack of men in Catholic activities, and I was surprised that my circle of acquaintances included a large number of homosexuals. I realized that I had met these men through Catholic activities, through Mass and the charismatic renewal. My research soon revealed that men had stayed away from all the branches of Western Christianity for centuries. Men had doubts about the masculinity of those men who were closely involved with the Church (such as the clergy) and sometimes those doubts were justified. I decided there was a centuries-old misunderstanding of masculinity and femininity, a misunderstanding that led men to distance themselves from the Church and that relegated women to a role of passive obedience. My book was noticed; a few hated it, but most reviewers said I had called attention to an important problem, even if they did not agree with my analysis.

I first met Cardinal Law when we had dinner together in November 2001 to discuss someone whose services we both wanted for charities we sponsored. My wife and I were going to inform Cardinal Law that the person in question was not Law's indentured servant, and that if the person wanted to work mostly for another charity, Law had to let him go graciously.

The famous episcopal residence on Commonwealth Avenue was a cross between a bank and a train station: impressive but cold, and neither elegant nor comfortable. A nun cooked our dinner, and Law himself humbly served it and cleared the table. My wife and I kept trying to bring up the subject we all knew I wanted to discuss, and Law and his secretary managed to steer the conversation away from it every time the danger of actually discussing it loomed. It was rather like watching a good basketball team keeping possession of the ball. After dinner Law took us up to the roof patio and showed us the night scene. He pointed out the seminary, and said he wanted to establish a graduate theological school there. I asked why, since there were already so many Catholic colleges and universities in Boston. He replied that none of the others was orthodox. This is of course true, but it was rather odd for him to share this opinion with me the first time we met. He knew my theological opinions, and the remark was obviously manipulative, giving the appearance that he was taking me into his confidence. When we left the roof we took the elevator and his secretary could not fit into it. My wife and I had Law alone and she launched into the real subject of the evening, that he had to let our friend work elsewhere if our friend wanted to. Law mock cowered with his hands held up, saying no, no, he couldn't and wouldn't hear such things. That, alas, was also his response when infinitely more serious problems were brought up to him in the Boston archdiocese.

Shortly after my November 2001 meeting with Law, the secrecy in Boston began to end. In 2002, after the Boston newspapers began printing the stores about abuse, I wrote a Touchstone article pointing out that celibacy was not the source of the abuse. The editors at Spence Publishing, which had done my first book, asked me to expand the article to a book, but I was soon overwhelmed, horrified, and disturbed by the stream of revelations. I realized that problems I had experienced over the years were the result of the abuse I had suffered, because other victims had the same reactions. In some ways this was a relief, but it also increased my determination to get to the truth of what had gone wrong with my Church that had allowed such corruption to exist and spread.

The truth is important, and I am very dubious about those who want to use the revelations of abuse to push for a favorite reform, whether married priests or women priests or power sharing or the Latin Mass or purging homosexuals from the clergy. It would be immoral to use the sufferings of the victims to advance an agenda, unless that agenda were based in a convincing analysis of the problem. I would like Catholics to look at themselves in the mirror and see the truth about themselves and their failures. Priests have done terrible things, and much of the rest of the Church — bishops, popes, even the laity — has been complicit.

The first part of the book tells a partial history of the abuse. The abuse is far more widespread, goes back farther, and is far worse than any outsider could have imagined when the revelations in Boston began in 2002. I hesitated long about including explicit descriptions of the abuse. But the newspaper reports, which often use the word "fondling," have misled the public which wonders why the victims can't get over it and why the priests have to be punished so harshly. So I decided to include them. Spence Publishing refused to publish the book they had commissioned, because while they realized the descriptions of abuse were essential to the book, they could not bring themselves to publish them.

The descriptions of abuse, mostly taken from affidavits of victims, are deeply disturbing for the normal reader, and may be too much for someone who has himself or herself been abused, so I advise caution in reading the first two chapters in particular. But the reader should remember that the pain of reading about abuse is far less than the pain of experiencing abuse. It is painful to contemplate suffering, especially if we have been in any way complicit in it, if only by our failure to act. The German public is only beginning to face the horrors that the German civilians went through at the end of World War II. Not only were its cities bombed and its women and children incinerated, the women of Berlin had to submit to mass rape by the Soviet Army, rape which was not simply forcible intercourse but was made as degrading as possible. A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in a Conquered City [7] was not published in Germany until 2003. It is the diary of an anonymous woman who lived through the rapes and described them in explicit detail. The American government in World War II tried to prepare the public for the carnage of the Pacific theatre by publishing uncensored pictures of the battlefield, with severed heads and limbs bobbing in the water. The public could not stand to see what it was putting American soldiers through and all subsequent pictures were sanitized. Films of the devastation of Hiroshima were suppressed for decades. Americans don't like to see the sufferings of their soldiers, or contemplate the even greater degradation that killing other human beings does to the human soul. But if we are willing to tolerate evils, we should not flinch from looking at those evils. Some may be inescapable, but many are the results of laziness and complacency.

The toleration of abuse was not necessary. It was and is convenient. A canonized saint tolerated abuse. Rings of abusers go back at least to the 1940s in America, and abuse involved sacrilege, orgies, and probably murder (and perhaps even worse).[8] Bishops knew about the abuse and sometimes took part in it. Those who complained were ignored or threatened, and the police refused to investigate crimes committed by clergy.

There are also those who might enjoy the descriptions of abuse. maintains a website that contains articles and legal documents on abuse. It discovered that some legal documents containing descriptions of abuse were being linked to homosexual pornography websites. However, I doubt that persons who would be stimulated by the descriptions are likely to buy this book.

As hard as it may be to believe, I have also practiced restraint in using documents. As horrifying and disgusting as the abuse described in the book is, I have even worse things in my files. Psychologists also generally agree that victims usually cannot bring themselves to describe the worst abuse they experienced. A boy will admit that he was masturbated, but not admit that he was penetrated. There are therefore two levels of evil beyond the evil of the abuse described in this book: the descriptions of abuse I have not used, and beyond that the abuse that victims have not been able to bring themselves to describe.

At the center and heart of the book is the chapter on the victims, how they were chosen, how they were groomed, what was done to them, how the abuse affected them. It is painful to read; it was even more painful to write. But it is important to read details of the abuse to see why victims found the abuse so traumatic. The victims experienced traumas like those of combat soldiers. War may be a dreadful necessity at times, but the civilians who send young men to the hell of combat should not turn their faces away from the horror. Those whose complicity (and that included many besides the bishops) enabled the abusers should see what their silence led the victims to suffer.

The abuse and the toleration of the abuse have many causes; some were proximate, others distant. Different wings of the Church have looked at the causes that fit in with their particular agendas.

    The conservatives were blaming the era of post-Vatican II permissiveness, hedonism, widespread laxity, and the infiltration of homosexuals into the priesthood. The progressives or liberals were arguing that the decisions of Vatican II had not been applied; that the bishops and the laity had been rendered immature and irresponsible by an authoritarian, highly centralized Holy See; this, in turn, they charged, had encouraged a generation of clerics in arrested development at a time when permissiveness was prevalent in society at large.[9]

These explanations are not exclusive; there is plenty of blame to go around. Abuse increased in the 1970s and 1980s, but some of the worst abuse (verging on diabolism) occurred before Vatican II and the change in sexual attitudes in the 1960s.

The distortions in Catholic life that allowed the abuse to continue with little rebuke are, I think, of long standing; Catholic attitudes, in fact Western attitudes, to morality have been distorted for centuries by seeing morality as essentially obedience to an external law rather than an expression of the inner structure of reality. This creates resentment against the law as a restriction of human freedom, a resentment which, as we will see, can take the form of sexual abuse of children, and a failure to see that abuse does not simply violate an external law, but does real harm to victims. Forgiveness becomes cheap grace, since the sinner forgets that he has done real harm which must somehow be addressed before he can be forgiven.

The Vatican helped set the stage for the abuse by cultivating a clericalist mentality that saw the clergy as the real church, and making the purpose of canon law the protection of the rights and reputation of the clergy, not the protection of children from abuse. The Vatican had also carefully chosen and appointed bishops who would not rock the boat, who would not discipline the clergy and perhaps create a schism. The Vatican — and this means Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II — sought to maintain a façade of institutional unity by tolerating heresy, dissent, and immorality, and got a Church (at least in the United States) in which the laity mistrusted priests, bishops, and popes; the priests mistrusted the laity and bishops; the bishops mistrusted the laity, priests, and the Vatican. In fact, it is hard to explain why bishops almost always followed the same policy of transferring rather than punishing abusive priests unless they had been so instructed by the Vatican — the pope must have either let the situation develop or set the policy himself.

The abusers are the primary villains, and the Catholic bishops of the United States have belatedly joined in condemning them and removing them from the priesthood. However, the charter to protect children, zero-tolerance policies, fingerprinting of church volunteers, Good Touch-Bad Touch programs, all effectively direct public attention solely to the abusers and away from the complicity of bishops and church officials in the abuse. The abusers were sexually vicious and exploitative but the bishops coolly and deliberately ignored victims and constructed elaborate schemes to keep abusers in the priesthood where they had the opportunity to abuse again. The hard-heartedness and manipulativeness of seemingly rational men in responsible positions are perhaps in an objective view even more disturbing than the lust for sex and control that the abusers displayed.

Some have asked me how I can remain a Catholic after I have discovered the corruption in the Church. I am grieved by what I have found, but I also realize that we have been warned that such things will occur. Jesus' diatribe against the Pharisees in Matthew was directed not simply at them. He agreed with them doctrinally, and he told his followers to respect their authority. But the Pharisees used their religious authority to maintain a façade of righteousness and to demand obeisance from pious Jews, when all the while they were filled with avarice and corruption. The dynamics of corruption were present in the religious communities of Judaism and of the early Church that sprang from it, and the first believers in Jesus were given solemn warnings to beware of corruptions in their leaders.

Any religion can become corrupt.

    Religions can also make it harder for man to be good. This can happen even in Christianity because of false ways of living the Christian reality, sectarian deformations, and so forth. In this sense, in the history and universe of religions, there is always a great necessity to purify religion so that it does not become an obstacle to the right relation to God but in fact puts man on the right path.[10]

Martin Luther was not the only one to argue that the Church is semper reformanda, always to be reformed. The above quotation is from a 1996 interview with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

A doctor can diagnose cancer without being able to cure it. I offer a few suggestions for reforms, but Catholics will have to examine their consciences to discern the failures that allowed such terrible things to happen in their Church. Acknowledging the truth is the first step to repentance. I hope that this book will help Catholics face the painful realities in their Church and discern what has allowed these affronts to God and man to go on so long, unchecked and unrebuked. Nor is abuse confined to the Catholic Church or to other churches, and all institutions that deal with children — Scouts, schools, Big Brothers — have to understand the conditions that set the stage for abuse so that they can prevent it.

That is why I have written this book. Attacking sexual abuse is not attacking the Catholic Church, but is seeking to hold it to its own standards of justice and mercy and love. Tom Paciorek, the All-Star major league baseball player, finally revealed that even he had been sexually abused by a seminarian and had been deeply wounded by the abuse. He spoke to the newspapers and appeared on television to discuss his abuse (and imagine how humiliating that felt) for the sake of children. He said, "This is no conspiracy. This is truth. I'm going to live in this truth, and we're going to do the right thing. I start thinking about children, and I just don't want anybody to have to go through what we did, my brothers and I."[11]


[1]  The transcript of one court case in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese runs to almost 10,000 pages.

[2]  According to Joseph A. Varacalli, the "progressive modernizers" see the main source of the abuse in "an alleged outdated and self-serving oligarchy and hierarchical mode of Church government" while the "orthodox ecclesiasts" blame "a liberal Catholic social movement with a constitutive focus on sexual liberation" ("Dissecting the Anatomy of the Sexual Scandal," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, January 2004, pp. 45, 47). Both sides join in holding the bishops accountable for the abuse and cover-up.

[3]  Philip Jenkins, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

[4]  Jenkins however not only tries to correct the misapprehension that pedophilia is common among Catholic priests, but seems to minimize the violation of trust or the damage that teenagers suffer when a priest initiates a sexual liaison with them. See Philip Jenkins, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 133–56.

[5]  Paul Likoudis, Amchurch Comes Out: The U. S. Bishops, Pedophile Scandals and the Homosexual Agenda (Petersburg, Illinois: Roman Catholic Faithful, Inc., 2002).

[6]  "Archdiocese of Baltimore List of Clergy Accused of Sexual Abuse," September 26, 2002, indicates that "in 1999, an individual alleged sexual abuse by Ross LaPorta in the 1960s. In 1999, LaPorta was retired and living out of state. LaPorta denied the allegations. His faculties to perform ministry were removed. LaPorta served at St. Matthew from 1951 to 1963...." The list was removed from the website of the archdiocese of Baltimore but is available at

[7]  Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in a Conquered City: A Diary, translated by Philip Boehm (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Metropolitan Books, 2005).

[8]  The most bizarre case associated with the sexual abuse crisis is that of the Rev. Gerald Robinson. On Holy Saturday morning, 1980, Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was murdered in the sacristy of the chapel of Mercy Hospital in Toledo, Ohio. Robinson was chaplain there. The murderer strangled Pahl, placed an altar cloth over her, stabbed her around the heart in the pattern of an inverted cross, pulled her underwear down as if this bride of Christ had been raped, and anointed her head with her own blood in a parody of the sacrament of anointing. Robinson was the prime suspect, but the diocese interfered, and the case was dropped (James Ewinger, "Diocese Got Inside Data on Slaying Probe: Letter Reported Police Kept Quiet about Priest," Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 9, 2006).

In 2003, a woman told the review board of the Toledo diocese an unbelievable story: she had been abused in "Satanic ceremonies in which priests placed her in a coffin filled with cockroaches, forced her to ingest what she believed to be a human eyeball, and penetrated her with a snake" (David Yonke, "Priest Arrested in '80 Slaying Surfaced in Ritual-Abuse Claim," Toledo Blade, April 25, 2004, and "Dark Allegations Arise Amid Probe of Nun's Slaying," Toledo Blade, February 20, 2005). She said Robinson had abused her. The board thought she was delusory, and refused to act. A board member remembered Robinson's name in connection with the murder and went to the police; the diocese fired him for doing this. The police reexamined the forensic evidence. They realized that new computer techniques showed that the shape of the murder weapon on the bloody cloths matched the shape of the letter opener found on the desk in Robinson's locked apartment. Robinson was arrested, indicted, and in May 2006 convicted of second degree murder. His lawyer intends to appeal.

Other women had independently gone to victims' advocates with stories of Satanic abuse, stories so strange that even the advocates could not believe them. They named as the ringleader the Rev. Chet Warren. He had abused Barbara Blaine, the founder of SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (Bill Frogameni, "Abuse, Murder, in Troubled Toledo," National Catholic Reporter, February 17, 2006). The police are investigating the abuse allegations, which were also the subject of a civil lawsuit against Robinson and the diocese. For the most complete account, see David Yonke, Sin, Shame, and Secrets: The Murder of a Nun, the Conviction of a Priest, and the Cover-up in the Catholic Church (New York: Continuum, 2006). These stories resemble the Satanic panic of the 1980s (see Jeffrey S. Victor's Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend [Chicago: Open Court, 1993]), but in this case there is a body defiled by Satanic rituals. The presence of murdered infants in the stories may be explained by the abusers' connection with morgues (see p. 53–54).

Andrew Greeley claims he knows of a murder connected with a Chicago pedophile ring, but has declined to provide details (see Matt C. Abbott, "Attorney Challenges Renegade Priest-Author to Expose 'Ring of Pedophiles,'" Renew America, November 16, 2004).

[9]  John Cornwell, The Pontiff in Winter: Triumph and Conflict in the Reign of John Paul II (New York: Doubleday, 2004) p. 228. Randy Engel in The Rite of Sodomy: Homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Church (Export, Pennsylvania: New Engel Publishing, 2006) presents the extreme theory that a homosexual conspiracy, led in part by an actively homosexual Pope Paul VI, has infiltrated the Church. Even those who detect a strong homosexual element in the abuse would usually see it as the result of the interaction of cultural and psychological tendencies which produced like-minded individuals who, in turn, formed a loose network of enablers.

[10]  Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), Salt of the Earth: The Church at the End of the Millennium, translated by Adrian Walker (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), p. 24.

[11]  Jim Schaefer, Patricia Montemurri, and Alexa Capeloto, "Tom Paciorek Breaks Silence: Ex-Baseball Star: Priest Abused Me," Detroit Free Press, March 22, 2002.

© Matt C. Abbott


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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at

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