THE priest who exposed systemic child sex abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States has told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse the Church’s views on human sexuality were a major factor in the abuse crisis.
Called as an expert witness, former Dominican Dr Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and consultant in the areas of sexual abuse by clergy and religious, said the Church had committed “soul murder” on abuse victims, and recommended changes in the Church “from the pope on down” to protect victims.
“What you do and what you say and what you come up with at the end is going to have an effect around the world,” Dr Doyle said.
“And it’s hopefully going to have a profound effect in the Vatican and it’s another pile of information that is saying what they do not want to hear, but this issue is damaging the most vulnerable people in the Church and the community – you, the people God, have an obligation to say to the system, to the institution this is what we’ve found.
“You need to make some changes to make sure this doesn’t keep happening.
“The primary concern has to be the victims of sexual abuse or any other kind of abuse at the hands of the clergy, and the clergy from the pope on down – it’s an equal playing field in the eyes of God – and so we’ve got to take care of each other in the same way.”
Dr Doyle told the commission that in 1984 he authored a Church report, which he was told was handed to Pope John Paul II, calling for an investigation of the extent of child sexual abuse in an American diocese where several shocking cases of abuse were raised.
He said he was “exited” in 1986 from his position as a canon lawyer working for an American papal nuncio after his report became public.
Some of the victims took court action and the action was publicised in the media.
Dr Doyle told the Royal Commission hearing that meeting a child sex abuse victim, aged 10, “changed my life”.
“When I looked into his face – I still see it. It was empty. And that moment changed my life,” he said. “His parents were simple, good, decent people who could not comprehend why they were being treated the way they were by the Church.
“They couldn’t understand why this man had been shifted from one place to another to another and nothing was done.”
After a far-reaching examination of Church practices, past and present, Fr Doyle was asked what changes should be made to prevent abuse in the Church.
“The action is what is needed. Victims are sick and tired of apologies, of explanations of more promises, of more protocols of more policies … they want something to happen,” he said.
“So that if they make a complaint, why isn’t it okay for the bishop to say ‘I’m getting in my car and going over to her house, and sitting with her family and listen to what happened’. That’s pretty important. And I think that, to me, is the essence of the whole thing.
“If you want to recommend one thing it has to be a primary concern for the care of the present victims … those whose souls have been damaged beyond repair or are seriously suffering.”
Dr Doyle said he believed the Church’s beliefs on human sexuality contributed to the child sexual abuse crisis and led to the “soul murder” of victims because of an “inability” within the Church to comprehend the damage caused.
But he said even before he became an expert in the area of sexual abuse by clergy, he “knew just as a normal person that if an adult male engages in some form of sex with a child or an adolescent using force that that’s going to be damaging”.
Dr Doyle said the Church traditionally put the concept of human sexuality in the realm of morals.
“It’s something the will controls. It’s a sin. You get absolution from the sin. If you are the victim you put it behind you and move on,” he said.
“The inability to understand some of those non-concrete realities of what happens when you’re violated sexually, and that stems, I think, from the inability or lack of awareness as to what human sexuality really is.”
Dr Doyle claimed protection of status, image and power had sometimes resulted in an “unwillingness” within the Church to learn the effects of sexual abuse.
“Sometimes (there’s) an unwillingness to really want to learn how bad this is because if we learn how bad this is, it’s not going to make us look very good in the long run. So we’d rather look the other way,” he said.
“I’ve heard ad nausium people say ‘they told me to get over it, put it behind me and move on …’ You don’t expect a person who’s been violated that way to ever go back to the complete way they were before.”