Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

July 24, 2008


My formerly honored regiment of Catholic priests has been disgraced by an infiltration of pedophiles into its ranks. I and my colleagues bear that dark shadow to this day. It's cause: the failure of many bishops to obey Canon 1395. Yes, it's that simple! The canon orders punishment for a priest, who sexually abuses a minor. Punishment, not therapy! Muchless secret reassignment with damage to more children! Furthermore, no bishop has been punished by his superiors,as required by Canon 1389, for failure to enforce Canon 1395. Regardless of good intentions, bishops and their superiors are responsible for the effects of what they do or fail to do under their job descriptions. A tiny minority of priests abused children; an estimated two thirds of the nation's bishops secretly reassigned abusers.

Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, John Paul II have, on their visits here,
apologized for this shameful abuse. But neither has shown that he understands the problem. If a problem is not understood, it cannot be solved. Both popes see the problem residing in individual priests. No finger is pointed at a bishop. Benedict in Australia recently declared, "I ask all of you to support and assist your bishops in combatting this evil". Sorry! Benedict has it backwards. He should ask the bishops to listen to and work with the laity. They understand the source of the problem; our bishops, for the most part, do not! In his trip to the US, Benedict on April 15, 2008 apologized for the pain caused by the sexual abuse phenomenon. He declared that it had "been badly handled". Use of the passive voice enabled him to avoid saying by whom it had been badly handled.

John Paul II also seems to have had it backwards. On April 23, 2002, addressing the US cardinals, who had been summoned to Rome, he spoke of "how the Church will help society to understand and deal with the crisis". Its arrogance, unintended as it may be, betrays the depth of his misunderstanding: it was society through its media, district attorneys, and trial lawyers that had forced the Church to face its own problem! Later he would reward Cardinal Bernard Law, driven from Boston by his priests and people as poster-boy for those bishops reassigning abusers, to a prestigious church in Rome, with a six-figure salary, and seats on nine governing commissions!

John Paul spoke of "the great harm done by some priests...". Regarding their superiors, he said, "...many are offended at the way in which the Church's leaders ARE PERCEIVED to have acted...". In the Pope's mind, in the clericalism cast of mind, he and bishops are immunized from direct criticism. John Paul then proceeded to call for "a purification of the entire Catholic community". Pardon me, please! Do not dare to try to deflect blame on the Catholic community. It belongs on the few miscreant priests and the many miscreant bishops. It is these latter who have been judged responsible, not just by the press, but by our civil courts and judicial system to the tune of $2 billion, not the bishops' own money, but the contributions of the faithful!

The clerical mentality - trying constantly to project an ideal, even if false, image of Church - is the underlying cause of thousands of young people damaged, $2 billion shot, three dioceses bankrupted, and now, in the latest phase, innocent priests becoming victims of allegations of incidents two or three decades past, inadequately investigated by their bishops.

The US Bishops' Dallas Charter has been a great success in its programs to protect children by vetting personnel and developing educational and awareness programs. As to its provisions to remove allegedly abusive priests, it has been severely criticized by the bishops' own National Review Board, Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ and eminent canonists for its lack of proportionality - a pat on the bottom treated equally as serial rape, the "one strike, you're out" rule, and the abandonment of any statute of limitations. The bishop is constituted arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, and appellant bench - an unworkable combination of conflicting roles. Many instances of innocent priests being removed from ministry are now surfacing. Appeals to the US Conference of Bishops have been made, without success, to revisit and amend the Charter's flawed, purportedly judicial structure. Do the bishops fear that the Church would appear to victims' groups and the public as backing off its initial determination to reform? If so, here again, clericalism's cast of mind puts a desirable Church image ahead of the reality of truth and justice.

The Church will begin to solve its problems and resolve its tensions, when, and only when, clericalism and its adherents reverse priorities and place truth and justice ahead of institutional image.


Blogger Bill Keane said...

Harry, thank you for speaking the truth. I sent this blog to my sister. She and I have shared the same sentiments with each other after I wrote all my family when the scandals first broke. Ordained in 1960, I left the clergy in 1970.
Re: the blog about your father, I learned the "Fly away Jack" trick from my father, used it with my sons and still use it with some youngsters that i mentor. It still works!

July 29, 2008 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Hugh O'Regan said...

Harry, I am a Regional Representative (California) for Voice of the Faithful, a victim and priests support group working for structural reforms within the Church. Your article points out that while the Dallas Accords was an important step forward its implementation was not perfect. Innocent priests are not protected and a simple accusation often is enough to ruin the accused forever. The issue of addressing the bishops and (now) two popes as a big part of the problem is not politically acceptable in certain sections of the Church. The real scandal was the movement and the secrecy which so many bishops were caught up in.

Your article mentions a lack of proportionality as well as a criticism of the "One Strike You're Out" rule. Such criticism is also not politically correct but this time it is survivor support groups like my own VOTF which might object. The question which all Catholics need to grapple with is how do we change the culture of the Church in order to protect minors while protecting the rights of those innocent priests who are accused and yes, disgraced. Whom do we protect? Which is more important?

When it comes down to it, I believe that the Catholic people and most priests would say that we have an obligation to protect both but if it comes down to making a choice, the people and the priests will opt for protecting the victim. We as a Church should not have to make that choice, our task is not protect both. In order to do that I believe that we need to look at the root causes of the abuse. We need to look at the clerical culture, our sexual culture and yes take a fresh look at the strengths and weaknesses of continuing to demand celibacy for the diocesan clergy.

Hugh O'Regan

July 31, 2008 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Hugh O'Regan said...

Oh Oh! Where is Simond Freud. My last paragraph should read:

"We as a Church should not have to make that choice, our task is to protect both.


July 31, 2008 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger Liberator_Rev said...

Dear brother Harry,
What a refreshingly honest and insightful article! Thank you so much for the courage to publish these wise words of advice for your peers and superiors. I will be making room on my JesusWouldBeFurious.Org/arrogance.html page (or one linked from it).
P.S. I can't help but wonder how many problems the R.C. hierarchy could have avoid all these centuries if they hadn't started ignoring Jesus' instructions to avoid titles of honor almost from the moment Jesus uttered them. See JesusWouldBeFurious.Org/callnomanfather.html.

August 1, 2008 at 9:49 AM  
Blogger Liberator_Rev said...

It's hard to improve on your article, Harry, but did you omit citing the actual wording of the canons because the general public wouldn't have been able to understand the clerical legalese?
I'd appreciate it if you could send it directly to me at Ray@LiberalsLikeChrist.Org.

August 1, 2008 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger sdzida said...

Thank you so much for speaking up. Your message can bring hope to many Catholics trying to "rebuild the Church." Have you any suggestions for practical ways to (1) "get the message out" both to church leadership and to people in the pews, and (2) engage Church leadership in meaningful dialog and reform to prevent such mismanagement in the future?

August 1, 2008 at 12:06 PM  
Blogger Paul Kendrick said...

Hugh O'Regan states, "Innocent priests are not protected and a simple accusation often is enough to ruin the accused forever. " Like Byrne, O'Regan offers no documented evidence to support his claim.

When an allegation of clergy sexual abuse is received by church officials In my diocese (Maine) the diocesan investigator (former deputy chief of police) initiates a preliminary investigation. The results of this investigation are then brought before a ten member review board (comprised of community members and a priest, not all are Catholic). After reviewing the evidence, the review board advises the bishop as to whether or not the alleged clergy abuser should be temporarily removed from public ministry pending further investigation. Advocates for those who are abused are as dedicated to preserving the integrity of this process as are ordained clergy.

Byrne and O'Regan might consider educating themselves further by studying "THE MYTH OF FALSE CLAIMS AND ACCUSATIONS OF CLERGY SEXUAL ABUSE," by Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, J.C.D., C.A.D.C. (March 2007 - Revised July 2008).

Here are two excerpts:

"Patrick Schiltz, dean of the University of St. Thomas law school in Minnesota, said that over more than a decade he had defended Catholic dioceses against sexual-abuse lawsuits in more than 500 cases, and that he had concluded that 'fewer than 10' of those cases were based on false accusations. (New York Times, August 31, 2002)."

"No Catholic diocese nor any other source asserting that there have been significant numbers of false claims has provided any documentary evidence of the numbers. In the past several years a small number of accused priests have been exonerated by church-run investigations but there are not accurate statistics on such cases."

"Some have claimed that the legislative 'window' which was opened in California resulted in a flood of false claims. In fact there were about 1200 new civil suits in California alleging sexual abuse as a result of the window. Of that number about 800-850 were claims against a Roman Catholic archdiocese, diocese of Religious Order. The attorneys who represented the claimants reported that there were only 3 claims that were false. These were instances when the person alleging abuse was actually making a false report."

Finally, it has always seemed to me that the words we use reveal much about the way we really think about an issue. Therefore, it is interesting for me to note that neither Byrne nor O'Regan took even one moment to recognize and share their thoughts about what it must be like for a child sex abuse victim to put aside their own desire for privacy when they report their abuse to help protect other children. Neither Byrne nor O'Regan seem to wonder what it must be like for a victim/survivor to relive the trauma, anguish, pain and suffering of their child sex abuse in such a public way. Yet, there are not adequate words to describe the courage and fortitude it takes for an abuse survivor to reveal their private guilt, shame and remorse to an often disbelieving and unsympathetic community.

August 1, 2008 at 2:21 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

Thank you Monsignor Harry Byrne for telling the truth. Sometimes we can't see the forest for the trees. As we know when ever there is a crisis any where it usually is brought on by just a few, it's the cover up that gets us. 94% of the Priests are good Priests we need to stand up for them and put the others to justice. I always believe in prayer the Roasary and Divine Mercy will always help!

August 1, 2008 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger Ingrid said...

THANK YOU for saying what should have been emphasized all along: "Regardless of good intentions, bishops and their superiors are responsible for the effects of what they do or fail to do under their job descriptions. A tiny minority of priests abused children; an estimated two thirds of the nation's bishops secretly reassigned abusers." And this applies not only to the U.S. but all over the world. Several years ago I corresponded with an Austrian theologian whose appeals to the Vatican, based on personal experience, concerning Archbishop Groer were disregarded. I hope you have read Bishop Geoff Robinson's excellent recent book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church ( ).

As for the canons you cited, they can easily be retrieved in the Vatican website. Here they are:
Can. 1395 §1. A cleric who lives in concubinage, other than the case mentioned in ? can. 1394, and a cleric who persists with scandal in another external sin against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue is to be punished by a suspension. If he persists in the delict after a warning, other penalties can gradually be added, including dismissal from the clerical state.

§2. A cleric who in another way has committed an offense against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict was committed by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.
Can. 1389 §1. A person who abuses an ecclesiastical power or function is to be punished according to the gravity of the act or omission, not excluding privation of office, unless a law or precept has already established the penalty for this abuse.

§2. A person who through culpable negligence illegitimately places or omits an act of ecclesiastical power, ministry, or function with harm to another is to be punished with a just penalty.

Ingrid Shafer

August 2, 2008 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Dear Monsignor Byrne,

I write this reply to your July 24th blog (The Dishonoring of My Regiment) in the name of, and in support of the thousands of anonymous victims of sexual abuse by members of the Roman Catholic clergy in the United States.

You write “My formerly honored regiment of Catholic priests has been disgraced by an infiltration of pedophiles into its ranks.” Yes, the Catholic priesthood has been disgraced by pedophiles, but the bigger disgrace is the absolute silence by the members of the priesthood while thousands of victims of sexual abuse suffer the effects of their abuse. It seems that you are much more concerned about the “honor of your regiment” than you are about the victims.

It is easy to blame the bishops and therefore avoid your own personal responsibility. You state that a tiny minority of priests abused children. Do you not know that by the bishops own reporting there were more than 4,000 credibly alleged priests enumerated in the John Jay Study? By all accounts, the number is much higher. Even if only one priest abused a child, the characterization as a “tiny minority” displays your insensitivity to every victim.

You also state that the US Bishops Dallas Charter (USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People) has been a great success to protect children. I have given more than twenty talks on the Charter and have been referred to as an expert on this document. In my opinion, the Charter is not worth the paper it is printed on in protecting children. Nowhere in the Charter is the laity given any authority to remove pedophile priests. All authority remains totally with the bishop. I ask you, given the history of the bishops in using their power to suppress allegations of sexual abuse, why would anyone trust a bishop?

There is an easy remedy. If the Catholic Church permitted each community to select its own pastor and priests, the responsibility would rightfully belong to the community and not with a secretive process controlled entirely by the bishop. Surely there is precedent in Scripture for this solution.

Finally, you state “The Church will begin to solve its problems and resolve its tensions, when, and only when, clericalism and its adherents reverse priorities and place truth and justice ahead of institutional image.” You look to the institutional church to resolve its problems. Why not start with yourself and the members of your regiment?

I know of only several priests who have publicly proclaimed their knowledge of the cover-up of any sexual abuse. Given the extent of the crisis, there must be thousands of priests who have some knowledge that they have kept secret. It is obvious that the members of your regiment are more concerned with the institutional image of the Catholic Church than they are with the tens of thousands of anonymous victims.

On its website, the Diocese of Rockville Centre reports that only 1% to 10% of childhood sexual abuse cases are ever reported. Given that more than 4000 alleged pedophile priests were enumerated in the John Jay Study, and that it is commonly accepted that pedophiles are usually serial criminals, the number of anonymous victims of clerical sexual abuse must reach into the tens of thousands. I strongly urge you and the members of your regiment to aid these victims by taking the following actions:

· Any priest who holds any information of the cover-up and transfer of credibly alleged sexually abusive priests to publicly acknowledge this information and to ask for forgiveness.

· Among your ranks, encourage your fellow priests to come forward and speak the truth.

· Even if it means civil disobedience, hold your bishops accountable for their actions in the cover-up.

It has been more than six years since this crisis became public knowledge. Just think of all those victims who have suffered while your members have tried vainly to protect their image. It is obvious that they have failed not only protecting their image, but they have also failed all sexual abuse victims and the entire church. The image of the priesthood can only begin to be restored when priests such as you stop being concerned about your image and start being concerned about the thousands of children who have been scarred for life.

Tom Myles
Sayville, NY

August 7, 2008 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger deanna said...

"Msgr. Byrne,

As a survivor of clergy sex abuse in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, I appreciate the spirit of your message and want to thank you for that. I would, however, like to add my observations … with all due respect. I do so with an intention of bridging the gap between you (a NY Catholic Insider) and me (a NY Catholic Outsider).

The spirit of accountability you express in your message is most uplifting to me and long sought after. The observation of upper administration’s finger pointing to the individual priests rather than the Bishops is a good point. You also defend the community at large and absolve them of responsibility in this crisis. This is where we part ways.

The priests, monsignors & bishops who chose to not control their sexual desires and abuse minors are at the core of the matter. The Bishops who minimized the issue and re-assigned the offenders thereby spreading the disease of molestation are offenders in their own right. In addition, I would assert that priests and lay Catholics who had knowledge and suspicion of the abuse are also to blame and should be held accountable. These are the people who can make a difference today.

As an illustration of this point, I will make you aware of my truth. I was sexually abused by Rev. Eugene Vollmer at St Thomas the Apostle in West Hempstead from approx 1980 – 1982. This priest is now secreted away in some undisclosed location where I’m sure the surrounding community has no idea of his proclivity for prepubescent boys. At the time of my abuse, Fr. Bob Smith was also a priest in that parish. While sharing a meal one Saturday afternoon, I blurted out a disclosure of the sexual relationship Fr. Gene & I had. Fr. Bob Smith is now a Pastor of St. James Parish in Setauket and continues to deny any knowledge of my abuse. He has done so directly to my mother who has asked him that direct question.

I hold myself accountable as well for not facing my fears at the time and standing up to the community to speak the truth about my abuser and possibly protecting his future victims. There is nothing I can do to change the past but I can create a past I can be proud of by speaking my truth today.

Msgr. Byrne – I find any member of your regiment dishonorable who is not doing everything in their power to get the truth out now. By this, I specifically mean that any person who is not actively supporting Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s bill is dishonorable. Any person who is not actively calling for full disclosure of records is dishonorable. Any person who had knowledge of the abuse and is still holding that truth secret is dishonorable.

As an abuse survivor I will not be satisfied with anything less than a repeal of the current NYS statute of limitations for sex abuse including a window for old cases. I believe this will be the only way the public will be given full knowledge of how far the protection of child molesters within your organization goes. Until there is FULL DISCLOSURE there will be dishonor. Anyone, ordained or otherwise, who does not call for such action today is dishonorable.

I thank you for your sentiments in this message. I also thank you for what you’re doing to change a broken and diseased system. I want to encourage you to do more and to keep in mind that until the law changes, molesters are being protected. Please keep in mind that children are currently being abused because the truth has not been fully disclosed.

Dave McGuire * *

August 9, 2008 at 1:44 AM  
Blogger Peter Saracino said...

Dear Msgr. Byrne.
As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse I have an additional insight to add to the list of comments already offered. One gentleman spoke a good deal about honor and I find it difficult to disagree with him. I would only add that there is Someone else's honor who no one seems to be taking into account - and that is the honor of the Lord, Jesus, Himself. ALL of the enablers of clergy sexual abuse - from the actual molesters, to those who cover up their acts or transfer them elsewhere, or fight to have statutes of limitations removed - to even the current pope who has enabled these crimes for over 20 years - anyone who refuses to summon the faith and courage needed to stand up for the least among us (God's children) dishonors the Name of Jesus, Himself. To all concerned, please hear me: it is not the good Msgr's honor that is at stake - not the honor of any bishop, or cardinal, or priest, or church that is at stake. No, ultimately, it is His honor that is at stake. Please remember this in talking with your fellow clergymen who, for the “honor” of the church, somehow feel obligated to protect molesters and their enablers.
Peter Saracino/Survivor

August 13, 2008 at 2:57 PM  
Blogger Peter Saracino said...

I forgot to mention in my last post an important thing we must remember. Jesus drove out the money lenders from the temple for their refusal to acknowledge and honor the sacred when they saw it. Imagine His response had He been told that the scribes and Pharisees – including the high priest, himself! - were raping and sodomizing Jewish children.............
Any clergy member molesting, aiding, or abetting the rape of children, teens and vulnerable adults (this includes those who fight to keep statutes of limitations in place) should be ashamed of themselves.
Pete Saracino/Survivor

August 13, 2008 at 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a pity, that now I can not express - I am late for a meeting. But I will return - I will necessarily write that I think.

July 24, 2010 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Tom McG said...

Msgr. Byrne, thank you for acknowledging elements of the problem that need to be addressed. I am hopeful that Pope Francis will grab the bull by the horns and recognize both elements of pedophilia within the ranks of our church, other elements of the abuse of children, a structure for the protection of our children, and revision of the systematic structure needed to accomplish this. I remain hopeful.

January 8, 2014 at 10:46 AM  

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