Father Tom Doyle Speaks with Pope’s Commission on Sex Abuse

Thomas-Doyle-webIn a scene reminiscent of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dominican Father Thomas Doyle recently spoke before the Pontifical Commission on Sex Abuse. Thomas Doyle is famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – in exposing the Catholic priest sexual abuse crisis in this country and around the world. That he was finally invited to speak before the Pontifical Commission is a big deal.

Doyle started his career as a canon lawyer and a member of the Dominican Catholic religious order (the Order of Preachers). In 1984, while working in the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., he first learned of Catholic clergy sexually abusing children. Doyle, along with journalist Jason Berry, reported what he correctly foresaw would be a Church-wide crisis to U.S. Church officials. He warned of the enormous damage this crisis would cause the Church.
Rather than taking his warnings seriously, Church officials chose to kill the messenger – or at least his career – by exiling Doyle to serve as a military chaplain. Considered a black sheep and a traitor to the institution, Doyle was prevented from speaking in Catholic churches across the country. But Doyle continued to advocate on behalf of child sexual abuse victims, drawing on his knowledge of canon law and church history to expose abuse and help victims find justice.

Now, over thirty years later, the Pope’s commission on the sexual abuse of children called Doyle to testify. In an interview with National Catholic Reporter, Doyle recounted the two essential points he told the commission:

• There is an “absolute need for real accountability” on the part of bishops for what they have done and not done in regard to clergy abuse of children. “There’s no question — it has been eminently documented that they have enabled sexual abusers for ages.” Through the long history of abuse, the hierarchy’s relationship to victims “has been very adversarial and still is.”

• There is a need for the Church to be far more committed than it is to the welfare of past abuse victims. This topic gets avoided amid the efforts now made to protect children.

The Vatican should heed Fr. Doyle’s advice. It is a promising sign that the Pontifical Commission on Sex Abuse chose to speak with him. But real accountability for wayward bishops and priests who molest children, and real care for past victims will be the test of whether the Vatican listened.

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

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