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This article was printed in the National Catholic Reporter on July 20, 2007. Someone asked that it be reprinted here.

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Issue Date: July 20, 2007

Throwaway priests

Dishonored and disgraced for their crimes, fallen priests deserve our sympathy


Does the Catholic Church remember its fallen priests, the priests who molested children and are now serving time in prisons? Who among us has asked for blessings for them as they serve their time behind bars? The hands that once consecrated the host that became the body of Christ now reek of ammonia from cleaning toilets.

Amid the flurry of accusations, trials, more accusations, payoffs, and dioceses declaring bankruptcy, I began to wonder about the treatment of priests in prison. I wondered how their fellow inmates treated them. Were they revered as men of the cloth or debased as child molesters?
To abuse a child is a horrific act. I know because I was an abused child. Some might find it astonishing that I, the victim of such abuse many years ago, could feel sorry for these fallen priests. Despite the desire for revenge that still burns deep in my heart, something in me wanted to reach out to these men who had served God despite their failings. I wondered if our church ministered to them in any form.

Through the Internet I was able to get information on the accused priests, their sentences and where they were serving their time. I wrote to some of them. I also posted my desire to hear from them on Web sites sympathetic to the defrocked men. Some of their responses astounded me. They all asked to remain anonymous. Most of the priests I heard from indicated that they had no access to Catholic chaplains or materials, including retirement monies they thought they had a right to. It seems that the church that once embraced them and covered up their crimes has abandoned them. They have been defrocked or laicized and are now treated as pariahs. Their situation in prison is not pleasant.

One priest, now 79 years old, wrote, “Mistreatment by the young inmates is continually horrendous. Insults, curses, spitting and assaults are daily. From one attack I received 42 bruises.”

During the 11 years this priest has been in prison, several close family members, including his mother, have died. Other family members do not communicate with him because he “embarrassed the family.” He believes that he will die a lonely death in prison. He’s probably right.

While reading the three-page, handwritten letter, I had to stop several times because tears blinded me. I wept for our “lost sheep” as this priest calls himself and other convicted priests. He feels the church has thrown them away, and it is difficult to disagree with his assessment.

Another priest wrote from prison: “From the start, I was subjected to foul comments and slurs related to my crime of indecent liberties with a minor. Most inmates are tolerant, and some seek information of a religious nature. The biggest offenders are young, angry white men between 19 and 30 years old. Most black men say nothing. I have, as yet, not been physically harmed. I’ve had a TV set tampered with so it could no longer be used. I’ve had feces spread on my blanket and pillowcase, etc. Sex offenders are at the bottom of the ladder in prison. Life behind bars is a total waste of time other than when one spiritualizes it as an opportunity to expiate for one’s sins.”

Still another priest said his fingers were broken by an inmate who wanted a painting the priest had just completed. When he refused the demand, the fingers on his painting hand were broken like matchsticks.

The attorney for an 83-year-old former priest responded that his client “is an older man and his memory is substantially infirmed. I doubt that he has an accurate memory of his stay at a local jail (no prison time). I arranged for a private cell and no contact with jail inmates.”
I ask myself if sentencing men in their 70s and 80s to 200 years in prison makes us better Christians or relieves the pain of those molested. Our church ignored the problem for years and suddenly it’s first in line to condemn. There is no denying that punishment is deserved, but so is forgiveness.

Nobody knows better than victims of sexual abuse the pain and the torment that remains with us for the rest of our lives. We go through the daily motions of living as if nothing had happened to rob us of our childhood, but we suffer in silence. Rape is a vile, violent act. I weep for the children who were abused by priests. I know their pain. I used to fantasize about ways to torture the man who raped me. I wanted him to die a slow, agonizing death.

Forgiving an abuser takes more love and compassion than many of us can muster right now. Yet forgiveness is essential for our own spiritual survival. To forgive is not to forget, but rather to believe that the Lord in his wisdom is still in control and that all wrongs will be righted someday. God is loving and just to both the victim and to the abuser, and I pray that all of us who have suffered abuse will one day be able to forgive our abusers.

Charlene Duline is a retired Foreign Service officer, a former Peace Corps volunteer and a member of St. Monica Catholic Church in Indianapolis.
National Catholic Reporter, July 20, 2007

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