Sunday, December 27, 2009


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


  1. Thank you for writing this and for posting this. Thank you for the reminder to pray for these priests and we, the Church who has failed in the greatest gift we have been given: mercy.

  2. You do know that most survivors don't feel the same way as you do?

  3. ...You do know that most survivors don't feel the same way as you do?....

    Anonymous, have you never done anything to injure someone's soul?

    If you go to Confession and your Priest says "Ergo te absolvo..." are your sins forgiven, or not? Are you saying they all have not gone to Confession, or they do not deserve absolution?

    Victims might be too busy counting their cash to pay attention to these articles.

    The Priest that married my wife and me was involved in a pedophilia lawsuit. In the end, after almost thirty years, prayer and penance won out. He received Extreme Unction from an SSPX Priest. Then he died. Another Priest snatched from the fires of Hell by a Traditional Priest. Please pray for him.

    He told me he had been abandoned by two Bishops he had been under. Little old ladies, pious women, prayed everyday for him and all Priests. God bless those women, and Eternal rest grant them O Lord, to those who are now deceased.

    We need to pray for our Priests, and not curse them with our self-righteousness.

    We need to encourage incarcerated Priest to continue to say daily Mass. What a great place for the Holy Sacrifice to be said; in the depths of despair.

    May God our Lord in His infinite and supreme goodness be pleased to give us His abundant grace, that we may know His most holy will, and entirely fulfill it.


  4. dear anonymous...."...most survivors..."etc.
    well,if you know anything about Charlene Duline,
    then you would know she is a "survivor of abuse"..and she never has led the life of the
    "culture of victimhood"...victims only heal when
    they forgive others and themselves....both abuser
    and victim need to appears that
    some in the culture want to keep victims sick to
    gain $$, sympathy, tv interviews, etc.?...i also
    have worked many yrs with victims,and i witnessed
    the healing that took place when they made acts
    of forgiveness to their abusers....and we
    'spiritually' folks say in the Our Father.."forgive
    us our trespasses as we forgive those who tres.
    against us...",...ah, and i ask annonymous folk
    to use their real name...what needs to be hidden?
    stand by who you really are, if you really believe in what you say....thank you, dolores

  5. To Anonymous: It is sad that most survivors don't feel the way I do. I know how they SHOULD feel! I am a rape survivor. The only difference between me and the accusers of priests is that a gun was held to my head during the vile act. But I refuse to be a victim for the rest of my life. It was an act that is seared in my brain, but my life goes on, and it has been an incredible life. My Church says one is to forgive and to have compassion for sick and wounded souls. I thank God that I have such compassion. I pray for those who don't. God bless.

  6. Anon ~ Do you know most people who have something to say and a position to support actually bother to attach some kind of a name to it?

    Charlene, thanks again for this post and for your own story, which you posted some time ago.

  7. I have to say I've never thought of it this way before. Nice blog. Welcome to the Catholic Blogs Directory. I'd like to invite you to participate in Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. We are a group of bloggers that weekly share our best posts with each other. This week's host post is at

  8. Charline,
    How do I get involved? How can I help? Should I search for local priests who have been incarcerated? I want to help.

    Diane J.

  9. Diane, I don't know where you live, but when I began my ministry, I simply did Google searches for incarcerated priests. You can do the same by checking your local newspapers and other media. If you have priests in prison in your state, I know they would be very, very grateful to receive a cheery card and a kind word from you. They are grateful for anyone who reaches out to them. They have been abandoned by their shepherds and brother priests. They need our help. If you have any difficulty please contact me. Thank you for your concern for those abandoned.

  10. Diane, please send me your email address. I'd like to write to you directly. Please read my blog about Bishop Pat's death, "The Death of Bishop Pat Ziemann." I knew and loved Bishop Pat as did a lot of other people. I spoke with him a few days before he died. What an extraordinary man he was. Please let me hear from you. I have some ideas you might be interested in.