Hiding Molesters Ensures More Victims, Experts Say

By Carl M. Cannon
Mercury News Washington Bureau
San Jose Mercury News
December 30, 1987

[See a linked list of all the articles in the Priests Who Molest series.]

The number of Catholic priests in the United States who have been treated for pedophilia — a sexual attraction to children — is not known because Catholic officials insist on keeping that number secret.

But interviews and court testimony show that hundreds, possibly thousands, of the nation's 53,000 priests are pedophiles.

And because pedophilia cannot be cured, experts say that when the Catholic Church — or any other institution — hides this problem and continues to allow known pedophiles to have access to children, it almost ensures that there will be more victims.

However, researchers say much is still unknown about pedophilia, which is described both as a disease and compulsive behavior. One unanswered question is just how many individuals with an attraction to children actually act on that compulsion.

Debate about celibacy

Finally, the issue of how many priests are molesting boys adds urgency to the longstanding debate within Catholicism about celibacy for priests and the influence of homosexuality within the all-male Catholic priesthood.

U.S. Catholic Conference officials maintain they don't know how many pedophilic priests have received treatment at Catholic-owned facilities because each diocese independently handles cases of its priests who molest children. And officials in the 185 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses reveal who has been sent away for treatment only when they are compelled to give that information to authorities.

Dr. Jay Feireman, a psychiatric consultant at the largest church-owned facility for treating pedophilic priests, the Servants of the Paraclete hospital in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico, would not say how many priests his facility has treated in the 11 years it has treated pedophiles. "I know the answer," he said, "but I choose not to tell you."

Three years ago, however, Feireman testified in a criminal case involving a molesting priest from Boise, Idaho, and said that the New Mexico facility had treated 300 priests in the past eight years for "various sexual problems."

Father Thomas Doyle, a Washington, D.C., priest and canon lawyer who has looked into the issue of pedophilic priests, said he knows of about 200 Catholic priests who have molested children in the past four or five years.

Police and psychological experts say that in pedophilia cases, as in all sex crimes, only a fraction of the offenders is discovered. Based on his experience working with dioceses dealing with this problem, Doyle concurs, speculating that as many as 3,000 priests could be pedophiles.

F. Ray Mouton, a lawyer who worked on this issue with Doyle and others, added, "I have consulted with dioceses and Catholic religious orders from every part of this country, and it is my impression that there is not one single solitary bishop or vicar in this country who has not dealt with the problem of a pedophilic priest under his supervision.

''Conservatively, I would estimate that in the last several years, hundreds of priests and other clerics have been discovered as pedophiles, leaving a trail of thousands of Catholic child victims."

Additional cases surface

This much is known: In almost every diocese in which a case has been investigated by a prosecutor, a newspaper or a victim's lawyer, additional cases have surfaced.

In Louisiana, free-lance writer Jason Berry investigated the case of Father Gilbert Gauthe and found out about three other priests removed from the diocese after allegations of sexual misconduct with children. One of them, Father Lane Fontenot, was subsequently arrested in Spokane, Wash., and charged with child molesting.

In Cleveland, Tom Vail, publisher of The Plain Dealer, wrote a column last March criticizing Bishop Anthony Pilla for not revealing the name of a priest who served time in prison for child molesting. Subsequent calls to the paper resulted in an article about three other priests known to the diocese as child molesters. An official with the U.S. Catholic Conference told the Mercury News that he knew of "16 or 17" other cases in which the Cleveland diocese had settled potential lawsuits against parents who complained of molestations.

Reports mushroom

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Eleanor Bergholz looked into the case of one priest convicted of child molesting in her region and wrote a story last July naming five others. "I've had calls since then about three others — all of whom are still priests," she said.

Experts in child sexual abuse are careful to point out that the vast majority of gay men are not pedophiles. But several attorneys who have sued the church said that homosexuality is so pervasive in the priesthood that it undermines the church's ability to deal harshly with sexual transgressions by its clergymen. ''In the late '60s and early '70s, the church, in its desire to get new priests, accepted homosexuals — and they knew it," said Paul Hebert, a Lafayette attorney who sued the diocese in the Gauthe case. "In time, a lot of these individuals took over administrative positions. The result is that if (a pedophile's superior) is not celibate, his willingness to exert discipline is lessened."

Church officials reply that the only factor that prevented them from dealing forcefully with pedophilia was a lack of knowledge.

''It's like second-guessing President Truman for dropping the atom bomb based on what we know now," Monsignor Michael Driscoll said.

Church officials maintain that the church's handling of the issue has been no worse than other institutions.

And Dr. Stephen Montana, a staff psychologist at the church's Saint Luke Institute in Maryland, said, "Catholic priests are no more likely to be pedophiles than other people who have exposure to children, including teachers, Boy Scout leaders, day care professionals — or child psychologists."

This view — expressed repeatedly by Catholic officials — is not accepted by everyone.

Dr. John Money of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who has treated pedophiles and their victims for more than 20 years, wrote this year in a medical journal:

''Like any other institution that prohibits or prevents ordinary heterosexual relationships, the church not only encourages homosexual expression, but also becomes a magnet for youths who enter the priesthood having already recognized their sexual status as . . . homophilic pedophiles attracted exclusively to younger boys.

Control of desires sought

''These future priests become seminarians partly in the belief that they will, through religion, gain control over the very sexual desires that they resist or fight against."

Even if the number of pedophiles within the priesthood mirrors the percentage in the general population, Hebert and other critics suggest that the church should encourage the kinds of parental precautions that other institutions take, such as providing more than one adult to go on field trips with children, and encourage children to report inappropriate behavior.

One high-ranking Catholic official said he and many priests believe that such "a diminution of trust between the priest and the parishioner" would be one of the worst things that could happen as a result of increased public awareness about pedophilia.

Yet research also points to some disturbing consequences of hiding the presence of pedophiles within an institution.

Physicians and researchers agree that once a pedophile begins molesting children, he will commit this crime compulsively until he is stopped.

Drugs, psychotherapy help

Success in controlling the disease has been obtained when highly motivated pedophiles agree to take the drug Depo-Provera, which reduces sex drive, coupled with intensive psychotherapy. Even then, however, experts emphasize that pedophiles still must be kept away from children. The only other known deterrents are castration and imprisonment.

Studies show that biological factors such as an extra chromosome in many pedophiles suggest that it may be an inherited condition. And researchers point to evidence that most molesters were themselves molested as children.

''If you want to use words like 'molester' and 'victim,' " said Dr. Fred Berlin of Johns Hopkins University medical school, "then a molester is a victim who grew up."

''What's frustrating is that this sickness is so deep-seated that the experts say you can never be cured," said Boise, Idaho, prosecutor Jim Carlson, who is critical of Catholic officials for shunting from diocese to diocese a pedophile whom he prosecuted. "You've just got to keep them away from potential victims. And they didn't do that."


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