A quarter of a century ago, three priests, experts in law, in canon law, and in psychiatry, worked together to provide the US bishops with a manual which contained guidelines on how to avoid future problems with sexual abuse. Tragically, the advice was ignored.
In 1984, Fr Ray Mouton was asked to defend an accused priest in a civil trial. During the trial, he learned that church authorities had known of the offender's crimes since seminary, but had protected him for years. After the trial was over, he joined forces with canon lawyer Fr Tom Doyle and psychiatrist Fr Michael Peterson, in an effort to "help the church get out of the mess."
Who knew what, and when? Cardinal William Levada, who says he doesn’t recall seeing The Manual, receives the cardinalitial ring from Pope Benedict XVI in 2006. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty ImagesThis is extracted from the Guardian:
The three hatched a plan to pool their knowledge in the form of a "manual", which would warn the church about the danger to children – and to the institution itself – posed by sexual abusers, and offer advice about what should be done.
Mouton says the report's authors believed they had the support of senior US Roman Catholic figures. "My understanding is that both Doyle and Peterson were having ongoing discussions with men in prominent positions, including Cardinal Law, who verbally supported us drafting this document. The bishop charged with monitoring the crisis and reporting to the pope's personal representative in the US, Bishop A James Quinn, was also supportive.
"The document was to be presented to an upcoming conference of all bishops in the US with the hope that they would adopt its provisions."
The result of their labour was a 92-page document. They explained that priests were being accused of abuse on a wide scale and that many were probably guilty. They examined definitions of paedophilia and how it related to the priesthood. The issues were complex, they said, and needed addressing urgently. And while the church's position was in danger, they urged the hierarchy to do its utmost to protect the vulnerable victims of the clerics' abuse.
A secret meeting was called at a Chicago hotel in May 1985 to discuss what was now known as The Manual. A low-level auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles attended, called William Levada. Mouton recalls: "The meeting seemingly went well. Bishop Levada vetted every word of the document and seemed to be in full support of [it] being presented to the full conference of bishops. Shortly thereafter, Bishop Levada telephoned Doyle and advised him basically to 'kill' our document because the conference had a plan of their own and would form a committee to deal with the issue. "After the conference concluded, it was announced to the media that a committee had been formed to deal with clergy abuse. This turned out to be just another lie, for no committee was formed in the conference until the 90s."
According to a New York Times report on 20 June 1985 – some weeks after The Manual was privately copied and distributed to scores of bishops by the two priests and Mouton – the Rev Kenneth Doyle, a spokesman for the US Catholic conference in Washington, stated: "We don't want to give the impression that it's [sexual abuse cases by priests like Gauthe] a rampant problem for the church, because it is not."
Statements made by Levada in a legal deposition during an abuse case in California in 2004 record him saying that Mouton's report didn't stick in his memory despite its explosive contents: "It's a long time, and it would be difficult for me to say that I recall having seen it before … I maybe have seen it before, but I don't recall it now." He also said he was at the meeting as a "listener" with a brief to report back to Law. He said he didn't recall whether he told Mouton, Doyle and Peterson if their report and its distribution was "a good idea or not".
(Read the full report).