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Priest who warned bishops receives justice award


Boston’s Paulist Center Community awarded its 2003 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice to Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a long-time advocate for victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Doyle has shown a “compassionate approach to victims, as well as the church,” said Donna Stiglmeier, who serves as pastoral minister at the center. But it cost him, she added. “He traded in hierarchical power for power that comes with presence and solidarity with people in need, becoming change agents themselves for a broken system.”

Accepting the award, Doyle said, “What we’ve experienced with sex abuse makes the indulgence scam of the Reformation pale by comparison and probably is equal in its horror only to the Inquisition. Certainly far more souls have been murdered or gravely injured in this saga.”

In 1985, Doyle cowrote, with attorney Ray Mouton and psychiatrist Fr. Michael Peterson, a 92-page report on the crisis, urging the U.S. bishops to form a national policy (NCR, May 17, 2002).

For the most part, the hierarchy ignored the report, and Doyle lost his job at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, as well as a teaching position at The Catholic University of America. Since 1986, he has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, all the while advocating tirelessly for survivors of clerical sexual abuse. He is currently stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Doyle likened justice to the prophet Amos’ vision -- “a waterfall cascading down a mountain,” he said. “Justice like a roaring mountain torrent, an ever-flowing stream, rushing down, that’s what we need. That kind of justice, not the justice of a blind statue, will make the necessary changes.”

Past recipients of the Isaac Hecker Award, which is named for the founder of the Paulist Fathers, have included Dorothy Day, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, St. Joseph Sr. Helen Prejean, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, and Salvatorian Fr. Robert Nugent.

Free-lance journalist Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, February 14, 2003