National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Summer Books
Issue Date:  May 21, 2004

By David France
Broadway Books, 672 pages, $26.95
A telling book about clergy sex abuse

Reviewed by KATHY SHAW

Just when you thought everything had been written about the current sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, along comes Newsweek writer David France to share even more details.

His new book, Our Fathers, reveals among other things that the money used in the 1990s to settle the many lawsuits brought against the small and poor Fall River, Mass., diocese due to sexual abuse allegations made against former priest James Porter came not from the diocese or insurance companies but from an unknown outside source who wished to save the Catholic church from further exposure.

Eric MacLeish, the Boston lawyer who represented Porter’s alleged victims, said that a telephone call at 3 a.m. woke him out of a sound sleep. He asked the “heavily accented” caller why he was picking such a time. “It is daylight already here,” was the answer.

The caller asked if $2 million would settle the lawsuits. MacLeish responded that he would mention the offer to his clients. A few days went by and a similar call came, but this time the offer was five times the first one. “He wished to see an end to the pillorying of the church,” France writes. He questions whether the donor was from the Vatican or the Knights of Malta, a Catholic organization, but MacLeish admitted he had no idea where the money came from except that it was not from the Fall River diocese.

Another story is about Phil Saviano of Jamaica Plain, Mass., who fought the Worcester, Mass., diocese for several years to get a settlement related to sexual abuse by Fr. David Holley. Holley served as a priest of the Worcester diocese in the 1960s before leaving for New Mexico, Minnesota and Texas, where he found bishops to take him in. (He is now serving a 275-year prison sentence in New Mexico after being convicted of molesting boys there.)

In the early 1990s, Saviano was one of the original members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- SNAP -- and was just beginning his work as the organization’s New England coordinator. Because of his historical knowledge of sexual abuse by clergy in New England, he was one of France’s major contacts.

Saviano fought the Worcester diocese for at least two years to get a settlement without having to sign a confidentiality agreement required by the diocese. The agreement would have shut him up for the rest of his life and would have forced him to quit his membership in SNAP. “I’m not going to keep their secrets for them,” Saviano told his lawyer, Joseph Boyland. In the end, Saviano did not have to sign the agreement that would have silenced him, but he received only about $5,000 after expenses and lawyers’ fees were deducted.

One of the more interesting lay persons involved in the saga has to be Jackie Gauvreau of Boston, who decided early on that something was not quite right with Fr. Paul Shanley when he arrived at St. Jean’s parish in the Boston area. Shanley did not think things were quite right with Gauvreau. France relates how Shanley at one weekend Mass told his congregation, “There’s a woman in this parish who is out to get me.”

Gauvreau turned from suspicion to activism when a young man she had mentored told her that Shanley had tried to fondle him as Shanley drove him back to a Department of Youth Services program from which the young man was AWOL. Gauvreau made repeated calls to the chancery and seemed to get nowhere. It appeared no one in authority wanted to hear what she wanted to say.

France concentrates on the scandal as it emerged in Boston and the surrounding areas. He attempts to set the scandal into some kind of context, providing entries about what the church was like during the 1950s and 1960s. He discusses the role of Vatican II and even Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s key role in the election of Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II. Our Fathers includes the names of many abuse victims and accused priests, and the author highlights the efforts of courageous laity, priests and religious in bringing the scandal to the forefront.

France, who acknowledges that he is gay, is one of the first writers to explain the scandal from the perspective of a gay person. He describes the fear that gay priests feel as Ratzinger begins a crackdown on gay clergy, and explores their thoughts and feelings as some Catholics begin putting blame for the scandal on gay priests.

Our Fathers will appeal to a broad audience. People familiar with aspects of the clergy abuse scandal might be interested in finding some additional tidbits of information. France writes clearly and explains the abuse scandal in a way that is easily understandable by someone beginning to read about the issue. I would like to have seen some details fleshed out -- such as where the money really came from to settle the suits in Fall River -- but there will surely be more books and more reporting on the entire subject in coming years. All in all, Our Fathers is a good read, well-balanced and well researched.

Kathy Shaw does the postings for the NCR Abuse Tracker and is a reporter for the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, May 21, 2004

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