Catholic Priest Who Aids Church Sexual Abuse Victims
April 29, 2004
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
Twenty years ago, the Rev. Thomas Doyle warned the nation's Roman
Catholic bishops about the church's looming sexual abuse nightmare.
Since then, he has become a hero to the victims, speaking out on
their behalf and helping them in legal cases in recent years.
In doing so, Father Doyle also became a thorn in the side of the
In the latest chapter of his turbulent career, Father Doyle was
quietly removed from his job as an Air Force chaplain in a clash
with his archbishop over pastoral issues.
He lost his endorsement as a chaplain from the Archdiocese of
Military Services in September, a decision that until now had not
become public. The leader of the Archdiocese of Military Services,
Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, said Father Doyle had flouted his guidelines
about requiring daily Mass for Catholics on military bases and other
But the demotion has outraged abuse victims and their advocates,
who point to the last several years of scandals as affirmation of
Father Doyle's longstanding concerns. They say they suspect he was
reassigned in retaliation by the church hierarchy. And it has produced
a messy coda to a military career that Father Doyle said he loved
Father Doyle had served as an Air Force chaplain since 1986. He
was at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany from 2001 until September,
when he was transferred to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base near Goldsboro,
N.C., where he now provides drug and alcohol counseling services
but does not serve as a chaplain.
Speaking from Bamberg, Germany, Archbishop O'Brien rejected suggestions
that he was punishing Father Doyle. He said that since he became
archbishop seven years ago, he had tolerated the priest's criticisms
of the hierarchy even if they were sometimes "over the top."
He also said he could have waited until Father Doyle retired in
August and avoided the turmoil. "But I can't abdicate my pastoral
responsibility because of what some others who are rather deeply
involved in the sex-abuse issue would conclude," he said.
Father Doyle declined to characterize his reassignment as punitive.
"I don't think it would be fair for me to say yes it is, no it isn't,"
he said. He said he did not want to "pick a fight" with his archbishop
and was neither angry nor bitter. However, he acknowledged that
his role as victim's advocate "has not been received well by many
His dismissal stemmed from a memorandum he wrote for two superiors
at Ramstein interpreting the archbishop's expectations for how Catholic
base personnel should be ministered to. On several points, he appears
to contradict the written guidelines of Archbishop O'Brien.
For example, the archbishop had said that base chaplains were
expected to celebrate Mass daily and that Catholics at installations
with assigned priests "have the right to attend Mass regularly."
Actually, Father Doyle wrote, Catholics do not have a right to
daily Mass, according to church law. Daily Mass is a strong custom,
but not "an essential element of the practice" of the faith. He
also contradicted Archbishop O'Brien by saying the archbishop's
permission was not needed to substitute a communion service on Sunday
for a Mass if no Catholic priest was available.
Father Doyle said his memorandum came to the attention of the
archbishop when an employee of the Catholic ministry at the base
found a copy. The employee, believing that it meant she would lose
her daily Mass, sent it to the archbishop's office.
Archbishop O'Brien said Father Doyle's positions had caused him
to lose confidence. "There is nothing more important to our priests
and our people than the Eucharistic celebration," he wrote in terminating
the priest's chaplaincy. "Your refusal to accept that and your attempt
to provide an alternate authority on that issue is unacceptable."
For his part, Father Doyle said that he was giving his opinion
on church requirements at a time when there was a shortage of priests
to cover Ramstein and two nearby bases. He said he completely accepted
the central role of the Eucharist and the archbishop's authority.
Father Doyle is a member of the Dominican order, and his superior,
the Rev. Michael Mascari, wrote a letter of support to the archbishop,
relaying the priest's apologies and explanations and asking the
archbishop to reconsider.
Father Doyle's supporters are convinced he himself is now a victim.
"I think the hierarchy has been gunning after him for a long time,"
said Jason Berry, an author of "Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power
in the Papacy of John Paul II," which includes a sympathetic portrait
of Father Doyle. "He has probably done more damage to the Catholic
hierarchy of any priest in America."
Jeff Anderson, a lawyer in St. Paul who has brought such cases
for 22 years and often involved Father Doyle, said the priest's
help was often crucial in forcing dioceses to settle cases. "He's
the guy in the inside that knows how it works and how they work,"
Mr. Anderson said, referring to the bishops.
The priest's involvement in the abuse issue dates to the mid-1980's,
when he was an aide to the Vatican representative in Washington
and helped write a confidential report, often cited now, about the
dimensions of sexual abuse by priests and dealing with the problem
legally and pastorally. He grew increasingly vocal in his support
for abuse victims, speaking to many personally as well as giving
talks and testifying.
"He is far and away the single greatest ray of hope for many,
many victims," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Father Doyle complicated his position after losing his endorsement
by seeking to replace it with one from the Holy Orthodox Catholic
Church, a small body unrelated to the Roman Catholic Church. The
priest called that endorsement a bureaucratic fig leaf to keep chaplain
status so that he could stay on past his required retirement in
August, when he turns 60, and receive a better retirement package.
He now calls that decision a mistake and has renounced it.
But the damage was done. A group of priests on Long Island who
had invited Father Doyle to speak earlier in April withdrew the
request because of rumors he was an apostate.
Copyright 2004 - The New York Times Company