Really early warning on abusers: “Even an island is too good for these vipers”

Costs graph--NCR.jpgThat is just one of the remarkable and poignant quotations from Tom Roberts’ new story at NCR on a old topic–clerical sexual abuse–and an even older warning, from back in the 1950s. In correspondence Roberts dug up between Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paracletes, an order established in 1947 to deal with problem priests, and the U.S. bishops of the time, as well as the Vatican and even the pope. Fitzgerald was convinced that most of these abusers were incurable and should be laicized, and made his views known loud and clear:


In a 1957 letter to an unnamed archbishop, Fitzgerald said, “These men, Your Excellency, are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary layization [sic].” The letter, addressed to “Most dear Cofounder,” was apparently to Archbishop Edwin V. Byrne of Santa Fe, N.M., who was considered a cofounder of the Paraclete facility at Jemez Springs and a good friend of Fitzgerald.

Later in the same letter, in language that revealed deep passion, he wrote: “It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat — but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle Master said it were better they had not been born — this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not?”


But as we know, no one listened. And the toll has been extraordinary, which is graphically–if of course inadequately–shown by the NCR graphic at right of payouts from U.S. dioceses since 2004.

When the bishops finally came to terms with Fitzgerald’s advice in Dallas in 2002, there was some talk of a “Devil’s Island” solution for these pedophiles–isolating them somehow, perhaps in a monastery. The bishops meant it figuratively, but Fitzgerald meant it literally. It is one of the great takeaways of Roberts’ piece, which cites this from an affidavit from fr. McNamara, who succeeded Fitzgerald as head of the order in 1965:

McNamara said Fitzgerald was eventually forced from leadership by a combination of factors, not least of which was a growing disagreement with the bishop and other members of the order over the direction of the Paracletes. After 1965, said McNamara, Fitzgerald “never again resided at Via Coeli Monastery, nor did he ever regain the power he had once had.”


Nor did he get his island. In 1965 Fitzgerald had put a $5,000 deposit on an island in Barbados, near Carriacou, in the Caribbean that had a total purchase price of $50,000. But the new bishop apparently wanted nothing to do with owning an island, and Fitzgerald, who died in 1969, was forced to sell his long-sought means for isolating priest sex offenders.

Read it all here.   

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david clohessy

posted March 30, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Bishops have worked hard to try and blame many for the crisis: victims, lawyers, media, et al. No scapegoat is cited more often, however, than the ‘experts’ who allegedly gave bishops ‘bad advice.’
These documents show that this excuse, like the others, is phoney.
David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790

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posted March 30, 2009 at 8:36 pm

IF indeed there was a warning in the 1950’s, too bad someone didn’t listen. Perhaps a few children might have been saved trama of the worst kind, AND the RCC might have been saved some major bucks!!!! The inner circle of the hierarchy of the RCC was and sometimes still are their own worst enemies. Secrets reign. Look what happens when that occurs.

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posted March 30, 2009 at 9:08 pm

This was preceded by another early warning sign, the bull Unam Sanctum in 1302. To my mind, this forms the formal basis for Church impunity that completely elevates above the laws of the countries it works in. “Benefit of Clergy” basically meant that priest could do whatever they pleased. The current scandal is a continuation of this impunity.
If you think this scandal is bad here in the US, it is even worse in the Philippines where the Church continues to function as a colonial extension of Spanish power. Spain, ironically woke up a long time ago.

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posted March 31, 2009 at 12:02 am

Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072), a Doctor of the Church, was railing against this same obscenity a thousand years ago. These mitered and red hatted must be REAL slow learners!

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Your Name

posted March 31, 2009 at 12:03 am

These letters and communications have been available and online since the 1997 Rudy Kos trial in Dallas on
Mr. Gibson – if these lettters mean something to you, am surprised that this does not impacct current realities such as the pending Markey bill in the NY legislature. In the a week ago, most Commonweal editors supported the very weak Lopez bill because they did not support window legislation. Reasons and documentation was weak at best – Markey’s bill targets the Catholic Church; it will bankrupt the NY dioceses; it is unfair to accused priests who may be dead or unable to defend themselves because of the passage of time; an interesting twist that justice is about the common good and that includes prudential judgments around the whole church and the people of God’s finances; the accused right to a fair trail; that bankruptcy could impact the mission of the church; that the Markey bill (now voted on for a fourth time) targets private vs. public institution (and we all know that public schools have the highest number of abuse cases which the bill does not address)- so, I guess we wait until we get a perfect bill; sorry, victims.
Then, you have the Lopez bill (extends age to file a suit) but no window. This will have little impact on the history of abuse in the NY dioceses nor does it address some of the other objections e.g. public vs. private.
Thomas Doyle has written effectively about the window legislation in California – 800+ suits; only 3 cases were determined to be unfounded. Windows do not allow for criminal cases; only civil cases. Those filing suits must still abide by the rules of law and must prove their allegations (some cases were dismissed because the accuser and their accusation was deemed unreliable).
Bankruptcy – not one CA diocese….San Diego tried but the judge threw their motion out of court (they misrepresented their assets which were in the millions of dollars).
For me, the scandal is that this completely plays out in legal language – the church should lead the way and be a witness to heal sexual abuse (you can not do that by denying victims a chance to come forward in court).
If you read the dotCommonweal post, you will note that a couple of days later, Ms. Steinfels posted one blogger’s question – what is justice? There were very few responses – wonder why? Appears that if you disagree with statements that have no documentation only a gut impulse and you question that, you are shut down.

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Thomas Michael Barnes

posted March 31, 2009 at 8:30 am

I respectfully and with great admiration for all of you disagree. They have known this from the very, very beginning of ‘The Way’ that Jesus founded. Jesus Himself mentioned child molestation. That must have meant he knew about it personally. Especially this is true since His invective against it is so startling brutal. Tie a stone around the offender’s neck and throw him into the sea. That is what He personally asked us to do. Wow!
My guess here as a layman and not a professional is that ‘religious personalities’ sometimes morph into molesters. I am not sure how this would work or if it is even true. But there must be some scientific corelation between religious bodies of men and molesting of children assigned to the group. I am going out on a limb here, but my guess would be that the same regions of the brain that deal with ‘religious’ experience somehow or other are connected to those regions of the brain that experience whatever pleasure there may in hurting a child in this way. Otherwise this would not be so prevelant in religions around the world.
This seems to have been a very common problem even in the ancient world among people who practice religion. It was so common that Jesus Himself mentioned it. Now we have to ask ourselves, what does that mean?

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posted March 31, 2009 at 11:43 am

Well, maybe he made his views “loud and clear” but it was to only one bishop (if that’s really who he was writing to; the letter doesn’t say) in backwater New Mexico in 1947. Does that really constitute notice to the entire U.S. Bishops from then until now? C’mon.
And one has to wonder what else is meant by “a combination of factors” that led to the ousting of the island-buying padre who’d jumped from diocese to religious order before founding an order that he could rule?
NCR has spent a lot of time over the years saying, “We were first” in reporting the story on sexual abuse. Fine. Big deal. In ignoring the great strides the church has taken to protect children, they are just the same as the secular newspapers they yearn to be counted amongst.

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Your Name

posted March 31, 2009 at 12:42 pm

E, the institutional church has taken NO “great strides” in stemming the rape/sodomizing/molesting/abusing of youngsters and vulnerable adults. The Bish Club continues to lie, obfuscate, intimidate just as before, in spite of being forced to pay out about $3,000,000,000.00, making non-apology apolgies only when cornered with no way out.
The Dallas Charter is a sham. It is SELF-REPORTING! And we now know just how credible the US Bish Club is! Don’t believe it? Just go to And for daily updates on the antics of the hierarchy, visit Have a barf bag handy.
“Backwater New Mexico; an order he could rule; big deal”?

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Your Name

posted March 31, 2009 at 7:22 pm

The Roman Catholic Priest that sexually victimized me, and over 200 other little girls, spent time (a very short time) at the Jemez Springs, New Mexico treatment center, back in the 1950’s. However, whatever that passed for, “treatment” at that facility, didn’t work. For almost his entire 50 Plus years as a priest this man sexually victimized children; and was only stopped by a debilitating stroke, followed by death. But during carreer as a pedophile priest, he did the usual hopping from parish to parish, sometimes staying only a few weeks, or days. And no one warned the parents that the assist priest who was administering the Sacraments to the parishioners and their children was a Criminal Sexual Predator. Need I Say More?

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