success stories

Father Andrew Greeley
on the Pedophile Problems in the Catholic Church

Today Show -- with Katie Couric

Last week, Pope John Paul II met with leaders of the US Catholic Church and said he was eager for reforms that would prevent future incidents of sexual abuse. But that may not be enough to satisfy many Catholic Americans.

Unidentified Woman #1: (From Washington, DC) My concern is that people have become so critical of the--the Roman Catholic Church and why--why the bishops kept moving priests from parish to parish. I don't know the reason why they were not more up-front.

Unidentified Man #1: (From Washington, DC) I think they need to really look into what did happen, if it happened, and come out and tell the public what happened so the truth comes out. Unidentified Man #2: (From Chicago) Church authorities should have been stronger and really had these priests resign.

Unidentified Man #3: (Form Chicago) I don't question the religion, but I question the leadership maybe on trying to control it a little bit better than what has been done, rather than hide it.

Unidentified Man #4: (From Los Angeles) Or I don't think it has anything to do with, you know, with--with the church or your own religious beliefs. I think that's just a personal failure.

Unidentified Man #5: (From Los Angeles) It's not going to go away. We're going to see more and more because it doesn't work. Just like there's almost no priests. It doesn't work and they've got to wake up to that.

Unidentified Woman #2: (From Atlanta) I'm trying to pray, and keep my confidence and faith.

Unidentified Woman #3: (From Atlanta) I'm sorry that the church didn't tend to the matters better, earlier so this hadn't happened now.

Unidentified Man #6: (From Atlanta) I think it's disgraceful. And I think that the day of accounting is yesterday and today and tomorrow and period.

COURIC: Father Andrew Greeley is a Catholic priest, author and sociologist.

Welcome back. So nice to see you, Father Greeley.

We just heard from a variety of Catholics who feel disgusted, betrayed by their church. How can the church regain the trust of the community? We cited a poll on Friday that said one out of seven Catholics was actually considering leaving the church.

Father ANDREW GREELEY (Author and Sociologist): That sounds like a high number. I--I've looked at a lot of the polls, there's only one Gallup, The Washington Post, and they all see no change in the proportion thinking of leaving, and it's my impression that's the case. They're furious. The only ones that are going to lower their financial contributions are the ones that don't go to church--don't go to church very often, so that would suggest that the church isn't even going to lose any money on this. What it has lost is the credibility of its leadership. This is a terrible thing they've done. It's sinful, you know. It's a grievous sin to cooperate in evil. And when you reappoint a known abuser to a place where he has access to kids, that's--that's--that may not be legally a crime because of the statute of limitations, but it's a grave sin. And I--I don't know that the leadership is willing to admit that it's sinned.

COURIC: Well, why did it happen?

Father GREELEY: Misplaced loyalties of the priesthood, I suppose. Doctors cover up for other doctors, cops cover up for other cops, priests cover up for other priests. I--I'm not saying it should be that way, Katie, but I'm afraid that's the way it is. I don't think it will happen again. I mean, I think that bishops have learned this part of of the lesson, you don't reassign child abusers. But--but that doesn't solve the problem. It just means it doesn't get any worse.

COURIC: Apostolic secrecy seems to be a core value of Catholicism.

Father GREELEY: And, of course...

COURIC: Can that be changed?

Father GREELEY: But it has changed, Katie, de facto. If everything is secret then nothing is secret, as Cardinal Law found out when his personal notes ended up on the front page of the--the Boston Globe. You can't keep things secret anymore. The Vatican doesn't realize that either, but you can't keep secrets.

COURIC: So what needs to be done, Father Greeley? Obviously, excuse me, there have to be major reforms in the Catholic Church. I know that there were guidelines issued in Chicago in the early 1990s and even distributed at a bishops' conference.

Father GREELEY: Three hundred copies.

COURIC: And yet, they were virtually ignored by some church officials.

Father GREELEY: Well--well, other dioceses did--did imitate them and imitate them pretty well. Here in the Northeast part of the United States, they figured they didn't have anything to learn from Chicago. I--I--again, I think something like the Chicago plan will now be instituted all over the country.

COURIC: Can you explain what the Chog--Chicago plan is briefly?

Father GREELEY: Well, the first thing was the cardinals set up a commission that went through the files and they removed everybody that was inactive duty that looked like there had been valid charges against them. Twenty-five priests were removed. This was in the early '90s. Then, secondly, there's a fitness review board, the majority of which is lay, that examines every complaint that comes in, and their charge is to protect children. Now, if that had been in place here in New York, or in Boston, or in Bridgeport, we wouldn't have had any of the problems we've had now.

COURIC: You say it's absolutely critical that lay people be involved in the system and the process.

Father GREELEY: Well, of course. I mean, it's their kids that are likely to be abused. Though your colleague Mary Ann Ahern in Chicago broke the news of the first pedophile case in Chicago back in the late '80s because she was worried about her own children.

COURIC: Well, what do you say to parents who are--who do share those concerns who say, 'You know, I don't really want my child exposed to a priest? Yes, I think I can trust him but at this point who the heck knows?'

Father GREELEY: You know, the thing that stands out in the surveys for me is that so many people say they still trust their parish priest. I--I think they should be able--at this point to distinguish between the creeps that hang around kids all the time and--and--and ordinary parish priests. Priests, people still love their priests. Maybe they shouldn't. I think they should, but, in fact, they do.

COURIC: What about the whole celibacy issue? I know that you say you cannot say that this really has a direct connection to--to pedophilia, and yet others argue if--if you widen the pool of candidates for the priesthood, you're likely to get a better selection of people and--and fewer weirdos, if you will.

Father GREELEY: Well, I think the question of changing the celibacy rule is a valid one, but pedophilia is not an excuse for changing it, because if you have a--a--a marri--a celibate pedophile and he marries, he's still a pedophile. And--and the other denominations, as the New York Times finally got around to admitting over the weekend, the other denominations have the problem too and they have a married clergy.

COURIC: Some have said 30 to 50 percent of all Catholic priests are homosexual.

Father GREELEY: I don't know where they get those statistics.

COURIC: What do you think? Do you think that that is a high number? And, if so, do you think the basic tenets of Catholicism need to be changed? Because you and I were talking about women in their reproductive years, Catholics, practicing Catholics, 95 percent use birth control, which is strictly forbidden, correct?

Father GREELEY: Most young Catholics don't even know that it's wrong.

COURIC: So, does the church need to--to go back to John, the--you know, where--where they basically had the--the--John...

Father GREELEY: John XXIII, yeah.

COURIC: ...Pope John XXIII and the second Vatican where he tried to open up some windows, let the air in and change some of the basic tenets of Catholicism?

Father GREELEY: Well, he began a reform of the church. And, unfortunately, in the late '60s when everything began to change, a lot of church leaders panicked and they pulled the plug on reform. If they hadn't, we may have been better able to deal with this problem. You see, our bishops are not accountable to us. They're accountable to the pope and to God, but not to the clergy and laity of their own city. Cardinal Egan here, Cardinal Law up in Boston. They do--they don't have to feel responsible for us. And because of that, they, you know, they don't have to consult with us, they don't have to pay any attention to what we think. They can ignore us. And that, in the--in the modern world, Katie, that can't be permitted. And when a bishop has failed utterly and completely and has sinned publicly by--by--by doing this, then he should go off to a monastery and do penance and--and pray and fast for the rest of his life.

COURIC: And we only have a few seconds left, but you are confident that the Catholic Church will be able to restore its tarnished reputation?

Father GREELEY: Well, it's reputation has always been tarnished because it's made up of human beings, but it's survives, and it has survived, and it will continue to survive.

COURIC: Well, Father Andrew Greeley, again, it's nice to see you again. Thanks so much for coming in this morning.

Father GREELEY: Thank you.