The revelation that isn't
It's big news. It's in the headlines. It's a hot topic. It's a major revelation. Or is it?
In correspondence recently unearthed as the result of a court order, Father Gerald Fitzgerald, the founder of the Servants of the Paraclete, offers his opinion that priests who abuse children should be permanently barred from ministry. Since Father Fitzgerald founded the Servants of the Paraclete to work with troubled priests, his opinion carried considerable weight. And since the correspondence comes from the 1950, his letters directly contradict the claim that has often been heard during the past several years: that the American bishops had not been warned about the danger that a priest who molest once will probably molest again, even after "successful" treatment.
This is an important story, to be sure. But it's not a new one. Although some of his correspondence had been kept under wraps until now, Father Fitzgerald's views were no secret. You can find them discussed in (among other places) my book The Faithful Departed (page 138, to be precise), which was published just over one year ago.
The point here is that the American bishops received excellent expert advice in the 1950s, and chose not to follow it in later years. It's not that Church leaders never knew how to deal with this problem; they did know, and then forgot. The "learning curve" had a negative slope.
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