Monthly Archives: January 2017

February 5 2016 – “Spotlight” – Phil Saviano: “The Child Sex Abuse Survivor who refused to be silenced by the Catholic Church”

The Incredible Story of Spotlight’s Phil Saviano: The Child Sex Abuse Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced by the Catholic Church



He no longer belongs to any sort of organized religion, but Phil Saviano, whose pivotal role in exposing the child sex abuse scandal within the Catholic Church is showcased in the Oscar-nominated film Spotlight, appears to have had something almost like divine intervention on his side.

For instance, if he hadn’t been flipping through The Boston Globe looking for last minute Christmas presents in December of 1992, he might have never stumbled across a report that the priest who raped him as a child was arrested for doing the same thing to two boys in New Mexico.

“That was my big life-changing moment because I was very much surprised and just stunned,” Saviano, 63, tells PEOPLE. “It was just sort of a one shot, fairly short story in the Globe, not even in the front section, I could’ve easily missed it. But I didn’t.”

The news of his abuser’s arrest could not have come at a more pivotal point in his life. At the time, Saviano had been diagnosed with AIDS and was not given long to live. But living so close to the edge of death finally gave him the courage to speak out about his abuse.

“The truth of the matter is that AIDS freed me up to do some things that I might not have had the courage otherwise to do, and going public about my abuse at the age of 40 is one of them,” he admits.

And if it weren’t for his seemingly fatal illness, Saviano believes the church would never have allowed him to take his settlement money – a measly $15,500 – without signing their customary nondisclosure agreement.

Neal Huff as Phil Saviano in Spotlight

“I became the first person that I know of to settle one of these sex abuse lawsuits and maintain my ability to talk about the case and what my experiences were,” Saviano says, explaining, “I think the only reason they agreed to forgo the NDA is because they figured I wasn’t going to be around much longer to talk anyway.”

But he survived. Not long after doctors advised him to prepare his will and buy his burial plot, Saviano was introduced to new medication and began to recover.

“The next year I decided to formalize my outreach to other survivors and I contacted S.N.A.P. (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) out in Chicago and I asked them if I could open up a New England chapter. We had our first meeting in May of 1997.”

Over the next several years, Saviano met with other survivors and began compiling information and statistics on abuse. After uncovering dozens of active pedophile priests in the Boston area, and unearthing evidence of a larger cover-up scandal at the highest levels, he turned to the press for help breaking the news.

“I had approached the Globe years ago and they weren’t too interested in what I had to say in 1998,” Saviano says. “My big gripe with them was that they were very willing to write about what a particular priest did but they were very reluctant to take it to the next level, and ask what the bishops knew and ask why the priests moved from one place to another.”

In 2001, the Boston Globe‘s Spotlight team finally began asking the right questions and brought Saviano into their offices for an interview. The scene depicted in the film – which he says “is just a snippet” of what was actually a three-hour long conversation – became the turning point in their investigation. With help from Saviano’s research, Spotlight was able to confirm 13 abusive priests, and eventually proved a much larger cover-up within the Church.

When the report hit stands in 2002, the news shook the world, and after years of being called crazy – at first even by members of Spotlight – Saviano and hundreds of his fellow survivors finally received their vindication. Even if statutes of limitation made prosecuting every priest impossible, the world finally knew the truth.

The Spotlight team discovered that more than 70 priests in Boston had molested children over decades (the number would eventually reach almost 250). Furthermore, they were able to prove the archdiocese covered up their crimes by reassigning priests and making secret settlements with victims. Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston, resigned in late 2002.

Thirteen years later, Spotlight the film is nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and has brought the scandal back into the public eye. Michael Keaton stars as Spotlight leader Walter “Robbie” Robinson and Neal Huff portrays Saviano.

Recognizing Saviano’s crucial role in the case, Spotlight reporter Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo) recommended screenwriter Josh Singer meet with Saviano during the writing process. After hearing his story over a 3-hour dinner in Boston, Singer sent Saviano the script and asked for his notes. He replied with a three-page list of suggestions, some of which, like the concept of grooming, made it into the final script.

“I wanted them explain the process of grooming – a priest doesn’t just zero in on a kid and then all of sudden he’s moving in for the assault. Really it’s a long process, in which the priest will sort of ingratiate himself to the child or to the child’s family.”

It’s a predatory stratagem Saviano remembers well. “I was a good target because there were some problems in my family and my mother was very sick, she had a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis and it caused a lot of tension within the family,” he remembers.

Saviano has now seen the film six times, and was only able to hold back his tears during the most recent screening. “I feel immensely grateful, although I don’t know who to direct my gratitude towards, that I lived long enough to see such a fantastic thing happen,” he says.

“Just the fact that the film is made, never mind that it’s gotten great reviews, and that these fantastic actors have wanted to be a part of it, just the fact that the film is out there is so important and so validating to survivors.”

For Saviano, making a movie about the scandal is almost “an extension of what survivors do when they come forward.” He explains, “I think the main reason why we go public, all of us, is so we can see this issue dealt with properly, so others don’t have to undergo the same horrible experiences we went through when we were kids. And that’s another thing that this movie is helping to accomplish. It gets the word out, it gets the discussions going, and ultimately it can only serve to further put a stop to these instances of child abuse.”

While Saviano has dialed back his involvement in S.N.A.P. over the years, he’s recently compiled a collection of news reports and interviews pertaining to the scandal on a personal website he recently launched. He continues to live in Boston and enjoys working on another passion project: bringing Mexican folk-art to the world on his other website, Viva Oaxaca Folk Art.

“Injustice” by Richard W. Symonds

Chapter 1 – The Injustice Builds – 1912 to 2014

“George Bell was very conscientious in keeping this Caution List up-to-date” (RWS)

“By now a working relationship with the Caution List had been a part of almost Bell’s entire career” – Andrew Chandler

“It is difficult to believe someone responsible for a ‘Caution List’, which listed priests found guilty of ‘moral offences’, was as guilty as those on that List” – RWS

“No doubt there will be people who are going to think there is no smoke without fire. I can do nothing about that except to say such an attitude would be wrong” – Judge David Clarke

“Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is critical both of Sussex Police and Chichester Diocese, for not taking complaints against Pritchard and Cotton  seriously enough. There was ‘a lack of understanding of the seriousness of historic child abuse’ – RWS

“The victims were effectively denied the opportunity of being believed in a meaningful sense and denied the opportunity of ‘timely’ justice. PJ spent many years trying to get the Church [and Sussex Police] to accept his allegations and respond with timely action and recognition of his abuse” – Roger Meekings

“Sussex Police receive dossier from Lambeth Palace relating to Bishop Peter Ball in the Chichester Diocese” – RWS

2012 – “The problems relating to safeguarding in Chichester have been specific to that diocese rather than a reflection of failures in the legal processes or national policies of the Church of England. Nevertheless…” – Archbishop Rowan Williams

2012 – “The inquiry by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office concluded that the West Sussex diocese has ‘an appalling history’ of child protection failures, with ‘fresh and disturbing’ allegations continuing to emerge” – David Batty

“Moral, legal and common sense appears to have deserted the Church of England” – RWS


Well let’s get it out of the way. All child abuse is wrong and horrible. All claims of child abuse should be investigated properly and the offenders, if found to be guilty in a court of law, should be flung into prison for a very, very long time.

So now we’ve done the formalities. There is much discontent with the Church of England’s behaviour over the way it has handled abuse allegations against one of its greatest sons, George Bell – a great ecumenist, liturgist, wartime leader and friend to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church.

It was announced last week that a legal civil claim has been settled by the Diocese of Chichester regarding sexual abuse claims against Bishop Bell. The allegation was first made in 1995 and was not reported to the police. The case was reopened in 2013 and now an unknown sum of money has been handed over.

But why on earth is the Church of England traducing the reputation of one of its greatest wartime spiritual leaders on the basis of recent allegations about the events of 65 years ago? We talk about cases of historic abuse in reference to Jimmy Savile crimes during the 60s, 70s and 80s, but this case is truly prehistoric.

Bishop Bell died in 1958 and the crimes of abuse he is alleged to have committed against a young child date from the late 40s and early 50s when the Bishop himself was in his late 60s and early 70s.

He is effectively being tried and convicted by the Church of England with little thought for proper justice and due process.

“We are all diminished by what we are being told,” said the modern Bishop of Chichester. He goes on to explain: “Our starting point is response to the survivor. We remain committed to listening to all allegations of abuse with an open mind. In this case, the scrutiny of the allegation has been thorough, objective and undertaken by people who command the respect of all parties.

“We face with shame a story of abuse of a child; we also know that the burden of not being heard has made the experience so much worse. We apologise for the failures of the past.”

And here much of the problem lies. The starting point must be justice, not just a concern for the ‘survivor’, because that is to jump to conclusions. The Bishop, and the independent assessors, have missed out a vital part of the process of justice that is that the accused is presumed innocent and has the right to defend themselves.

The indecent haste to describe Bishop George Bell as an abuser is a failure of nerve on the part of the Church of England. The diocese of Chichester may have failed to respond properly when the allegation of abuse was first reported in 1995, and although the accuser was offered pastoral support, this should not lead to any sort of admission of guilt on behalf of George Bell.

There is hysteria and a lynch-mob mentality surrounding some of the cases of historic abuse. We have seen this in the false allegations of murder, rape and ritual abuse made against politicians such as Ted Heath, Leon Brittan and Harvey Proctor. The Church is now as much a part of this overreaction as any other part of society.

Of course there are historic cases of abuse, and there was a long period of time when child protection procedures were unknown and reports of abuse were dealt with poorly. There were cover-ups and failures to believe the victims of abuse. But we’ve had at least two decades of improving things, legislating and regulating to make sure that protections are better, and that children are properly listened to and dealt with.

These improvements should have lessened the sense of hysteria and panic surrounding these cases. Abusers such as Jimmy Savile could never have thrived in today’s climate of safeguarding. Yet the case of George Bell proves that we are living in a state of perpetual and rising fears over allegations of child abuse and we in the Church of England have no answers to these fears. In fact, we are complicit in the lynch mob.

Remember the ritual abuse controversy of the 1980s and 1990s in which social workers and police were convinced that Satanists were involved in the mass killing and abuse of children. And there was no evidence at all in the end.

Remember also the mob that surrounded the home of a paediatrician. The witch-hunt is back and no prominent person is safe from being named – alive or dead. And if named their reputation is trashed.

This is the very opposite of the Christian faith that decries fear and says ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’.

George Bell, with his reputation for bravery, and his leadership in bringing the victims of Nazism to safety, opposing carpet-bombing of German cities and supporting the martyrs of the Confessing Church, is the type of church leader who would have confronted this lynch mob with calm courage.

There may be a stain on his reputation for a short time but his memory will be cherished again in future especially when we look back at this time of witch-hunting with a proper sense of perspective.

6 Responses to “The rule of the lynch mob”

  1. EveOxford  07/11/2015 at 15:29

    “We are all diminished by what we are being told,” – actually, no. But we are diminished by the Church, in our name, presuming to judge, to apologise and then to pay compensation. If George Bell were still alive then perhaps we would have been treated to BBC film of a dawn raid of his palace (before the police admitted they shouldn’t have done that). Perhaps we’d have had a policeman standing in front of the Bishop’s Palace inviting “people who will be believed” to step forward. Perhaps his career would have been ruined and after a year of investigations the police would say they had nothing on him after all (as with Paul Gambaccini). Who on earth was selected by the diocese of Chichester to sit in judgment on the reputation of this bravest of Christians?

  2. Tony Foreman  07/11/2015 at 15:40

    In a wicked world we cannot, unfortunately, do without suspicion. But that suspicion has to be equally apportioned – to Bishop Bell, to the complainant and in regard to the competence of the C of E committee that saw fit to take the matter into its own hands and tacitly admit Bishop Bell’s guilt by issuing an apology. This is not justice: open and honest. It is an illegitimate, anonymous, unaccountable exercise of power. It is wholly against everything the C of E ought to stand for.

  3. Fr David Lawrence-March  07/11/2015 at 21:50

    Well doe, CofE Newspaper for a measured, Christian response.

  4. Fr David Lawrence-March  07/11/2015 at 21:52

    Whoops, ‘done’ !

  5. Richard  08/11/2015 at 07:35

    In 1995 Bishop Bell had been dead for 37 years. Dead people are beyond the reach of civil justice so how could the bishop at that time have gone to the police? And why, if they could have done, didn’t the acuser. Something stinks about this whole witch hunt.

    The Church of England’s shameful betrayal of bishop George Bell

    This fair, just, brave man deserves the simple justice of the presumption of innocence.

    7 November 2015

    The Church of England has produced a lot of good men and women, but very few great ones. It is in its modest, cautious nature that it should be so. Greatness requires a lonely, single-minded strength that does not sit easily with Anglicanism’s gentle compromise.

    And I suspect the Church has always been hesitant and embarrassed about the one undeniably great figure it produced in the 20th century. To this day, George Bell, Bishop of Chichester from 1929 to 1958, is an uncomfortable, disturbing person, like a grim obelisk set in a bleak landscape. Many British people still disapprove of his lonely public denunciation of Winston Churchill’s deliberate bombing of German civilians in their homes. Some still defend the bombing and seek to reconcile it with Christian teaching, which is hard. Others simply refuse to believe, against all evidence, that this is what we did. It is often said, though it cannot be proved, that George Bell would have become Archbishop of Canterbury — a post for which he was well qualified — had he kept his mouth shut.

    And perhaps this is why he found so few defenders when, 57 years after his death, Bishop Bell was numbered among the transgressors by his old church, and said to have been a paedophilic abuser.

    The church itself issued a public statement which correctly referred to the anonymous accusations against the late Bishop Bell as ‘allegations’, but in all other respects treated the claim as if it were a proven fact. Money had been paid in compensation. The current Bishop of Chichester, Dr Martin Warner, was said to have written to ‘the survivor’, apologising. He explained, ‘I am committed to ensuring that the past is handled with honesty and transparency.’ There were ‘expert independent reports’ (which have not been published). None ‘found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim’.

    The Sussex police, meanwhile, ‘confirmed’ that the information obtained from their inquiries would have led to Bishop Bell’s arrest, had he not been dead. Who can doubt this, given modern police forces’ strong interest in investigating such allegations against prominent people? But it merely draws attention to the long delay between the alleged offence and accusation. Had the bishop survived until the first allegation was made in 1995, he would have been 112 years old. As it turned out, he had been dead for 37 years, which is perhaps why the church did little at the time, and the police were not called to arrest and interrogate the bishop’s bones. The charges go even further back, and refer to alleged events in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    The church’s document on the affair was available online and quickly found its way to the desks of several newspaper correspondents. Unqualified headlines resulted, and stories which proclaimed without reservation that the late bishop ‘was’ a paedophile, and ‘committed’ sexual abuse. ‘Eminent bishop was paedophile, admits church,’ said one. ‘Church’s “deep sorrow” over abuse by bishop,’ said another. ‘C of E admits “saintly” bishop abused child,’ said a third. There were plenty of inverted commas on display but none were placed around the accusation. No doubt this did not distress the Church of England, which has suffered several undoubted (and poorly handled) cases of proven abuse and which is anxious to show that it is now sound and rigorous on this subject.

    All this is completely understandable. And yet it fills me with a powerless sense of outrage and injustice. It is perfectly possible that the allegations are true. But this is not some Jimmy Savile affair in which a great cloud of witnesses testify against a person, recently dead, whose life and works do not do very much to undermine the charges against him.

    George Bell, among much else to his credit, was one of the first in Britain to see the National Socialist menace. He was the dauntless ally and reliable friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He opened his beautiful palace to exiles and handed it over to evacuees during the war. Against the tide of opinion, he pleaded the cause of anti-Nazi refugees in this country who were foolishly rounded up during the invasion panic of 1940.

    Such a person may conceivably have been a secret abuser of children. But didn’t this fair, just, brave man (these things are proven) deserve the simple justice of the presumption of innocence, and those protections so majestically summed up in the sixth amendment to the US constitution — to be given speedy and public trial by an impartial jury, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to be confronted with witnesses against him, to have compulsory process to obtain witnesses in his favour, and to have the assistance of counsel in his defence?

    Well, he cannot have any of these things because he is dead. And he left no descendants to defend his honour. In which case it is surely up to us, not least to those in the church (whose main duty is to uphold the good even if they are reviled for it) to try to provide some sort of justice.

    By all means comfort and assuage the accuser, and compensate him or her (we are not even allowed to know the sex of the person involved). But in the absence of a timely, fair trial, did it serve the purposes of justice and goodness to make the matter public? To a secular mind, there is no difficulty in sacrificing the reputation of a dead man for what you think is a good cause. To those who believe in the immortal soul, or say they do, it is surely not quite so simple. As for those journals of record who presented allegations as proven fact, would they have dared treat any living person of such reputation in this way? Surely one of the things my trade most needs to prove is that it can and will act fairly without a judge or a regulator breathing down its neck.

    Peter Hitchens is a columnist for the Mail on Sunday.

Justice demands the presumption of innocence until found guilty in a Court of Law. Certain newspapers have published an allegation as if it was proven. It has not been proven. If this case does not disturb us, nothing which matters will….Bishop Bell’s niece, Barbara Whitley, hits back at accusers: “The history books are all going to say this man was an abuser when nothing is proven.” The Church – especially the Diocese of Chichester – would do well to ask whether or not they are breaking the ninth of the ten commandments when it comes to Bishop Bell of Chichester [‘Thou shalt not bear witness’], as well as breaching a fundamental right under English and international law: innocent until proven guilty. Silence says it all.

“A small team of investigative journalists at the Boston Globe (US) – known as ‘Spotlight’ – investigate allegations of sex abuse within the Catholic Church, and expose the scandal that the Archdiocese of Boston knew of the abuse, but did nothing – or not enough – to stop it. Disturbing parallels with the Church of England’s Diocese of Chichester” – RWS


Sussex Police has said sorry to the living relatives of Bishop George bell.

Superintendent Jez Graves has written to journalist Peter Hitchens, who is acting on behalf of a surviving relative.

The Chichester Diocese last year settled a civil claim to a woman who said she was abused as a young girl.

Police said to the Observer: “Yes, the letter apologises because the force did not take steps to try to contact any living relatives of Bishop Bell, to let them know that the statement about our investigation was to be made public by the Church of England last October.

“However the letter does not apologise for the police investigation or for the statement itself. It apologises solely for our not trying to ensure in advance that any surviving relatives knew of our statement, which was included in the Church statement.”

Bishop Bell served as Bishop of Chichester until his death in 1958.

September 2001 – Nolan Report published

Response Of The Catholic Bishops Of England And Wales To The Final Nolan Report

Bishops: “We now commit ourselves to implementing the Final report”
(15 November 2001, 1200hrs)

Below is the final resolution of the meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales following their meetings in Leeds between 12 and 15 November 2001. This was the first occasion after the publication of the Final Report that the bishops were able to meet and discuss the report. The final resolution reads as follows:



The Bishops’ Conference agrees to the publication of the following statement:

  1. We wish to express our gratitude and deep appreciation to Lord Nolan, to the members of the independent committee he chaired, and to all those who contributed in any way to the work of the review on Child Protection in the Catholic Church in England and Wales.
  2. At our last meeting in April 2001 we discussed the Review’s First Report with Lord Nolan and members of his committee. We unanimously resolved to establish the framework of arrangements that report recommended, and appointed an implementation team to take forward those recommendations that required action at national level. Since then, plans have gone ahead for the establishment of the national child protection unit. This unit will have offices in Birmingham, under a management board to be chaired by the Archbishop of Birmingham. The selection process for the Director of this new unit is underway and an appointment is due to be made next month.
  3. We now commit ourselves to implementing the Final report, published on 17 September 2001. Its recommendations build on and develop the arrangements which dioceses have put in place in recent years, following the publication of our pastoral and procedural guidelines in 1994. They complement and reinforce one another and constitute a single programme of action. A number of the recommendations in this Final Report, such as those relating to the establishment of the National Child Protection Unit, can be and are being implemented now. Once the National Unit is up and running, it will issue guidance on best practice which will enable a number of the more detailed recommendations at diocesan and parish level to be implemented consistently throughout the country.
  4. We have been encouraged by the determination that many religious congregations present in England and Wales have already shown in their positive response to the publication of the Nolan Report. It is vital that the Report’s recommendations are implemented fully and quickly by all religious congregations as well as by all dioceses. Acting together with the religious congregations we aim, as soon as possible, to put in place a single set of policies, principles and practices across the church.

1998 -Conviction of Father Michael Hill of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arundel and Brighton – Chaplain of Gatwick and brief Crawley Resident

Church pays victims of paedophile priest

  • Tuesday 18 July 2000
The Independent Online

The Roman Catholic Church has paid compensation to victims of a paedophile priest who was allowed to carry on working in the priesthood despite concerns about his behaviour.

The Roman Catholic Church has paid compensation to victims of a paedophile priest who was allowed to carry on working in the priesthood despite concerns about his behaviour.

The payments were made to victims of Father Michael Hill, who was jailed for five years in 1997 for ten sex attacks on altar boys and other children.

The new Archbishop of Westminster today insisted he had not acted irresponsibly by allowing the paedophile to work as a priest.

Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor defended his decision to give Hill a job as a chaplain despite warnings about him from parents.

In 1985, the Archbishop – who was then Bishop of Arundel in West Sussex – allowed the priest back to work after earlier revoking his licence to work in a parish.

Hill was later made chaplain at Gatwick Airport, where he would have less contact with children.

But he abused a boy with learning difficulties he met at the chapel after the boy missed a flight.

The compensation payments were made after some of Hill’s victims decided to sue the church over the way it handled the case.

The Rt Rev Murphy-O’Connor said today: “It is true to say that if the strict procedures for child protection that are now in place had been in operation in 1985, then (Father Hill’s) situation would have been handled differently.

“I maintain that with the facts then known to me, the decisions made at that time in his regard were not irresponsible.”

The Archbishop has now agreed that boys abused by the priest should receive compensation, though the church is not prepared to discuss how much.

The Diocese of Arundel and Brighton today issued a statement which said: “In 1983, after concerns had been raised with diocesan clergy and Bishop Murphy-O’Connor, Father Michael Hill was removed from his parish in Heathfield (in East Sussex) for professional assessment and later therapy.

“In the light of advice received, following that treatment, Bishop Murphy-O’Connor withdrew Father Hill’s licence to work in a parish.

“In 1985, based on the professional advice which had been given – and which had included as one option that Father Hill work in a limited pastoral capacity – he was then offered an industrial chaplaincy.

“The Diocese of Arundel and Brighton has paid compensation to certain individuals who were victims of Father Michael Hill, who was convicted in 1997 of offences relating to the abuse of young persons in the diocese.

“The diocesan trustees concluded the settlement of a compensation claim on a voluntary basis so as to save the claimants having to undergo the ordeal of giving evidence before a civil court.

“It should be noted that a voluntary agreement is not an admission of liability on the part of the diocese or the then bishop.

“The names of the individuals and the details of the settlement agreed with them will remain confidential.

“The diocesan trustees also wish to convey to the individuals concerned and their families their deepest sympathy for what they had to endure as a result of Father Hill’s offences.”

1983 – Child Sexual Abuse by the Roman Catholic Priest Gilbert Gauthe in the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana

It all began in Lafayette

After clergy sex abuse rocks a Louisiana diocese, a newly appointed bishop develops the tactics he’ll later use in Minnesota.

By Madeleine Baran · July 21, 2014


Lafayette, La. — The Diocese of Lafayette stretches from the city south to Vermilion Bay, whose waters lead to the Gulf of Mexico. Down among the bayous and sugar cane fields of southern Louisiana, Catholicism runs deep.

Map of Lafayette, La.Lafayette is the capital of Louisiana’s Cajun country, about 135 miles west of New Orleans. Molly Bloom/MPR News

Many of the 300,000 Catholics who live here trace their history back to the late 1700s, when their French ancestors fled Canada to escape British rule. In this humid, undeveloped land, they discovered waters filled with shrimp, oysters and crawfish, and they built churches on patches of dry ground.

For generations, they believed the priest served as the living face of Jesus Christ. He forgave their sins, baptized the young and anointed the sick. In his purity, he gave the faithful a glimpse of what heaven would be like.

No one had ever heard of a priest raping a child.

So when the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe arrived in the 1970s and showed an interest in young boys, no one paid much attention.

The priest took boys on camping trips and invited them for sleepovers in the rectory. He claimed to hold practices for altar boys every day at 6 a.m. and encouraged parents to let their boys spend the night.

His sexual appetite was uncontrollable. He put bars on the windows of a rectory. He kept a gun by the side of his bed, and when children refused to submit he threatened to use it. At night, he raped the boys, forced them to perform sex acts on each other, and took photographs on his Polaroid camera.

It went on this way for more than a decade. Gauthe remained in ministry even when his bishop learned that he had abused one boy and licked the faces of two others. After the second complaint, the bishop transferred Gauthe to a small church in the isolated town of Henry, La. On Sundays, the priest stood at the altar and surveyed his victims.

The narthex of St. Mary Magdalene church in downtown Abbeville, La. Gauthe served here from 1976 until 1977, when he was transferred to St. John in Henry.The vestibule of St. Mary Magdalene Church in downtown Abbeville, La. The Rev. Gilbert Gauthe served here from 1976 until 1977, when he was transferred to St. John in Henry. William Widmer/For MPR News

Finally, in 1983, a boy told his father, Wayne Sagrera, and Sagrera reported it to the diocese. The bishop sent Gauthe away for psychological treatment and offered nine families confidential settlements of more than $4 million.

One family refused to settle and went public, and the community awoke to the horror of what the priest had been doing to its children.

Left: St. John church in Henry, La.; Right: Rev. Gilbert GautheThe Rev. Gilbert Gauthe (right) was transferred in 1977 to the parish of St. John (left), where he served the southern Louisiana towns of Henry and Erath. William Widmer/For MPR News and AP file photo

The Gastal family sued the diocese for failing to protect their 10-year-old son, Scott, who had been abused by Gauthe for more than a year. When Scott was hospitalized for rectal bleeding caused by the abuse, Gauthe stopped by to give him a toy car. The boy later worried that Gauthe would break into his parents’ home and attack him. He would stay up all night checking the locks.

The boy testified graphically in court in 1986, struggling at times to find the words to describe what had happened. He said Gauthe had put his “pee-pee” inside him. The jury awarded $1 million.

The case made headlines around the country, especially after freelance reporter Jason Berry dug into the details and found a cover-up. As months passed, it became clear that Gauthe had been abusing children for decades. He later told a psychologist that he had abused more than 300 children. The scandal grew even after Gauthe pleaded guilty to 34 criminal counts and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

More parents threatened to come forward. Other priests were accused. Reporters began to wonder whether this was truly an isolated incident or an example of something that ran deeper and farther than a single diocese.

Their suspicions would prove correct. And the events unfolding in Louisiana would prove key to understanding a story that would play out decades later in Minnesota.

Vatican ‘feared a domino effect’

The news from Louisiana soon reached the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., where the Rev. Thomas Doyle, a young canon lawyer and fast-rising star in the church hierarchy, became alarmed. He wondered: How many other priests had abused children? And how many bishops had covered it up?

Doyle quickly concluded that the scandal of priests sexually abusing children – and the failure of the church hierarchy to stop it – could destroy the Catholic Church in the United States. The Vatican “feared a domino effect,” he recalled in a recent interview. “The risk was the loss of prestige, the loss of power, the loss of respect,” and the loss of money.

There was also the spiritual risk of scandal, a word that has a different meaning in the Catholic Church. Scandal threatens to separate believers from God. It could send people to hell.

Rev. Thomas DoyleThe Rev. Thomas Doyle spoke to the 2002 national conference of Voice of the Faithful, a group that formed in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal. AP file 2002

As the crisis unfolded in 1985, Doyle teamed up with Ray Mouton, Gauthe’s criminal defense attorney, and the Rev. Michael Peterson, who ran a treatment center in Maryland for priests with sexual disorders. They wrote a confidential report called “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy.” It warned that hundreds of priests might be abusing children and that lawsuits and settlements could cost the U.S. Catholic Church $1 billion in 10 years.

No one listened.

“They literally laughed that off,” Doyle said. “You know, they were the Catholic Church, much too big and powerful to ever fall prey to these lawyers and these people.”

He watched as Lafayette Bishop Gerard Frey, then 71, failed to repair the scandal. “There was no playbook at that time. Nobody knew how to do it,” Doyle said.

Frey had offered prayers, policies and promises, but he couldn’t undo his failure years earlier to act on the complaints about Gauthe. A local newspaper called for his resignation. In an interview, Frey said Gauthe had tricked him into thinking he was cured.

Frey wouldn’t directly admit that he had been wrong to keep Gauthe in ministry. “Unfortunately, circumstances have proven that my subjective evaluation was in error,” he said.

Doyle read the news reports with dismay. He suggested that the pope send a new bishop to Lafayette to serve alongside Frey for the next three years and then replace him when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.

He recommended a parish priest named Harry Flynn.

As bishop of Lafayette, Flynn hosted Mother Teresa at the Cajundome.As bishop of Lafayette, Flynn hosted Mother Teresa at the Cajundome. Acadiana Catholic/1985

A contented pastor gets a call

Flynn “was very well respected at the time as a man, a priest who dealt well with other priests,” Doyle recalled. “He had a reputation for being a really good guy, very pastoral, very compassionate, and that’s why we focused on him rather than a company man who would be purely administrative.”

Flynn was also a practical choice. “We thought that the church’s reputation was going to be decimated anyway when the cover-up became known, and that the only way they would be able to redeem this was by truly sincere compassion and pastoral contact with the victims,” he said.

Doyle would soon be disappointed.

Flynn, then 52, turned down the job at first and went to relax at his cabin in upstate New York. One night, a state trooper knocked on the back door.

“Are you Father Flynn?” the trooper asked. “Cardinal O’Connor wants you to call him tonight.”

Flynn returned the call, and New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor persuaded him to accept the job. The appointment took him by surprise, Flynn later said in an interview.

Catholic church hierarchy

hierarchy of the Catholic ChurchMolly Bloom/MPR News

Flynn had been serving as pastor of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Latham, N.Y., just a few miles from where he grew up. His connection to the priesthood began when he was 6 years old and watched a priest deliver a daily Eucharist to his dying father.

Flynn’s mother died when he was 12, and the young orphan turned to the church for solace. He would stop by on his walk to school for a few moments of silent prayer. The Catholic Church seemed safe and enduring; its rituals offered comfort. Flynn later felt called to become a priest, and was ordained in 1960.

In the years that followed, he served as rector of the oldest seminary in the country, Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md., and as a pastor in the Diocese of Albany. He felt his strongest connection to seminary students and other priests, and became known nationally as a leader in recruiting men to the priesthood.

Life as a bishop would be different. He would be responsible for all the souls in his diocese, parishioners and priests alike. He would become part of the fiercely competitive church hierarchy, in which promotions are influenced by loyalty and personal connections. If he impressed the Vatican and his fellow bishops, he might be promoted to cardinal, placing him in the small, influential group that elects the pope.

It was a lot for a parish priest to consider. But before any of that could happen, he needed to resolve the crisis in Lafayette.

The birth of a legend

Flynn would later claim that he healed the Diocese of Lafayette and restored the faith of its Catholics. Bishops, reporters and parishioners were amazed by his success, and Flynn, then the archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, became a much sought-after expert on clergy sexual abuse.

“These people were crying out for someone to heal them fully,” Flynn wrote in April 2002. “When they told me of the terrible acts perpetrated against them or their children, I was sometimes overwhelmed by the gravity and intensity of their accounts.”

The Lafayette scandal showed him that “the bishop needs to quiet his own heart and be able to receive the confusion and hurt before attempting to respond to it,” he told bishops in a 1994 national report on clergy sexual abuse.

VIDEO “For a while, it was not easy being a Catholic in Lafayette.”Archbishop Harry Flynn

Siena College “Trusting the Clergy?” seminar, March 2003

At a national conference on the topic in 2003, Flynn addressed the audience as keynote speaker. “My experience of this problem as a bishop goes back to the place and almost to the time of the first case of this kind to gain widespread public attention,” he said. “This was in the Diocese of Lafayette, La.”

The assignment had been a painful one. “For a while, it was not easy being a Catholic – and definitely not a priest or a bishop – in Lafayette,” he said. “One of the things that gives me hope in the current crisis is the experience I had in Lafayette of how people of good faith dealt with these terrible happenings. They were able, in a period of great testing, ultimately to discern between the grievous failings of the church’s ministers and the truth and integrity of her Gospel message.

“This is not mere wishful thinking. The local church of Lafayette came to this realization only after suffering a great deal in facing up to the terrible things done to innocent children by men who should be among the most trustworthy in the community.”

“[Flynn] was spit on, thrown in the mud.”Rev. Jim Wiesner

During the dark days of the national scandal in 2002, Flynn’s legend grew. “The story is that when they sent Archbishop Flynn to Louisiana, he had a driver take him to every family where there had been a victim,” the Rev. Jim Wiesner, who served as a priest in Minneapolis in the 1990s, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “He was spit on, thrown in the mud. When people asked him, ‘Why did you keep doing that?’ he said, ‘To give them an opportunity to voice their anger.'”

News organizations, including the Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer Press, repeated similar claims without verifying them. When U.S. bishops selected Flynn to lead their response to the national clergy abuse scandal, a Star Tribune editorial praised the selection as a sign that the church was serious about reform.

Flynn became the face of the church’s response. He led the committee that wrote the church’s policy, called the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. His background gave the Catholic Church tremendous credibility at a moment of crisis.

There was just one problem. The story wasn’t true.

Behind the scenes, a nightmare

Flynn arrived in Lafayette on a rainy day in July 1986 and moved into a residence with the vicar general, Alexandre Larroque, who had played a key role in covering up Gauthe’s abuse.

Monsignor Alexandre LarroqueMonsignor Alexandre Larroque Acadiana Catholic/April 1988

The diocese newspaper announced Flynn’s appointment with a banner headline, “The diocese gets a winner!” At a news conference, Flynn projected confidence: “If you know church history, the church has faced many crises through the years, but the church, which is Jesus Christ and the presence of the Lord, is bigger than any crisis, and the church will survive.”

Behind the scenes lay a nightmarish situation. No one knew when the scandal would end or how to fix it. It seemed a new lawsuit was being filed every day.

Doyle, the Vatican Embassy official, told the new bishop to call Gauthe’s attorney, Ray Mouton, for a briefing on the scandal. “He knows the ins and the outs, he knows the deep layers and he can help you more than anyone else,” Doyle told him.

Mouton came from a prominent Lafayette family that had donated the land for the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, the spiritual center of the diocese. He was sickened by his knowledge of Gauthe’s crimes and wanted the church to offer counseling to every victim.

He never got a chance to suggest it. Flynn never called.

“My office was four blocks from his office,” Mouton recalled in a recent interview, “so I wrote him a letter, a very nice letter. I welcomed him to Lafayette and stressed that it was urgent that I meet with him.”

Ray MoutonYears after representing Gauthe, attorney Ray Mouton wrote “In God’s House,” a fictionalized account of his experience. Courtesy M. Barrios

No reply.

Mouton and Doyle were disappointed, but there was little Doyle could do. Later that year, Doyle was forced out of his job – his career ruined, he said, because of his efforts to force the church to confront the abuse crisis. He would spend the rest of his life on the outside, helping victims and pleading with the church to protect children. Mouton also spent years pressuring the church to change, but the stress and conflict thwarted his quest.

Another Catholic attorney who had represented victims, Anthony Fontana, was frustrated in his efforts to get the bishop’s attention. “There’s another problem you need to know about,” he told Flynn. A Lafayette priest named Gilbert Dutel had been accused of coercing young adult men into having sex.

Flynn offered a calm reply. He explained that Dutel was cured and that, regardless, he needed to keep him in ministry because of the priest shortage.

Fontana was dismayed. Flynn was just like the previous bishop, he thought.

Fontana would include the details of the conversation in a sworn affidavit later, in 1995. That affidavit – like thousands of other documents about the clergy sexual abuse scandal in Lafayette – was sealed by a federal judge as part of a massive insurance lawsuit the diocese filed two years after Flynn arrived. In the lawsuit, the church sought to force the insurance agency to reimburse it for settlements it had paid to victims.

Since then, the documents have sat in five dusty boxes in a federal office building in Fort Worth, Texas. There are no records of any major news reports on the suit, even though a judge lifted the seal in 1998.

Palm Sunday services at the Cathedral of St. John the EvangelistCatholics celebrated Palm Sunday Mass in April at Lafayette’s Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. William Widmer/For MPR News

Playing hardball in court

The files do not support the claim that Flynn healed the diocese. They also contain no suggestion that Flynn called police about priests accused of sexually assaulting children. Hundreds of documents reveal that Flynn’s diocese used many of the same aggressive legal tactics that he would later employ in the Twin Cities.

Attorneys hired by the diocese argued that victims waited too long to come forward and that the public didn’t need to know the names of accused priests. The diocese fought efforts by victims to seek compensation from the church and focused on keeping the scandal as private as possible, which meant that fewer victims came forward to sue.

In the case of Dutel, the documents show, the allegations weren’t limited to young adults. Dutel had also been accused of sexually abusing a child. In an interview with a lawyer in 1992, the alleged victim said Dutel had abused him in the 1970s, starting when he was 9 years old.

Still, Flynn kept Dutel in ministry. No records exist of any reports to police.

Dutel, 69, now serves as the pastor of St. Edmond Catholic Church in Lafayette. Over the 22 years since his accuser came forward, Dutel has worked in elementary and high schools and served in several parishes. There’s even a playground named after him.

Betrayed By Silence: An MPR News investigation

Clergy abuse, cover-up and crisis in the Twin Cities Catholic ChurchAbout this reporting
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Explore the full investigation

Reached last week, Dutel denied the allegations and declined to say whether Flynn had informed him of the complaints: “I have a sense that I am not sure that I should be talking to you, because I don’t know where this information is coming from.” He declined an offer from MPR News to send him the documents for his review.

The diocese would eventually win its lawsuit against the insurance broker, Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. It would recoup more than $4 million despite the agency’s plea that the courts make the church pay for the cover-up. “This Diocese does not deserve to be rewarded for its deceit, and the harm caused by that deceit and the criminal acts of its priests,” the firm argued.

“Unbeknownst to Gallagher, the Diocese was a ticking time bomb,” it said in another court filing. “Gallagher did not, and could not, foresee that the Diocese of Lafayette would have not one but several child molesters in its employ as Roman Catholic priests. Only the Diocese knew that it had active priests who had molested children. During the 1970’s and early 1980’s, the men who ran the Diocese of Lafayette manufactured a time-bomb of epic proportions.

“The time-bomb exploded in 1983 and since that time the Diocese has been hit by over a hundred claims relating to allegations that minors had been fondled, raped, sodomized and otherwise molested before, during or even after the Diocese began using Gallagher as its insurance agency in 1981.”

In 1995, the agency called the rampant abuse by Gauthe and others “the equivalent of dozens of hurricanes.” The diocese was “ground zero when it comes to pedophilia,” it said, and “incredibly,” most of the men who orchestrated the cover-up “are still in positions of leadership.”

 In August 1987, Flynn blessed the shrimp fleet in Delcambre. Acadiana Catholic/September 1987

Shrimp boats and candy

While the insurance lawsuit made its way privately through the courts, Flynn kept busy. He recruited men to the priesthood, welcomed Mother Teresa to a packed event at the Cajundome and celebrated a special Mass for lawyers. He spent Christmas Eve with inmates at a Lafayette jail. On Valentine’s Day, he delivered candy to each of the diocese’s nearly 100 employees.

“Bishop Flynn does indeed seem to be everywhere, having come into the Lafayette Diocese like an Irish whirlwind, sweeping the people of Acadiana right off their feet with his Gaelic charm,” a columnist for the diocese newspaper wrote in May 1989. (Acadiana is an informal name for French Louisiana.) “His calendar is booked months in advance, yet those really in need seem always to have access to him.”

Delcambre, La.The rural town of Delcambre, La., is roughly 20 miles south of Lafayette. Molly Bloom/MPR News

The New York priest embraced Cajun life. He played a starring role in the biggest event of the year – the blessing of the shrimp fleet in the waters off Delcambre, on the southern edge of the diocese.

The local Catholic newspaper celebrated the event with a full-page cover photo in September 1987. The photo shows Flynn, in a white robe and red cap, standing on the deck of one of the shrimp boats.

As thousands looked on from shore, boats lined up in the water. They circled around, one by one, and Flynn threw holy water on them.

Down along the water in Delcambre, Mike LeBlanc, who runs a gas station where shrimp boats fuel up, still remembers Flynn’s visit, although he was just a child at the time. It was unusual for a bishop to come down to bless the fleet, he said. “I don’t know why he came that year, but it was something nice, real nice. It was a big thing here.”

The Rev. Chester Arceneaux stood on the boat with Flynn that day. Arceneaux was a new priest at the time. Now he’s the pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, the most prominent church in the diocese.

Last April, on Palm Sunday, Arceneaux, dressed in a long red robe, led a procession of children carrying palm fronds into the cathedral. The church was packed, and the priest reminded the Cajun crowd of the need to fast for Lent. “That includes crawfish,” he said.

Rev. Chester ArceneauxThe Rev. Chester Arceneaux (left) is now pastor of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist parish in Lafayette. He was ordained by Bishop Harry Flynn and remembers him fondly. William Widmer/For MPR News

After shaking the hands of departing parishioners, Arceneaux stayed outside for a few minutes to talk about his memories of Flynn, the bishop who ordained him.

Flynn was a father figure to him, he said, a spiritual leader who connected with priests and parishioners alike.

“He was a great listener and a great healer of the people who were struggling at the time of the scandals that we had here within the diocese,” he said. “He had that beautiful gift of knowing people personally and knowing their experience. And that’s what gave the church of Lafayette, at a difficult time it was, that great hope…that truly the shepherd had come to nurture them and to listen to them and to heal them.”

Diocese of LafayetteThe Diocese of Lafayette’s headquarters sits just beyond the city’s center. William Widmer/For MPR News

The nun who lived Flynn’s legend

Others closer to the scandal had a different opinion.

While Flynn was immersing himself in Cajun life, a nun and former teacher named Sister Bartholomew DeRouen was trying to reach out to parents whose children had been abused by Gauthe.

Bishop Gerard FreyBishop Gerard Frey Courtesy McNeese State University archives

Sister Bartholomew, who goes by “Sister B,” was given the job by Bishop Frey in 1985 after the Gauthe scandal broke. Frey felt uncomfortable meeting with the families, he would later testify, and thought a woman could do a better job.

But Frey didn’t make the job any easier. He wouldn’t give Sister Bartholomew the names of victims, so she spent hours driving aimlessly up and down rural roads. Out of desperation, she visited Gauthe in prison. He refused to help.

“It was like talking to evil,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I didn’t molest any of those boys. I just made them feel good.'”

She found some families by chance, as happened one day when she stopped at a random house to ask a favor. The woman at the door cut her off. “We know who you are,” she said. “And we don’t have any use for you here.”

“Actually,” Sister Bartholomew said, “I’m just wondering if I could use the bathroom.”

Five minutes later, the whole family had gathered in the living room. They were ready to talk.

“I blessed my bladder that day,” she said.

However, there was little she could do in most cases. Parents did not want to return to the parishes where their children had been abused. When Sister Bartholomew suggested other pastors, parents would shake their heads and tell her that those priests, too, were suspected of sexually abusing children.

And then, when Flynn arrived, Sister Bartholomew almost lost her job. One of Flynn’s closest advisers, Monsignor Richard Greene, tried to fire her, she said, but she refused to leave.

Greene and other priests saw the Gauthe scandal as a way to advance their careers, she explained. “It was like once it came out in the open and people began to talk about it, it became sort of the ‘in’ thing to be involved with the Gauthe situation, to be one of the good guys,” she said.

Although Flynn was more charming than Frey, she said, he also gave her no names. Nor did he go door to door to talk to victims, as would later be asserted, she said. “He was a disappointment.”

Neither Flynn nor Frey seemed to understand how deeply the families had been harmed by the abuse and the church’s cover-up, she said. “I think they just put their heads in the sand.”

Greene, reached in April, said he barely knew Flynn. “I was simply a pastor in one of the parishes,” he said.

Monsignor Larroque, who lived with Flynn and served as one of his top deputies, was similarly reticent. When asked to share his memories of working alongside Flynn, he paused. “I’d rather not,” he said.

Lennis Baudoin is among the fishermen who collect crawfish from traps next to St. John church in Henry, La.Lennis Baudoin is among the fishermen who collect crawfish from traps next to St. John church in Henry. William Widmer/For MPR News

‘The church came first’

A short drive from the shrimp boats in Delcambre are the isolated communities of Henry and Esther, where alligators outnumber people and sugar cane fields stretch on for miles. It’s where Gauthe terrorized hundreds of children.

Wayne and Rose Sagrera built their home here in 1974. They run a successful alligator farm, with hundreds of reptiles kept in locked pools across the field.

At the front door, two alligator-shaped gargoyles welcome visitors. Inside the airy home, pictures of children and grandchildren line the walls.

Map of three Louisiana towns: Esther, Henry and DelcambreThe small towns of Esther and Henry lie 25 and 10 miles from Delcambre, respectively. Molly Bloom/MPR News

Three of the Sagreras’ sons were abused by Gauthe. In 1983, Wayne Sagrera became the first to report the abuse to the diocese, and he pleaded with a church official to remove Gauthe from ministry. The official told him, “Well, you know, we don’t have anybody to say Mass Sunday,” he recalled.

Sagrera told him, “It really doesn’t make too damn much difference because the anger is starting to swell in the community, and someone can possibly kill him and if I see him it will probably be me.”

The threat worked. Church officials sent Gauthe away for psychological treatment. The Sagreras later accepted a private settlement from the diocese for several hundred thousand dollars.

Family members were still in shock when Flynn arrived in 1986, three years after they had first learned of the abuse. The Sagreras had formed a weekly prayer group with the families of about six other victims.

Flynn began attending the prayer group. “He said that he came here to heal,” Wayne Sagrera said.

But the new bishop struggled to relate to the families, Rose Sagrera recalled. He listened but showed no emotion. The meetings seemed awkward and forced.

“I don’t think that he got, or could get in touch with, the human suffering that was going on,” she said. “I don’t think he had a hold on that at all. I don’t know if he didn’t care or wasn’t capable. I don’t think he got that. If you get that human suffering, you have to show some feelings, you have to care, and we didn’t see that.”

The Sagreras tried to socialize with Flynn to make him feel welcome. They brought one of their sons to a barbeque with the new bishop and his adviser, Monsignor Greene, the same priest who had tried to fire Sister Bartholomew.

Flynn didn’t talk to the boy. And at one point, Greene pointed at the boy and said, “See that child right there? He’s the reason Harry Flynn is a bishop.”

Wayne Sagrera hadn’t given up on Flynn, though, and wondered if it would be better to meet with him alone. In several private meetings, he pleaded with Flynn to reach out to the parishes where Gauthe had served to find other victims and offer them counseling.

He told the new bishop that Gauthe had acknowledged abusing hundreds of children, but that only a few dozen had come forward. He worried about the other kids, particularly because many of the parents were in denial about what had happened.

Flynn’s response startled him. Flynn admitted that the church had been wrong to keep Gauthe in ministry and that it had mishandled the entire situation. But, he explained, there was nothing he could do.

“[Flynn] was here not to heal. He was here to save the Catholic Church in this area.”Wayne Sagrera

“He used the excuse that he made a vow to protect the church,” Wayne Sagrera recalled. “He made it very plain that the church came first…On numerous occasions he admitted they were at fault, but he would not come forward and do anything about it.”

Wayne was furious. “I guess maybe I’m a little bit simple a human being, but to me your responsibility lies with your parishioners, not with the church,” he said.

The final straw came when the Sagreras asked Flynn for a favor.

Their second-youngest son, who had been abused by Gauthe starting at age 6, was slowly recovering from the abuse. He’d spent six months in a psychiatric hospital after he told his parents that he wanted to kill himself. After he was released, he told his parents that he wanted to go back to being a regular kid.

He returned to his Catholic elementary school and asked to join the football team. His parents took it as a good sign that he was on the mend. But the school counselor refused to let him play.

The Sagreras asked Flynn to intercede. As bishop, he could override the decision. “He very coldly said no,” Rose Sagrera said. “The child had to follow the school rules, and there were no exceptions.”

“That finished it off,” Wayne said. “That was the last meeting with Bishop Flynn.”

The families’ prayer group broke up. “It was causing more pain than healing,” Rose recalled.

The couple said they’re not surprised that people think Flynn healed the diocese.

Wayne said, “It’s hard for someone who is not directly involved” to understand the pain felt by the victims and their families. “So I’m sure some of those people feel, ‘Well it’s taken care of now. The bishop came and everything’s good.’…But I don’t see how healing can be done if you don’t deal with the people who were involved, if you don’t come forward and do something for these children.”

He finds Flynn’s claim that he healed the diocese offensive. “He was here not to heal. He was here to save the Catholic Church in this area.”

The Sagreras’ boys are now doing well. But some of the other victims, they said, never really recovered.

Scott Gastal at his home in Mouton Cove, La.Scott Gastal, 40, testified when he was 11 that he had been abused by the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe, his family’s parish priest. William Widmer/For MPR News

‘I wanted to put a stop to it’

The boy who sparked the national clergy sexual abuse scandal is now 40 years old.

Scott Gastal lives with his girlfriend in a small home in Mouton Cove, just a few miles down the road from the church where he was abused. Most days he doesn’t leave the house.

During a recent visit, the front door stood open. Inside, the home was empty except for a mattress on the floor of the living room, a few prescription pill bottles, and a crucifix hanging above the front door.

Gastal is 6 feet tall and thin, with a receding hairline and dark circles under his eyes. He wore an orange T-shirt and dark blue athletic shorts. He appeared fragile and shy, apologizing for the lack of chairs and offering a seat on the bed.

He said he would be moving soon. He wanted to get away from this place where everyone knows what happened.

But he said he doesn’t regret telling the world what Gauthe did.

“I wanted to put a stop to it,” he said. “I wanted the man to pay for what he did to me…I feel at least I stopped something, a monster, from doing it to other kids.”

The abuse “just had a major effect on my life,” he said softly, pushing his hands into the mattress. “Things I wanted to accomplish in life I couldn’t get done because of it.”

Gastal said he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder and insomnia brought on by the abuse, and receives federal disability payments as a result. He said he was hospitalized for a nervous breakdown in 1998. “Things just started all to build up on me,” he said, “and before I knew it, it was just out of control.”

Now he sees a therapist once a month and hopes to go to school to become a social worker.

He never received any of the $1 million awarded to him. His parents spent it before he was old enough to claim it.

“How I feel is that the church let me down,” he said, “and lawyers soon after let me down because they didn’t invest the money right. I wasn’t taken care of the way I was supposed to.”

Gastal said he never met with Flynn or anyone else from the church, and no one apologized to him or his family. He was surprised to learn that Flynn claims he met with all the victims and healed the diocese.

“That’s the first I’m hearing of anything like that,” he said.

Gastal sometimes runs into other victims of Gauthe, but they don’t have any support group or other assistance. “Nobody sticks together like that.”

He said he hopes his story encourages other victims of sexual abuse to get help.

Flynn and Roach announced Flynn's arrival togetherRoach announced Flynn’s appointment as his successor and coadjutor bishop of the Twin Cities archdiocese in February 1994. Courtesy KARE-11

St. Paul’s next archbishop

None of the other Gauthe victims has come forward publicly to talk about what happened. The silence has allowed the horror to fade in the minds of most parishioners here.

By the time Flynn left Lafayette, he was beloved by many. He’d won praise from his fellow bishops and had been appointed to serve on a national committee on clergy sexual abuse. One of his fellow committee members was Archbishop John Roach of St. Paul and Minneapolis, where the Catholic Church’s second major clergy abuse scandal had broken in 1987.

Roach admired the Lafayette bishop, 12 years his junior. When it came time for Roach to retire, he suggested Flynn as a successor. The Vatican agreed, and the appointment was announced in February 1994.

At a news conference, Roach praised Flynn’s work: “Since coming to the Lafayette Diocese, he has reached out with compassion and reconciliation, encouraging harmony, always stressing the spiritual dimension of daily life.”

Flynn said he welcomed the new assignment. “Lafayette has been very good to me and I hope that I will find that same love and that same nurturing in this archdiocese,” he said.

In Lafayette, thousands packed the cathedral for one final Mass. At a reception, Flynn shook the hands of parishioners for nearly six hours.

Editor’s note (July 23, 2014): This story has been updated to more precisely describe what led Ray Mouton to end his efforts to change church policy.

This story was reported by Madeleine Baran with help from Sasha Aslanian, Meg Martin, Tom Scheck and Laura Yuen. It was edited by Eric Ringham. The project’s editor is Chris Worthington.

Top photo: St. Mary Magdalene Church in downtown Abbeville, La., where the Rev. Gilbert Gauthe served from 1976 until 1977. William Widmer/For MPR News


« Documentary


How three archbishops hid the truth

Chapter 2 »

The church protects its own

About the reporter

Madeleine Baran

Madeleine Baran

• Reporter

Madeleine Baran is a reporter for MPR News.

June 1985 (US) – “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy: Meeting the Problem in a Comprehensive and Responsible Manner” – 92-Page Report by Rev Thomas Doyle, Lawyer Ray Mouton & Rev Michael Peterson





This confidential document had its remote beginnings in January of 1985 as a result of the consequences of the unfortunate incidents in Louisiana. The three major parts of the final draft were prepared in May of 1985 and this final draft was compiled on June 8-9, 1985 by Mr. F. Ray Mouton, J.D. and Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, O.P. J.C.D

[See an explanation of this document and its history. This web version was created from a PDF of the original on the National Catholic Reporter’s website. We have not corrected the typos in the original typescript. The table of contents has been linked to the heads that it lists, and an anchor has been placed at the beginning of each page, so if you wish to link directly to page 63, you would use the URL]


History of Proposal   2
Confidentiality of This Document   3

Illustration of One Case   5
General Discussion   9

Criminal Law Questions   16
Civil Law Questions   18
Canon Law Questions   22
Clinical/Medical Questions   26

Insurance Considerations   32
Civil Law Considerations   34
Criminal Law Considerations   42
Clinical/Medical Considerations   47
Canonical Considerations   58
Selected Spiritual Concerns   74
Public Relations Concerns   77

The Committee   80
The Group of Four Bishops   80
The Crisis Control Team   81
The Policy and Planning Group   82

The Crisis Control Team   84
The Policy and Planning Group   87



[page 1 begins]


This document contains a discussion of an extremely serious situation and a proposal to establish and fund a Special Project to be comprised of a Crisis Control Team and a Policy and Planning Group.

Both the Team and the Group would work under the direct control and supervision of an ad hoc Committee of four Bishops, all of whom have civil law degrees. This Committee of four shall control every aspect of the Special Project, subject to the supervision of a Committee formed out of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, under whose auspices they shall be appointed, receive authority, and serve.

The Project itself, both the Team and the Group, shall be comprised of professionals and consultants who possess a significant degree of experience and expertise in their given fields. Some of this group of experts from different disciplines shall devote the entirety of their professional endeavor to the Project during its existence. Other experts shall be retained as required. However, a group of professionals shall be working full time on the Project.

It is contemplated that the minimum life of the Special Project shall be five years. It is believed that following the completion of that term, it would be beneficial to retain some of the elements of the Project in place as opposed to dismantling the entire structure. [page 2 begins]

The cost of the Project is dependent upon the caliber of consultants retained, their degree of expertise and experience, and the portion of their professional life to be devoted to the Project. The cost shall be substantial.


Some extremely serious issues have arisen which issues presently place the Church in the posture of facing extremely serious financial consequences as well as significant injury to its image. As a result of sexual molestation of children by Clerics (Priests, Permanent Deacons, Transient Deacons), non-ordained Religious, lay employees and seminarians, for many months there has been continuous confidential communication amongst some expert consultants and Clergy, all of whom possess hands on experience with the more serious cases of sexual molestation. Through those discussions, the idea of this Project was born. The scope of the Project has been defined and re-defined until it reached the final form presented herein. It is contemplated that the very nature of the Project shall cause further re-definition during its existence.

The Criminal Considerations, Civil Considerations, Canonical Considerations, and Clinical Considerations are of such magnitude, not to mention the other substantial considerations such as Insurance and Public Relations, that it was decided that the [page 3 begins here] presentation of these extraordinary issues necessitated an extraordinary response, a response which would affirmatively and aggressively attack the problems. This is a very new and narrow area of legal jurisprudence which is developing with a very adverse effect upon the Church’s interests. In addition to the legal issues, there are unique Canonical Considerations and extremely complex Clinical Considerations which cannot or should not be addressed in a piecemeal manner.

It is submitted that time is of the essence. At the moment this is being read, problems with which the Project will deal are continuously arising. Many of these problems appear to be old problems, and indeed some are. However, all now carry consequences never before experienced….(continued)

October 27 2012 – Church considers removing Jimmy Savile knighthood” – Christian Today


Church considers removing Jimmy Savile knighthood

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has reportedly asked the Vatican if Jimmy Savile can be stripped of his papal knighthood posthumously.

The Archbishop of Westminster, the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols has made the request to Vatican officials after hundreds of people came forward to say they had been abused by the late TV star.

Savile was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory the Great by Pope John Paul II. He received the honour in 1990 in recognition of his charity work.

According to the BBC, the Archbishop has asked officials in Rome to investigate the possibility of removing the honour from Savile.

The request recognises the “deep distress” caused to his victims and the “disquiet” over Savile’s name remaining on the Papal Honours list, a spokesperson told the broadcaster.

Allegations of abuse continue to be made after ITV broadcast an investigation into claims against Savile by several women.

Investigating police say they are following 400 lines of inquiry and that there may be as many as 300 victims.