When You look at Yourself Do You See A Sex Abuser? By Timothy Dolan

20 08 2014


It was only the third time it had happened to me in my nearly thirty-five happy years as a priest, all three times over the last nine-and-a-half years.

Other priests tell me it has happened to them a lot more.
Three is enough. Each time has left me so shaken I was near nausea.
It happened last Friday . . .
I had just arrived at the Denver Airport, there to speak at their popular annual “Living Our Catholic Faith” conference.
As I was waiting with the others for the electronic train to take me to the terminal, a man, maybe in his mid-forties, waiting as well, came closer to me.
“Are you a Catholic priest?” he kindly asked.
“Sure am. Nice to meet you,” says I, as I offered my hand.
He ignored it. “I was raised a Catholic,” he replied, almost always a hint of a cut to come, but I was not prepared for the razor sharpness of the stiletto, as he went on, “and now, as a father of two boys, I can’t look at you or any other priest without thinking of a sexual abuser.”
What to respond? Yell at him? Cuss him out? Apologize? Deck him? Express understanding? I must admit all such reactions came to mind as I staggered with shame and anger from the damage of the wound he had inflicted with those stinging words.
“Well,” I recovered enough to remark, “I’m sure sorry you feel that way. But, let me ask you, do you automatically presume a sexual abuser when you see a Rabbi or Protestant minister?”
“Not at all,” he came back through gritted teeth as we both boarded the train.
“How about when you see a coach, or a boy scout leader, or a foster parent, or a counsellor, or physician?” I continued.
“Of course not!” he came back. “What’s all that got to do with it?”
“A lot,” I stayed with him, “because each of those professions have as high a percentage of sexual abuse, if not even higher, than that of priests.”
“Well, that may be,” he retorted. “But the Church is the only group that knew it was going on, did nothing about it, and kept transferring the perverts around.”
“You obviously never heard the stats on public school teachers,” I observed. “In my home town of New York City alone, experts say the rate of sexual abuse among public school teachers is ten times higher than that of priests, and these abusers just get transferred around.” (Had I known at that time the news in in last Sunday’s New York Times about the high rate of abuse of the most helpless in state supervised homes, with reported abusers simply transferred to another home, I would have mentioned that, too.)
To that he said nothing, so I went in for a further charge.

Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling . . . and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met . . . and to us priests.

“Pardon me for being so blunt, but you sure were with me, so, let me ask: when you look at yourself in a mirror, do you see a sex abuser?”
Now he was as taken aback as I had been two-minutes before. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Sadly,” I answered, “studies tell us that most children sexually abused are victims of their own fathers or other family members.”
Enough of the debate, I concluded, as I saw him dazed. So I tried to calm it down.
“So, I tell you what: when I look at you, I won’t see a sex abuser, and I would appreciate the same consideration from you.”
The train had arrived at baggage claim, and we both exited together.
“Well then, why do we only hear this garbage about you priests,” he inquired, as he got a bit more pensive.
“We priests wonder the same thing. I’ve got a few reasons if you’re interested.”
He nodded his head as we slowly walked to the carousel.
“For one,” I continued, “we priests deserve the more intense scrutiny, because people trust us more as we dare claim to represent God, so, when on of us do it – even if only a tiny minority of us ever have – it is more disgusting.”
“Two, I’m afraid there are many out there who have no love for the Church, and are itching to ruin us. This is the issue they love to endlessly scourge us with.”
“And, three, I hate to say it,” as I wrapped it up, “there’s a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups I mentioned before.”
We both by then had our luggage, and headed for the door. He then put his hand out, the hand he had not extended five minutes earlier when I had put mine out to him. We shook.
“Thanks. Glad I met you.”
He halted a minute. “You know, I think of the great priests I knew when I was a kid. And now, because I work in IT at Regis University, I know some devoted Jesuits. Shouldn’t judge all you guys because of the horrible sins of a few.”
“Thanks!,” I smiled.
I guess things were patched-up, because, as he walked away, he added, “At least I owe you a joke: What happens when you can’t pay your exorcist?”
“Got me,” I answered.
“You get ‘re-possessed’!”
We both laughed and separated.
Notwithstanding the happy ending, I was still trembling . . . and almost felt like I needed an exorcism to expel my shattered soul, as I had to confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met . . . and to us priests.


Timothy Michael Dolan, Cardinal



35 responses

28 05 2021

Cardinal Dolan hid $57m from sex abuse victims and paid…

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, moved nearly $57 million into a cemetery trust fund in 2007 specifically to shield it from lawsuits by victims of clergy sexual abuse, according to documents released on Monday. 

Damage from words? How much more from the actions of pedophiles. I always wonder about those who don’t take a definitive stance against pedophilia.

28 05 2021

Hello, thanks for writing in, but what are your sources for this type of accusation? Please provide evidence and of you don’t have any, kindly refrain from making unsubstantiated allegations. Thanks

3 09 2014
Russell Carleton

Cardinal Dolan, if you encounter this situation again (and it sounds like it comes up once every couple years), may I suggest that you take a different approach in responding. I respect that you are tired of the blanket judgments that people make on all Catholic priests when the vast majority of them are faithful to their call and ministry. I can also understand that you are disappointed that people make this generalization about the Catholic Church, and not other groups. As you point out, there probably are people out there who are trying to ruin the Church through this blanket slander.

The reality is that there were kids who were abused by priests. There were cover-ups. Whether or not you personally had anything at all to do with any of it, you are a leader of the Church. It sounds like this man wanted to hear that the Church weeps for the abused and seeks to stop the perpetrators. Simply saying, hopefully from the bottom of your heart, that you are horrified that this sin ever happened and that you will do whatever you can to help those in need of healing and stop those who seek to hurt would probably go a longer way to walk this man toward salvation. He wanted to know that he can trust the Church. What you told him is that he can’t trust anyone out there.

Yes all of the focus has been on the Catholic Church. Whether or not that’s fair, I would suggest that any organization, whether religious or not, should be called out on this issue. The Catholic Church can respond to this focus by complaining about it or by realizing that people really want to know how the Church is responding. People are still listening, but are terrified.

3 09 2014

A “Yes, my organization has enabled sex abusers but so do others” is a “Johnny’s mom beats him too” kind of defense…not a very strong one. Fix the problem rather than dodge it or ignore it. Of the organizations you mentioned, only the Catholic hierarchy says it contains the ultimate defenders and discerners of truth. Thus, you should hold yourself to a higher standard or else stop saying you have cornered the “truth” market. The lack of accountability continues even after the Dallas Charter. We have example after example. Yet, in every case, rather than shine a light on the truth, the pattern of secrecy and evasion continues. This is unacceptable of your organization regardless of if dozens of other organizations do the same thing. Using your logic, since almost every Catholic couple uses birth control, it’s not a sin because “everybody else is doing it too.”

4 09 2014

From someone who has worked with youth in the Catholic Church for the past several years, you obviously have not done your research to see what the church has done to prevent abuse from happening.

2 09 2014

I must agree with Cardianl Dolan as there is much money to be had from the Church whereas there isn’t in other areas and as he also stated there are those who hate the Church and desire Her harm and this is the best they can do. When this happens I think of the Book of Job where it says, “and the sons of God presented themselves before the Lord and Satan was among them also.” The Devil attends Mass with far more devotion than do we Catholics. Wolves in sheep’s clothing.

2 09 2014

As a victim of sexual abuse, this man’s line of questioning certainly would have raised a red flag for me. Maybe Cardinal Dolan, before he began reciting the litany of statistics of other classes of abusers, could have approached him with a more pastoral approach. Victims often display this kind of misplaced anger, and perhaps had Cardinal Dolan addressed the man’s personal issues, he would have reached the man on a deeper, more spiritual level, rather a mere intellectual level. The man’s joke at the end demonstrates that he was still uncomfortable with the subject matter – classic “fight or flight” behavior. I know that Cardinal Dolan was trying to be direct (because the man was being direct), but that was the “fight” in him. Providing information was defensive (even if it were valid). Providing pastoral care is much harder, but it is deeper and it lasts longer. And, perhaps, it would have left Cardinal Dolan feeling a great deal better about the encounter.

2 09 2014

You miss the point Matz, the man is not a victim. he is just fump deceived by television

2 09 2014
Fr. Larry Jensen

He may have also responded on a personal level, but possibly felt it was important to not reveal what that personal level of conversation was.

3 09 2014

Fr. Jensen: Knowing Cardinal Dolan (who was instrumental in the priestly formation of my own brother), you may be absolutely correct. He is a kind and compassionate man. My remarks were more about the behavior of the person confronting Cardinal Dolan. He was more than a “bit angry”, spoke about protecting his sons, and then after reading about what I could only deduce was a five minute conversation, was gleeful enough to crack a joke. This behavior seems rather odd. His intense anger was appeased that quickly? I have dealt with a great deal of victims of abuse and I only hope that Cardinal Dolan picked up on the same red flags that I did. I know that if anyone could provide pastoral care, it is His Eminence. God Bless him.

1 09 2014

Cardinal Dolan, thank you for defending yourself and our Catholic Priests in a way that was both compassionate and direct. I wish I had your sense of calmness and thought in the midst of attack.

1 09 2014

Dear Cardinal, as catholic, especially when I’m discussing with North American and British citizens I have to fight to let them understand the same arguments you discussed here. It’s sad and will take long time to cancel the shame. We can just hope the Holy See will investigate and keep all possible eyes open to prevent such people to become priests. God bless you.

1 09 2014

Thank you your Eminence. We all need to hear this!

1 09 2014

Well said. The reality is most sexual abuse is by a family member. And most families cover it up and protect the abuser rather than support the child victim.

1 09 2014
Tseye O

The gravity of every action has to be weighed properly because abuses take place everywhere. Let me remind you of Jesus’s reply to the people who brought a woman caught in adultery, ” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Let us find solutions to problems and not escalate them.

1 09 2014

Don’t forget that reply, it’s the best and most honest look I have ever heard. You are in my prayers. In. Jesus. Name.

30 08 2014

Beautiful, Cardinal! Many of us feel your pain.

30 08 2014
Sandy K

Wow… what a story.

26 08 2014

I’m outraged that the church knowingly moved abusers instead of turning them over to authorities. Please stop using the excuse that other groups were also doing it. Stay focused on the problem.

26 08 2014

Yes, we should stay focused and not obsessively target a particular group for what has been proven a human problem. Let face it, Like Cardinal Pell said, the Church does not deny that there has been misdeeds by some of her ministers but this should not be exaggerated. “We object to being described as the only cab on the rank – See more at: http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/healing_a_culture_of_abuse#sthash.TYuEVSfN.dpuf

21 08 2014

Thank you for that deep and refreshing insight John Brunson. I am sure
that your witness will put to shame the mainstream media responsible
for soiling the names of countless saintly priests, men who have given
their lives to love of God.

21 08 2014
John Brunson

Semiotics… Symbols possess signifiers / underlying meanings which change over time because of current events / news and public perception. The rose as symbol during the Middle Ages meant “derne” love which is the secret love of a knight for a lady of court (Lancelot violated this), then the meaning of rose changed to “the war of the roses” ala battle for a crown, now the rose means valentine’s day.. Lots of examples of this. Institutions works very hard to preserve the meanings of certain symbols.. In the secular realm the word “brand” is thrown around. What you have read is the struggle over public perception of what the symbol “priest” means.. There are many many wonderful priests. But language is malleable and many opinions are driven by perception because there is not enough time in the day to read all facts. We are a media driven / editorial driven society. God bless cardinal Dolan and our priests.

21 08 2014
Leonard Alt

Leonard Alt Sex Abuse in Protestant Churches: Three insurance companies in the United States that provide liability coverage for 165,000 Protestant churches revealed data to the Associated Press that they typically receive 260 reports every year of children being sexually abused by Protestant clergy or other staff. — If these and the Catholic statistics are accurate, then on average, there are 32 more sex abuse cases per year in the Protestant church. As Father Jonathan stated in his news story, “The mainstream media has all but ignored the recent Associated Press report.”

21 08 2014
Leonard Alt

PERVERTS, ATHIESTS AGNOSTICS AND OTHERS, IN SECULAR SCHOOLS ARE THE BIGGEST PERPETUATERS OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE. Comparing the incidence of sexual misconduct in schools with the Catholic Church scandal, Shakeshift notes that a study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops concluded that 10,667 young people were sexually mistreated by priests between 1950 and 2002. — In contrast, the extrapolates from a national survey conducted for the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation in 2000 that roughly 290,000 students experienced some sort of physical sexual abuse by a public school employee between 1991 and 2000.

3 09 2014

Ah yes, the classic blame atheism (without evidence) comment. Is this where I get mad so you can also claim that atheists are just angry babies?

21 08 2014
Mary Beth Remisoski

yes, allot of them can’t seemly to moved on when they get confusion every time they see a Priest or others. They just can’t be opened communicated to them. It doesn’t hurt to socialized them act of kindness.

21 08 2014
Skip Goulet

Mary Beth, you’re quite right. You hear on the media here and there about Baptist ministers and others who abuse kids. It’s just the priests who make all the news. And as to Cardinal Dolan…..I can’t believe anyone would accuse him. He’s the best of the best!

21 08 2014
Leonard Alt

If you truly believe in ONCE SAVED ALWAYS SAVED, I guess this pastor cannot lose his salvation no matter what he does. “ONE of the six women allegedly raped by RMG Independent End Time Message Church founder Robert Martin Gumbura (57) has recounted how group sex orgies were performed at the pastor’s residence and how Gumbura thwarted her efforts to escape the sexual abuse.” http://www.newzimbabwe.com/news-13450-Court%20told%20of%20pastor%20Gumbura%20sex%20orgies/news.aspx

21 08 2014
Leonard Alt

Mary-Etta Jean Hinkle That is because the Catholic Church has secular, but most importantly, SPIRITUAL power. We NEVER realized until we became Catholic, how much persecution that comes against them. Maybe, not yet in our nation SERIOUS, but this is one example of PERSECUTION…….making these scandals worse than they are. You are so right, Leonard. I have been privy to the individual covered up sexual abuse among Protestant Christians in their cloistered groups, and have ministered prayer healing to some women, who were wounded by it. I know of several cases where pastors and lay leaders were sexually abusing their own daughters. Most times, the church members CAN’T believe it.. I know of one huge church in Tn. who was SUED for the misconduct of the SONG leader, (with boys)When the truth came out, half of the membership DIDN’T want to believe, and those, who early on had tried to report it, were not believed by the head pastor, until the KNOWLEDGE of it was shoved in his face, and then he did SUFFER great emotional pain over all of it.

21 08 2014
Skip Goulet

Everyone is so paranoid nowadays. All a priest has to do is pat a kid on the head or something and he’s in trouble!

21 08 2014

Yes, you are right Skip Goulet, its a paranoia created by the media for profit. All vile lies and attacks on the Church and priests sells in millions

2 09 2014
Johnnel V. Raneses

I guess we shouldn’t forget as well the pain that the guilty ones are going through even as we speak. forgiveness nowadays are hard to come. For how can one successfully go through the healing process if what one does not feel or experience forgiveness, not only from the victims, but more importantly from society. I am not saying that they shouldn’t be accountable for their sinful deeds. if anything, they should be doubly accountable because of who they represent. they should know better. I guess my point is that this modern world is full of hatred. I think that the Church, whatever denomination/religion should advocate love and forgiveness rather than justice alone. we’re falling into the principle of “an eye for an eye” and ” a tooth for a tooth”. A world so full of vindictiveness will continue to embrace hatred and finally violence. I must say though that we should support and help the victims go through their healing process, but so too with the offenders. God help us all in this terrible mess!

21 08 2014
Sammy Bianculli

Excellent! Unfortunately, those who slander the Church are immune to facts.

21 08 2014

That is sadly true, Sammy Bianculli, yet we thank Cardinal Dolan for putting everything in perceptive. It helps and heals those wounded by this savage attack. Thanks for your comment.

21 08 2014

God Bless you Cardinal.

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