Anniversaries are important mile markers. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Father Gerald Fitzgerald s.P. giving notice to the Holy See of the problem of child sexual abuse by the clergy in the United States. Fitzgerald not only informs the Holy See but suggests a low-cost simple solution to protect children:
“On the other hand, when a priest has fallen into repeated sins which are considered , generally speaking, as abnormal (abuse of nature) such as homosexuality and most especially abuse of children, we feel strongly that such unfortunate priests should be given the alternative of a retired life within the protection of monastery walls or complete laicization.” April 11, 1962
Father Fitzgerald’s solution to the Holy See is simple: assign priests who abuse children to monasteries. This classic Roman Catholic solution of assigning religious order and diocesan priests to the protection of a monastery was well known in the United States. Want an example? See the documents on Clement Hageman O.M.I. not being admitted to final vows.
The Holy See reacted to Father Fitzgerald’s warnings in line with tradition: The report was filed away in the Holy See’s Secret Archives and with no action.
The only published work about Father Fitzgerald, A Prophet for the Priesthood: A Spiritual Biography of Father Gerald M.C. Fitzgerald, by Father John Hardon S.J., tip-toes around the issue of fallen priests. Looking back, we know Father Fitzgerald was aware of the crime of stuprum (sex between an adult and a child) but there is no evidence he knew the work of Cardinal Peter Damien also warning the Holy See in the 11th century (Book of Gomorrah). Neither was Father Fitzgerald was aware of the various instructions from the Holy See such as Cum sicut nuper (1561 AD), Universi dominici (1622 AD) or Sacramentum (1741 AD).
Knowingly, the Holy See allowed Father Fitzgerald from 1947-1968 to paddle upstream against the tradition of centuries of clear knowledge of priests molesting minors. Tragically, the Holy See did not heed Father Fitzgerald’s warnings and removed him as Father General of the Servants of the Paraclete. He died in 1969.
Today we have criminal indictments of bishops, a conviction for vicars for clergy, a 2012 arrest of a priest I worked with in Saint Paul and ten diocese or religious order bankruptcies. Despite the work of Father Fitzgerald, the tradition of child molesters in the ranks of Roman Catholic clergy is consistent and uninterrupted. Despite clear and consistent warnings from the most trusted clerical insiders within the tradition, the problem persists. Our vigilance must be even greater today than Father Fitzgerald warned the Holy See in 1962.
Happy anniversary, Holy See.