Dr Thomas Doyle at Royal Commission. Who is he?

On Tuesday 23 March, Dr Thomas P. Doyle, a US former Dominican priest will appear at the Royal Commission via audiovisual link from the United States.

The Royal Commission says Doyle’s submission

  • Firstly sets out the scope and recent history of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, how canon law applies and how the Catholic Church has responded. He sets this in context by explaining the governance and structure of the Catholic Church and the nature of the Catholic priesthood.
  • The second part of Dr Doyle’s Submission explores how the Catholic Church’s institutional system enables abuse.

Other religious organisations do not have expert witnesses appearing in front of the Commission.

Thomas Doyle unfamiliar to the New Zealand Church

Some call him a Catholic Church basher, a media favourite, who is the Thomas Doyle?

The dark green walls of  Doyle’s home office are barely visible beneath mementoes of his life’s work: five master’s degrees, a doctorate in Canon Law, photos and framed newspaper articles with headlines that read, “Vatican Declined to Defrock U.S. Priest Who Abused Deaf Boys.”

The sun’s already gone down in the wooded Washington, D.C. suburb Doyle calls home. But Doyle, 74, is still working. He thumbed through a stack of articles about clergy sex abuse, something he does a few times a week in between keeping up with cases in which he’s a consultant or expert witness.

“Most of my adult life has been involved with this issue. It’s changed me dramatically. It’s changed my belief system,” Doyle said. “I no longer have any trust in the institutional church. None whatsoever.”

Doyle has reviewed over 1,000 clergy sexual abuse cases over the past 30-plus years.

In a recent interview, Doyle said “I no longer have any trust in the institutional church.”

For more than 30 years, Doyle has reviewed over 1,000 clergy sex abuse cases around the world. He rattled off the countries in which he’s worked — the U.S., Ireland, England, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Belgium and Brazil.

His years of experience led him to conclude that a solution will only come from more accountability from church leadership.

“The common theme that I have seen in every country where I have encountered this, on this planet, over 34 years, has been this — the bishops have tried to conceal and lie about the issue,” Doyle said.

“I no longer have any trust in the institutional church.”

Thomas Doyle

Eroding trust

That trust started to erode about 35 years ago, not far from his colonial home tucked in a cul-de-sac at the end of a winding road. Just on the other side of the Potomac River, Doyle served as a canon lawyer in the 1980s at the Vatican embassy in Washington.

Part of his job was reviewing sex abuse files from across the country. That’s when a case from South Louisiana landed on his desk.

Doyle knew sex abuse was an issue in the church, but this case was different. Gilbert Gauthe, a priest in the Diocese of Lafayette, abused at least 100 children in the 1970s and ’80s and was convicted of child molestation in 1985.

“As that started, I realized after talking with the people in Louisiana, this was — this was a bigger problem than we imagined,” Doyle said. “I never encountered something like this before, directly.”

Once the Gauthe case became public, other survivors began coming forward when they never had before. Doyle heard from families who previously thought their case would fall on deaf ears or didn’t believe their children until they realized they weren’t alone.

“I had no idea how widespread it was,” Doyle said. “What I really had no idea about was how the institutional church — the bishops — would react.”

The same year Gauthe was convicted, Doyle warned bishops a “real present danger exists” in the church in his groundbreaking 90-page report, “The Problem of Sexual Molestation by Roman Catholic Clergy.”

He outlined how sex abuse allegations should be handled and warned what happened in the Gauthe case shouldn’t be repeated — what he now calls “the most common solution” — to quietly transfer an accused priest to another parish.

“I naïvely thought that once we presented them with this information that they would immediately get together and do something to stop it. You know, they’d reach out to the victims and do something about the perpetrators,” Doyle said. “I was totally wrong.”

Instead, the church hierarchy dismissed his report, telling him they already knew everything that was in it and already had a policy for dealing with it; the policy just wasn’t written down.

Soon after, Doyle was let go from his embassy job. He’s been an inactive priest ever since.

His former boss once told him, “If you want to have a career, you have to put this stuff behind you,” Doyle said.

“I couldn’t in conscience, because I had met victims and that changed everything for me,” Doyle said. “Once I met some of the victims, especially the younger ones, it changed my life, knowing what had happened to them. I met some kids who were 11, 12 years old and I also saw the medical reports, and they were appalling.” Continue reading

  • Note: This article used to give Dr Doyle the title of Reverend and say that he is a Dominican priest. Subsequent to its printing Doyle confirmed he is no longer a priest. He was cautious when asked on radio whether he remained a Catholic.
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