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What happens to Catholic clergy accused of sexually molesting children? Some have been successfully sued. A handful have been convicted. And some of them have ended up presiding over parishes throughout Latin America.
“We’re talking about cases where there were big investigations, big stories, front page news, TV news about these men and where a few weeks later they were allowed to transfer from the United States to South America and immediately go back to working for the church.”
That is the finding of an exhaustive yearlong investigation by Globalpost.com, published days before Pope Francis is scheduled to arrive in the United States. Will Carless is a correspondent for the Boston-based news organization. We spoke with him from his home in Rio de Janeiro.
“These men were investigated. They faced criminal investigations and civil law suits in the United States. That’s true but once someone moves from one country to another, from one diocese to another, it becomes much, much more difficult to carry on an investigation into him or her and to truly hold them accountable. And the Church is an international organization and they know who these men are and where they are. “
Some of the priests tracked down by Globalpost are now accused of abusing children in the South American parishes to which they were transferred. Bishop Accountability.org, a website that tracks and compiles abuse allegations against Catholic clergy, aided the Globalpost investigation. Ann Barrett Doyle is co-director of the Waltham-based group and a life-long-Catholic.
“We were contacted by Will Carless, the investigative reporter, to ask if any priests accused credibly here in the United States had transferred to South America, and we came up with a table of literally dozens of such priests because we have a data base of 4400 publicly accused US clergy and about 80 or so had gone to South America at some point.”
Among them, says Barrett Doyle, is Paul Madden, a cleric with the Society of Saint James.
“And that was actually founded here [in Boston] in the early 1960’s by Cardinal Cushing, and it has sent priests mostly to South America. Bolivia. Paul Madden in Peru. And that has a disturbingly large number of accused priests in its ranks.”
In a video accompanying the Global post investigation, Will Carless tracked down Father Madden to a church in Peru and asked him, “Did the abuse happen?”
Madden replied in a contrite voice, ” Something happened. I was drunk.”
There are several questions raised by the seeming pipeline of US and European clergy to South America. One, why there? Why Latin America? Will Carless answered.
“First of all, Latin America is the great bastion worldwide now for Catholicism; A place where priests are very much revered. In South America, bishops and priests are still very very powerful and have pretty much immunity, at least in the communities I went to.”
Pope Francis has declared a zero tolerance policy for clergy accused of pedophilia, but Anne Barrett Doyle says that the practice of transferring problem priests still persist.
“Outside the United States we still see child molesters being given second chances. So there’s a gap here between what the Pope is pledging and the impression he’s creating with all of us that there’s a new zero tolerance policy in effect in the Catholic Church.”
The Globalpost investigation comes weeks before the release of “SPOTLIGHT” —a much-anticipated film about the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize winning expose of aberrant clergy behavior, which until 2001/2002 had only been talked about in whispers and rumors:
Both researcher Anne Barrett Doyle and reporter Will Carless believe that their investigation is just the tip of a very large iceberg.
“There are Catholic priests who are accused of abuse in the United States and Europe and other sort of developed countries that are fleeing all over the world,” says Carless.
And like former notorious Boston priest, Paul Shanley, who exploited boys in Thailand, they believe Asia may be the next frontier for problem priests.
WGBH News contacted the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for a response to this story — but so far, there has been none.