By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Evidence has emerged that the founder of a religious order that deals with problem priests wrote often to his bishop and the Vatican warning that priests who sexually abused children should not be returned to ministry. At one point, he even searched for an island to purchase where these molesters could be sent.
According to documents recently obtained by the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald, founder of the Servants of the Paracletes, an order established in 1947 in Jemez Springs, New Mexico to deal primarily with priests suffering from alcoholism, made his opinion known as early as the mid-1950’s that clergy who molested children should be laicized immediately.
A prolific correspondent, Fr. Fitzgerald wrote often about his frustration with and disdain for priests who preyed on children. In a letter to an unnamed archbishop in 1957, he said: “These men, your Excellency, are devils and the wrath of God is upon them and if I were a bishop I would tremble when I failed to report them to Rome for involuntary laicization.”
He goes on to say, “It is for this class of rattlesnake I have always wished the island retreat – but even an island is too good for these vipers of whom the Gentle Master said it were better they had not been born – this is an indirect way of saying damned, is it not?”
At one point in his work, he refused to take in priests who had sexually abused children saying, “Experience has taught us these men are too dangerous to the children of the parish and neighborhood for us to be justified in receiving them here.”
However, at the time, psychology experts were still holding to the position that these priests could be rehabilitated and, under strict supervision, could be returned to ministry.
Fr. Fitzgerald, who died in 1969, never let go of his beliefs even after he was removed as Servant General of the order and replaced with Fr. James Davis who preferred greater involvement of medical and psychological professionals.
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