One Priest’s Perspective On Silence

I am priest but not of or from your area. I admire very much the efforts you have taken and are taking for Church transparency, accountability and reform in wake of the sex abuse crisis.

Not long ago, some asked: Where are the good priests? Why are they silent? People have asked these questions and supplied possible answers to them. I would like to share some thoughts on why I am silent. Yes, I am scared to speak out. I am a coward. The Church pays my salary. It provides me steady work (ministry) and it gives me security. I have been a priest for many years. I’m in my later years. I am afraid of my future if I should publicly speak out and work for reform – reform that I know is so needed.

I fear even writing this should the wrong person read it and use it against me. I know this is terrible of me. The Church will dismiss you and let you go to fend for yourself. I’ve seen it. I know it.  I so admire priests and religious who are able to be brave and are more trusting in themselves than I am.

Well, anyway, I just wanted to share this real fear and concern I have. I thought other readers of your site might want to know that what I feel and the fear I have are real. Perhaps other priests experience this too and so are afraid to step out publicly. We do care but our fear is crippling. I do not hold my fear up or justify it as an excuse. I wish it were not so but here it is.

43 thoughts on “One Priest’s Perspective On Silence

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.I agree that many priests are not speaking because of fear. As if that makes any sense at all. The actions and crimes committed, were against CHILDREN.These are not cases of maybe fiscal mismanagement within a Diocese or a priest known to be a womanizer having affairs with members of the congregation. I don’t believe it is ever right to turn your head the other way however in some cases understand the need to weigh the costs that may occur if one speaks up. Not however when the actions involve children.To me there is no excuse at all.
    Right now there are only about 400 priests in ministry in the Philadelphia Archdiocese,which I believe is the 4th largest diocese in the country. The Archdiocese simply cannot afford to lose one more priest. If a group of even 50 Archdiocesan priests banded together and took a stand,they would not be suspended or penalized.The Archdiocese simply could not afford to lose their services or the bad publicity that would come with such actions. Could speaking up hurt a clergy members chance of advancement to certain levels in the Archdiocese? Yes,but what is more important? How can someone live with themselves thinking they chose the easy way out rather than doing the right thing?
    A commentor on the site wrote a very pro clergy response and stated that the priests “are driven by what they need to do for eternal life not by human standards of justice”
    How does a priest think his silence in the midst of dishonesty and crime will bring him a greater reward in the eternal life? Actually I would think it is the opposite.
    The laity in Philadelphia have banded together,why haven’t the clergy? There is strength in numbers.If a group of priests in our area joined with the laity , those priests would have overflowing churches and collection baskets full to the coffers.
    That hasn’t happened,I don’t believe it will.But how nice it would be to be proven wrong.

  2. What a truly sad commentary. Whether it’s the government (Bradley Manning, Joe Wilson, or Valarie Plame), a corporation whistle-blower, and now it seems, The Church, people are intimidated to let the powers to be know what they are thinking and what they see as a problem within the institution.

    I wonder how many nuns have never spoken out through fear – fear of The Church and fear of the men in the church.

    Maybe Martin Luther was on to someting.

    1. I recently visited an old friend who is a Priest in another Diocese. He said he is counting the years to his retirement. This was so sad for my husband and I to hear as this was a man who LOVED being a Priest and whom we thought would make an excellent Bishop one day. He said he wanted no part of being a Bishop. I told him that me, and others, were in the process of praying and discerning how the laity could stand up and respond to this ongoing crisis, since the Hierarchy has NOT. I told him, “we have your back”. It is absolutely time for the Laity to stand up and be counted and refuse to allow the Hierarch to simply through OUR money at the problem, in order to retain their power. The only way our Church is going to truly heal is through a process of restorative justice. Where perpetrators actually ADMIT what they did, and ask for the forgivenss of their victims and the Churcha at large. This is NOT just between the perpetrator and God, as many in the Hierarchy would like us to believe.

  3. How ironic that so many of the accused priests have been allowed to remain in ministry — some who have even admitted to horrendous acts — yet those who might speak up for victims and change should fear being dismissed. What kind of climate allows for that fear to exist??

    I agree whole-heartedly with Kathy, that priests must speak out, and that there will be many, many who will support them from the pews. Indeed, speaking out may even be the light needed for many to return to the pews.

    In the meantime, I am grateful for Catholics4Change, Voices of the Faithful, and SNAP… for their courage to speak up and for their desire to hold the Church accountable for its errors and crimes, and for their tenacity in working for change in the Church so that this never happens again.

  4. I feel for your fear, I really do. As a person who cares for an aging parent, I understand better than most what that fear is like. To lose everything that is out of your control.

    Thank God Christ was able to face his fears for us. Your post made me so angry I can’t even express how I feel right now. I spent 12 years in Catholic school being taught by nuns and priests that told us to always stand up and do the right thing. Simply to find out you’re cowards. Thanks for further confirming my “recovering Catholic” position.

  5. Power speaks to power!! Catholic priests need to organize themselves so that they are not afraid to speak out.
    A priest friend of mine in the Eire Diocese
    spoke out in a homily he gave at Sunday Mass about womens ordination last year and nobody bothered him
    C. Rigali has given notice of his resignation – (kind of hard to believe since he wanted the red hat for so long) –
    he doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of extra priests to take the place of those who choose to stand in solidarity with us –
    what is the worst he could do to you?

  6. I am not at all surprised by the fears expressed by this priest. It is just as I suspected, but I am so saddened to hear it. I appreciate your honesty… priest has yet to openly express this fear of retaliation by his “bosses” so I appreciate your doing so. Because I don’t walk in your shoes, it may seem easy for me to say that you should stand up for the children regardless of the consequences, but I do believe this is what Jesus is intending for you to do. I can only imagine the courage that would be required for you and other priests to do that, but I have to believe that there are more “good priests” than bad and that if you banded together you would have great power. Plus, you would have goodness on your side. I can’t imagine the position you are in, but I also can’t imagine the pain of the abused children. Sir, if you have not read the Philadelphia Grand Jury Report, I ask that you do. If that doesn’t move you to contact priests in this diocese who you know are”good” and encourage them to organize and stand up for the children and the victims(past, present and FUTURE), nothing will. It is heartbreaking. If I imagine one of those atrocities happening to one of my precious children, I almost double over. Dear priests, PLEASE do the right thing. Show your “elders” how to do it.

  7. Dear father,
    I am a survivor of sexual abuse by several priests. I share this with you because I want you to know who I am. I have come forward way back in 1993 to confront the archdiocese of phila. I found one of my perps in Tennessee and on tape confronted him. The review board after viewing the tape found my case credible and it is the only case that this was done before 2001. I totally understand your fear, and you are right you would be put out in the street. Their are things you can do if you choose that would support your need to stand up. Can you suggest that your parishoners read this last grand jury report, be available to those who are struggling right now with their beliefs and guide them through compassion and understanding. People are hurting and they need a place to go where the priest can be honest with them and help them sort through and its ok to not have all the answers. The Divine will guide you through that is where you will find your courage.

    1. I am so sorry for the abuse that you suffered at the hands of our Church. This should never have happened to you, we in the Church, the clergy, the hierarchy and even those of us that just occupy the pews, have so very much to make up for. We are one body, and we all bear the guilt of this. We owed it to our children to be vigilant and watchful, to demand accountability, but because we looked the other way, more and more of this was allowed to happen. You did not deserve to be abused, you are created in the divine imaage of God, you are precious. I pray that you have peace. I am sorry.

      Kelly Gutensohn

      1. Thank you Kelly. The Divine has been my strength and guidence and with very good therapy, I am doing very well. I am working as we speak to establish peace within myself. I am getting there. Please write letters to the legislators in Harrisburg to give the survivors justice by having a 2 year window so we can be judged by our peers. Truth is powerful and I stand tall in the truth.

  8. The bottom line is that we need Priest’s to stand up and be counted. Everything is so secret in this Diocese that it is disgusting. Can a Priest not speak openly and honestly to his parishioners? If a Priest speaks out and expresses that he understands how his parishioners feel and that he wants to help them in any way possible how can Rigali remove that person? Why is the Cardinal not telling his Priests to sponsor open forums in each parish to allow people to talk and discuss? He should be demanding it. It always the same here. Stay silent. Be obedient. Pay. Pray. Be submissive. All will go away. It will soon be forgotten. Not going to happen.
    You must take sides. Not to take sides one way or the other and be open about it is to be complicit. Too many victims. Too much coverup. Enough is enough. If all (laity and Priests) don’t take action to get out in front of this scandal it will consume us

  9. That is honest, and it is also terribly cowardly.

    If you believe any of what you preach – vow of poverty, doing the right thing, faith in God, or just the fact that you will be meeting up with God soon, you’d stand up for what’s right, be vocal about the correct and Catholic thing, and if you became homeless and indigent, die proud with a legacy of honesty, and walk proudly to meet St Peter. If I lived my life as a priest, I’d rather die in 2 months from homelessness with the knowledge that I did what Jesus would do.

    Instead, you’ll make a little more money and live in a more comfortable place, and you will be one of 100s of thousands of priests that will answer in heaven for your apathy about child rape. You’ll comfort yourself with the fact that you aren’t as bad as the ones that committed child rape.

    I would have guessed that priests are silent because they are either guilty or they are cowards, and you confirmed it.

    Sorry I’m not more forgiving, but you’re not exactly being asked to single-handedly fight against the Romans while Jesus Christ is on the cross.

    In the age of the Internet, you could have been the one priest that had the guts to speak up against your evil superiors. There has never been a more glorious time in history to do the right thing.

    I apologize for what I said. I’m not sorry I’m not more forgiving.

  10. Anonymous Priest,

    Thank you for coming forward. I give you tremendous credit. I believe that your fear is real, and I do not discount its effect on you.

    I very much appreciate your honesty. Your words have the ring of truth to them.

    I agree with your assesment that even your nameless comments are a possible threat to your position.

    Similarly, I believe that undeclared victims, and supporters feel the same trepidation, albeit for differing reasons.

    This should be a sober reminder to everyone of the gravity of this crisis, and the sinister nature of these crimes, and their cover-up.

    This display of courage I find very encouraging, as it is a step forward for the priests.

    To this priest may I say that you have begun the process. I am confident that others will follow the path that has not yet appeared, but that will present itself as we nudge forward.

    We must encourage the priests to find a way to emerge safely, we must create a climate of compassion, and acceptance which will encourage undeclared victims to emerge, and we must be cognizant of the fear that the undeclared supporters share with this priest.

    I am confident that we will find a way.


    In regard to sex abuse and suicide, Jesuit Fr. James Chevedden reported that he was a victim of sex abuse to Fr. Thomas Smolich, now the top Jesuit official in the United States with an office in Washington, DC. Two years later the Jesuit Order announced the suspicious death of Fr. James Chevedden as a suicide by highlighting that Fr. Chevedden was allegedly mentally ill in the opening lines of Fr. Chevedden’s obituary. It is disrespectful and unusual for alleged mentally illness of the deceased to be included in the opening lines of an obituary.
    The last Jesuit to see Fr. Chevedden alive was Fr. Jerold Lindner, who is now in the news because he was allegedly struck by a man who is alleged to have been sexually abused by Fr. Lindner 35-years ago. The police never questioned Fr. Lindner in regard to the suspicious death of Fr. Chevedden and the police are now protecting Fr. Lindner by prosecuting an alleged sex abuse victim of Lindner.
    Comment by LoyolaAlum – April 6, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

    1. Yes, these occurrences are real. Parts of the RCC Inc. operate like the Mob. A friend of mine, Fr. John Minkler (Diocese of Albany) committed suicide in 2004, days after meeting with Bishop Hubbard (a scary person.) Minkler simply knew too much about Hubbard and the homosexual/pedophile priests in the diocese. He was placed under great pressure as he was leaking information.

      In March 1998, Fr. Kunz had his throat cut. He had information on resigned Bishop Ryan (Springfield, IL.) Again a case of a priest that knew too much and was speaking out. The perverted actions of Ryan were known to John Paul II the Lesser for years; he did nothing!

      In response to the Anonymous priest, Patrick O’Malley stated, “I would have guessed that priests are silent because they are either guilty or they are cowards, and you confirmed it.” Patrick you talk like a big man, which tells me that you have no idea of the inner workings of The RCC Inc.

      1. To drwho13, I am a survivor of abuse by 3 catholic priests. During my time in therapy I needed information that only the catholic church could supply, I was tossed back and forth to Camden diocese and they in turn toss me back to Phila. diocese, in the end my therapist was able to get me the help I desperatly needed (I was contemplating suicide) with NO help from either diocese. When I tried to get help from a priest in Camden at first he was very willing to help me and said he would call me back after talking with his Bishop, guess what, when he called me back he was in total fear and said he would not be able to help me, I mean he was terrified. The archdiocese have these priests under their control and they are terrified. You think the mafia is bad?

  12. Let us remember. What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.
    Concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel

    Please do take a leaf out of Father Tom Doyle’s life.

    1. To Andy, WELL SAID!! Catholics have been quiet too long. Stop paying, obeying and praying, that is all they want from you in the pews!

  13. Fear. Fear of speaking up, fear of doing what is right. Fear that if you disagree with them…they will ‘do something’ to you. Aren’t these all the things we have taught our kids not to be afraid of? Isn’t this what we get preached to in church on Sundays? Aren’t the clergy the same people who speak out on abortion? Whether you agree or disagree on that topic…who are these people to sit in judgement of ANYONE, if they won’t speak out against their own and do the right thing by children? Maybe people who seek abortions are unemployed, uninsured, AFRAID that they can’t afford to care for the child. Yet we don’t tell them, it’s OK, that it makes it right. Yet we offer them no solutions, only degradation. I’m sorry Anonomys Priest. I feel for all the innocent who have been hurt by the church, but if you know something, and do nothing…shame on you. The rest of us are not living easy, carefree existences. Most of us have NO job security, or financial security of any kind in this current economy. A lot of us are struggling to raise our kids, pay tuition,keep our house, do “the right thing”….and this is the response by clergy that they are AFRAID? I’m afraid every day, now I’m afraid for my kids to be around priests at all. I’m with Patrick O’Mally on this one, I’m just not that forgiving.

  14. I appreciate this priest’s letter, and I can completely understand how fear can create a great wall of silence. Unfortunately, however, the wall has killed the innocence of too many young people. Fear creates an irrational sense of life around us. Fear begets fear, and then we all lose!
    Having said that, it is also important to point out the other side of this fear of retribution if a priest speaks out. There is a tremendous shortage of priests in the United States (and the world), therefore I would suspect that the Church cannot afford to lose any more. The Church cannot afford the detrimental P.R. it would receive if it tried to retaliate against its own priest. No doubt it has used intimidation (and the cloak of obedience) to demand silence in the past, but now the cat is out of the bag. Everybody sees the huge elephant in the room and no one could be surprised by further revelations…in fact most suspect the worst!
    So, come on now—speak up!

  15. My personal theology holds that maybe Jesus wasn’t “saving” us, as St. Anselm claimed, taught and pushed into our belief system.

    Maybe the Cross was intended as a warning and a question:

    WARNING: If you follow what I taught you and live as I have taught you, it is likely that in one way or another you will wind up like this, physically or metaphorically.

    Question: Knowing this, will you follow me?

  16. while i appreciate hearing your view i wonder how many of you and for how many years knew of the goings on and said or did sure you and others are carrying the guilt of knowing not doing nothing for all these years.this is your penance for the rest of your life!time to step up and do the right thing while you still can.

  17. In regards to priests speaking up, I am very proud of our pastor at MMR, who this week published a letter in the bulletin that he sent to Cardinal Rigali, at our suggestion and on our behalf, inviting him to come to our parish and meet with the Montgomery County vicariate. The letter specifically stated that we “are not satisfied with carefully crafted letters and, what are perceived as calculated news releases. They want you “here”! Perhaps his courageous stand will inspire other pastors to do the same. I don’t believe the cardinal will respond to the laity but I do not see how he can avoid responding to any pressure put upon him by a united front of priests.

  18. This only confirms for me that the god of our priests and hierarchs is not Christ, not the Trinity but rather their own comfort zones. Personal comfort is a god that begins benignly enough but then grows crueler as things progress. Can’t this priest see that presiding at the Eucharist and then hiding out in fear is a malignant contradiction? Thousands of kids paid for the fear of priests. It is impossible for me to be sympathetic.

    1. I think we are being a little harsh here. As long as he has not molested any children nor acted overtly in protecting those that have, he has not done any wrong. Fear is crippling and obviously this priest is feeling it and I believe also feeling guilty about not having the courage. I think if you read between the lines he is torn by his inaction in this matter but also sacred to death. Everyone is not a leader, some are followers. We should encourage him to get the courage and speak out and we should pray that he gets the courage of his convictions. I am sure when he became a priest, he never thought in his latter years this is something he would have to deal with. This is just another case of the heirarchy letting down the victims, the laity and the priest in the parishes.

      That all being said, I believe there is a need for the priests to speak out just as they did in Boston when 54 of them signed a petition asking Law to resign. If they can’t do it individually join up as a group to do it. I also think each of us has a duty to ask our pastors to write a letter to the cardinal seeking to have the light shine on this whole matter. As our pastor said “the truth will set you free.”

  19. What would Jesus do? Come on man do the right thing… It’s easy to hide and not be counted. Go climb back in your fox hole aka rectory and pray this all blows over… I am sick and tired of this pray and obey mentality. It is time to get real.. Sorry, this may sound harsh however I go back to my first question; what would Jesus do?

  20. i feel i must respond to this again.i feel that MOST of the priests that are over the age of 45 either heard or knew something about what was going on and this is one reason that they will not speak out.they would have to admit that they knew something and did nothing.i am not accusing them of doing any physical abuses,but im sure they had knowledge,either first hand or hearsay, of what was going on and looked the other way.its sad to say that i have lost my trust from the leaders down to the everyday seems to me that the phila da waited till the pastor at my parish died so he wouldnt be questioned if he knew about the 2 priests and the teacher.

  21. RMZ, that is good to hear about your pastor. I hope that more pastors and priests will respond in kind. Sadly, my pastor will not. He is a member of the review board that was excoriated in this last grand jury report. When I spoke to him about this 6 years ago, after the first grand jury report came out, his response to me then was this: if your Uncle Joe was a pedophile would you turn him into the police? We treated them as family and we sought to help them. And, he also said that if he thought his cardinal had knowingly placed children in harm’s way he’d have to turn in his collar. Talk about denial and perverted logic. Turn in you collar Monsignor. I think I should switch parishes and go to MMR.


    I was one of those whistle blowers that disappeared. I was in the seminary and a religious society at the time that I reported a pedophile priest to my superiors. They got him out of town as quickly as possible. As it turned out, he skipped the country, and was later arrested on an outstanding warrant at a boarder crossing in South America. He is now in a US prison.

    I incurred such psychological abuse from my superiors that I left religious life in disgust, and never looked back. The situation is similar to that of an undercover agent; once your cover is blown, you go on the hit list. The atmosphere I experienced in the Church is NOT isolated; IT’S EVERYWHERE, worldwide! My former religious society is now on the brink of collapse. I am currently a follower of Jesus Christ, but only attend Mass to please my wife. My heart is now far from the RCC. I simply find the leadership despicable, and disrespect them whenever, and wherever I can. You bet I’m angry!

    Finally, you ask, how many “good” have never even addressed the sexual abuse crisis and cover-up in their own dioceses? I speak for the “good” priests and seminarians I knew, and the answer is not many. If they do speak-up their lives will be made so miserable that it would be almost impossible for them to function within the Church. They are the ones that are blackballed, not the perverts. So, they simply keep their mouths shut, and do the best they can as they work along side their pedophile brothers.

    I couldn’t do it; but if they did what I did, there would be no good priest left. They can’t speak-up and then simply go on living a health religious life. I understand their plight. In many cases the pervert pedo priest ends up with an early retirement, and the good priest who snitched, would end up homeless.

    I had the luxury of being a late vocation; and had a military pension, thus I was able to snitch on the pedophile, tell my superiors where to go, and happy walk away from those creeps.

    1. Left also, still have nightmares thinking of those victims, worked as a chaplain dealing with rape victims then looking at these abusers. My principal and his assistant were convicted along with a few of the staff – knew something was happening, but couldn’t get proof while I taught there. Left a good job in the medical field to join the religious life and left to work with inter city youth and emotionally challenged kids. Wasn’t easy looking for work after leaving. Also, went through therapy when I accused the system of having an abuse problem.Guess I was a problem. Can’t give my full name – too many people/family I know work in the school system and don’t want them to lose their jobs – still need someone to help our kids. So I understand that some priests are staying just to help others and speaking out could actually weaken the cause and their ability to minister.I just read about the cases and give feedback to SNAP or bishopaccountibity about the religious/ priests I know.

  23. A recent post made the same mistake the hierarchists do in explaining sexual abuse of children. It linked homosexuality and paedophilia.

    Pleae do not do this: (a) either there is no linkage or we need top keep heterosexual priests away from little girls (b) its the easy (though hypocritical) way out for the Bishops. Its called scapegoating. Its also hypocritical because I’m sure a number of them are gay, but are no old enough that sexual interest has lagged.

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