Damning Lies By Catholic Bishops
What the Catholic bishop knew
Eamonn O'Neill talks to F Ray Mouton, one of the authors of 'The Manual', a 1985 report into child abuse in the clergy which he claims the church suppressed
guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 April 2010
Now retired, F Ray Mouton spends his days writing his novel, Beyond Familiar Altars – a story of scandal and cover-up in the Catholic church. The media from various corners of the world have made repeated attempts to interview the 63-year-old former defence lawyer, but Mouton has – until now – chosen to lie low.
He is sought after because of events he was party to just over a quarter of a century ago – events which included a secret meeting with Cardinal William Levada, who now holds one of the highest positions in the Vatican.
In 1984 Mouton, then a successful young lawyer in Louisiana, was having lunch with the local Roman Catholic church top brass. He was asked to defend a priest accused of child abuse – the first legally recorded case of its kind.
His client was Father Gilbert Gauthe, and he was accused of abusing dozens of children in Henry, a rural, deeply devout Catholic community. The church was already paying out millions to families who signed confidentiality clauses. But one family, the Gastals, whose son Scott was abused by Gauthe, refused to stay silent, and instead urged the local district attorney to file 37 criminal charges against the clergyman. "The priest needed his own counsel in the criminal matter and also in the civil cases where he was a lead defendant," says Mouton. Despite death threats and the nature of the crimes, Mouton accepted the case.
"I believed this priest was a sole, aberrant individual and that there could not possibly be other men of the cloth who serially sexually abused children," he explains. "I believed then that this priest should receive a fair sentence – 20 years in a facility where he could be treated for his condition, a time sufficient to allow his youngest victims to grow to be about 30 years old prior to his release. And I believed no one in the diocese could have known about these horrendous crimes without having reported them to the police and removing this man from the priesthood."
At the time, Mouton didn't think the priest's employers – the church – could be held responsible for the criminal actions of someone they'd hired. He soon changed his mind: "I would come to believe that not only is a priest who abuses a child acting out of pathology, but a bishop covering up such heinous crimes is afflicted with a deeper, darker pathology that poses as great a threat, or even a greater threat, to society – for it was the bishops and the Vatican that empowered and enabled these criminals … to avoid scandal to the church."
Gauthe pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment. The Gastal family were awarded $1.2m (£790,000) in damages. Mouton recalls: "This was the turning point … that verdict was reported prominently in media [and] was … heard in every plaintiff law office in the United States."
While defending Gauthe, Mouton found out that the church had in fact known about his crimes since seminary and had moved him around parishes. He had also seen evidence that convinced him that there were other abusing priests across the US. When the case ended, he could have walked away. Instead, he decided to try to help the church get out of the mess it was in. He joined forces with Father Tom Doyle, who was the canon lawyer in the papal nunciature and Vatican embassy in Washington DC, and Father Michael Peterson, a priest-psychiatrist who treated sexually dysfunctional priests.
The three hatched a plan to pool their knowledge in the form of a "manual", which would warn the church about the danger to children – and to the institution itself – posed by sexual abusers, and offer advice about what should be done.
Mouton says the report's authors believed they had the support of senior US Roman Catholic figures. "My understanding is that both Doyle and Peterson were having ongoing discussions with men in prominent positions, including Cardinal Law, who verbally supported us drafting this document. The bishop charged with monitoring the crisis and reporting to the pope's personal representative in the US, Bishop A James Quinn, was also supportive.
"The document was to be presented to an upcoming conference of all bishops in the US with the hope that they would adopt its provisions."
The result of their labour was a 92-page document. They explained that priests were being accused of abuse on a wide scale and that many were probably guilty. They examined definitions of paedophilia and how it related to the priesthood. The issues were complex, they said, and needed addressing urgently. And while the church's position was in danger, they urged the hierarchy to do its utmost to protect the vulnerable victims of the clerics' abuse.
A secret meeting was called at a Chicago hotel in May 1985 to discuss what was now known as The Manual. A low-level auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles attended, called William Levada. Mouton recalls: "The meeting seemingly went well. Bishop Levada vetted every word of the document and seemed to be in full support of [it] being presented to the full conference of bishops. Shortly thereafter, Bishop Levada telephoned Doyle and advised him basically to 'kill' our document because the conference had a plan of their own and would form a committee to deal with the issue. "After the conference concluded, it was announced to the media that a committee had been formed to deal with clergy abuse. This turned out to be just another lie, for no committee was formed in the conference until the 90s."
According to a New York Times report on 20 June 1985 – some weeks after The Manual was privately copied and distributed to scores of bishops by the two priests and Mouton – the Rev Kenneth Doyle, a spokesman for the US Catholic conference in Washington, stated: "We don't want to give the impression that it's [sexual abuse cases by priests like Gauthe] a rampant problem for the church, because it is not."
Statements made by Levada in a legal deposition during an abuse case in California in 2004 record him saying that Mouton's report didn't stick in his memory despite its explosive contents: "It's a long time, and it would be difficult for me to say that I recall having seen it before … I maybe have seen it before, but I don't recall it now." He also said he was at the meeting as a "listener" with a brief to report back to Law. He said he didn't recall whether he told Mouton, Doyle and Peterson if their report and its distribution was "a good idea or not".
This week, in a statement to the New York Times, Levada said: "As I look back on my own personal history as a priest and bishop, I can say that in 1980 I had never heard of any accusation of such sexual abuse by a priest. It was only in 1985, as an auxiliary bishop attending a meeting of our US bishops' conference … that I became aware of some of the issues." The conference the cardinal refers to was in June 1985 – a month after the hotel meeting.
In retrospect, Mouton wonders about Levada's attendance: "Prior to being an auxiliary bishop in Los Angeles, Levada worked in the Vatican in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and from 1981 to early 1983 he worked directly under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was prefect. The trajectory of Levada's career [since the hotel meeting] was meteoric. In July of 1986 he was made archbishop of Portland, a diocese that mishandled the clergy abuse crisis. Levada was further promoted in August 1995 to archbishop of San Francisco, where he was criticised for his actions in regard to clergy abuse.
"Shortly after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he appointed Archbishop Levada as prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and Levada was elevated to cardinal. Thus, [he] is now the person charged with full responsibility for all matters relating to clergy abuse.
"Was Levada the eyes and ears of Ratzinger in that meeting? I only know that he worked with and for Ratzinger and obviously remained close to him for 24 years, and [he] possesses a quality I believe Joseph Ratzinger values above all others: loyalty to Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. "
Levada has come in for criticism of his handling of so-called "mega-suits" in California and, later, in Portland, Oregon, where his archdiocese filed for bankruptcy after claims running in excess of $50m were settled. In May 2000, Levada authorised a payout of $750,000 to a man who had been sexually assaulted by a priest. The priest who witnessed and reported the offence, Father John Conley, sued for defamation after his church accused him of being unstable and negligent. Just before the case went to trial, Levada authorised a secret deal to "prefund" Conley's retirement and thus silence him.
In June 2002, in a speech to US bishops in Dallas, Levada called on clerics to ask whether they'd done all they could to crack down on abusers. By the end of the year he was advising Pope John Paul II to develop his so-called "zero-tolerance" policy on the issue. Mouton reflects: "There is no question … that had the bishops around the world, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II adhered to our advice thousands of priests would have been removed from the ministry and turned over to police authorities, and an inestimable number of children would have grown normally through childhood with God's greatest gift, innocence, intact."