A Pedophile Priest in the Family August 5, 2009

A Pedophile Priest in the Family

Reader “Bob” found out that a recently deceased relative was one of the many priests convicted of child molestation in the 1990s.

He writes (emphases mine):

When I grew up, Father Tom was always one of those distant relatives who was mentioned but whom I had never met. I knew he was a priest who lived in some sort of facility — I always thought it was assisted living, since he was elderly.

Father Tom passed away a week or two ago. My cousins and I were somehow discussing this, and it came up that he was a child molester, which I had never known (it wasn’t exactly something the older generation wanted to discuss). All I knew about Father Tom was the little things: He sent Grandma flowers every Christmas and Easter. He was a twin, but his twin had died a while ago. My mother sent him cards, just so he got some mail. He was a “sweet old man.” Occasionally, a family member would go visit him. All in all, Father Tom was treated with respect and love, generally at a distance, of course, because he lived in a facility a few states away.

After finding out about his past (and looking up a few articles online about it), I find myself wondering: This man molested over 20 young boys… Good people do not hurt children like that. But in my Catholic family, apparently, the child molester was a sweet old man.

Would this have been the case if he wasn’t a priest? What if he wasn’t Father Tom but rather Cousin Tom?

I doubt he would have been treated the same way. At the very least, he would probably have served more than five months in jail.

Granted, I think plenty of Catholics would still consider him a bad person for molesting children. But somehow, I can’t help but think my family’s affection for this man is directly related to his priesthood.

There’s a lot of anger directed at pedophile priests (and rightfully so), but would you treat them any differently if they were part of your family and you had a personal, positive history with them?

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  • Yes, I would.

    I don’t have any pedophiles in the family that I know of but I’ve known family members to do bad things. I still love them and look at them more favorably than I do people I read about in the news.

  • If I knew a family member who did such a thing and not only felt no regret, but faced no punishment? Damn straight I’d expel his ass.

    Feeling regret for such actions helps in my eyes….but so does, ya know, not doing it in the first place. The reason I trust people is because they don’t do stupid things; when they do, that undermines my trust. For the small things, yes, I’m willing to look aside for people I especially trust….but there is a line that can be crossed. The line of child molestation is one that is knowingly crossed, and while it can be forgiven, it can never be forgotten nor adequately punished.

    Now….if he had served a full sentence AND regretted his actions, THEN I might be willing to chalk it up to being in a bad place (mentally) at a bad time, and making a bad decision. But the fact remains….that’s a harsh thing to forgive for me. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for the victims. The only thing I can really do is resign myself from real judgment, and let the victims judge him — if anyone has the right to make such a judgment, it’s them.

  • Unfortunately, a lot of sexual abuse victims are disbelieved by friends and family, or told to keep it quiet, because the abuser is part of the same social circle, and it’s easier to pretend like the victims are lying than to face the cognitive dissonance. We generally associate with people because we believe them to be good, so when something comes to challenge that, we try to dismiss it. I was molested as a child by a family member and that’s exactly what happened to me once I started talking about it.

    I don’t think the priest thing had much to do with it, necessarily. This happens all too often, with abusers who aren’t priests.

  • jemand

    I agree 100% with Milena.

    It doesn’t make a difference that this man was a priest, his crime would likely have been overlooked by his family REGARDLESS.

    The victim would also likely be told they were lying, at least within the social circle, and would be seen as the criminal if the pedophile served any time…

    I almost think it is the ghastliness of the crime that makes people ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist– but I don’t for a second think his priesthood had anything to do with it.

  • Erp

    Most people are a mix of good and bad. Note that for some of the relatives Tom was someone they remember growing up with (or for the really elderly remember as a little boy).

    The priest thing probably meant a wider circle of trust than a plain cousin (though that might depend on the cousin’s status within the local community [e.g., pillars of society are also harder to accuse]). The two key differences are that (1) the church was/is all to often ready and able to move accused priests out-of-parish, out-of-state, or even out-of-country to avoid scandal and (2) I wonder how many abusing priests were themselves abused and so possibly bought into the idea it was ok, an institutionalized culture of abuse (see the Ireland report which is about physical, sexual, and emotional abuse).

  • I agree with Milena.

    Family/social circle will protect offenders, with denial or outright lies. Shifting the accusation back onto the accuser. The more important the individual, the more protection to be expended.

    Too bad for the victim when part of said family/social circle.

    Most people are indeed a mix of good and bad, it’s a question of proportion. Using trust and/or power to achieve deranged sexual satisfaction is really bad. It offsets the mix.

  • medussa

    My favorite cousin was raped by her oldest brother for several years, and was not believed when she told her mom. In the meantime, I also spent a lot of time with her brother and was never harmed.

    Years later, after 3 ex wives had kicked him out and he fathered 6 daughters, his sister finally made her peace with her history and outed her brother as a pedophile.
    Thanks to that, his daughters are protected, and the family has broken off contact. Ironically, his sister is the only one who has forgiven him, though she won’t let him near her daughters.

    I’d say Bob’s guess that his uncle’s religious cloak had something to do with the family’s silence on the matter is probably accurate.
    He should know, he knows the family dynamics best.

    It seems to be likely that every family will handle the “shame” of a pedophile differently.

  • Dan W

    Fortunately, I don’t have any pedophiles in my family, but I’m pretty sure I would not want to associate with such a person if I did have a pedophile in my family. I wouldn’t particularly care whether said family member was a priest or not, it’s the fact that this hypothetical family member molested children that would make me not want to be around them.

  • Ron in Houston

    Having legally represented a few pedophiles in my time, I can tell you that they are often otherwise very nice upstanding citizens.

    It’s rather odd and difficult to understand. Almost all that I represented seemed to be playing out their own abuse scenarios.

    One part of my ex-Christian background that I still cling to is “judge not, lest ye be judged.”

  • Sebeka

    I’m appalled that Father Tom got only 5 months in jail for what he did. His being a priest only makes the abuse of authority more pronounced and brings shame to the profession. I hope that he never served as anyone’s parish priest after being arrested and that the “facility” was some sort of involuntary center to keep him out of society.

  • The Other Tom

    My mother is a murderer.

    No, I have absolutely not forgiven her, and have neither seen nor spoken to her once in the approximately 17 years since the murder. With luck I will never see or speak with her again.

    My paternal grandparents refused to believe in her guilt, despite it being incredibly obvious. I chewed them out very bluntly for that and told them that the next time they tried to tell me that would be the last time I’d speak to them either. My father’s sister also tried to tell me my mother is innocent, and sent my mother recent photos of me. We’re no longer on speaking terms.

    Your family are just people. There is no reason you should associate with them if they’re not people you would otherwise choose to associate with. My life is much the better for the lack of the family members I have disowned.

  • Josha

    Many people assume that a child molester is so depraved that they are incapable of being friendly or (generally) normal people. My grandfather is a pedophile and has molested his children, grandchildren, and others. Despite all of this his side of the family refuses to believe this and my uncles still let him see their children, and he is certainly not a priest.

  • Chris

    I’m going to be pedantic because I think it’s important here. There is a distinction that is being overlooked: being a pedophile, a psychological disorder in which an adult experiences a sexual preference for prepubescent children; and being a child molester, an adult or older adolescent that abuses a child for sexual stimulation. Someone can even be the latter without being the former.

    Unless there are thoughtcrime laws in place, being a pedophile is not illegal. Because it’s not their fault that they have these preferences, I would argue that by itself it can’t be considered wrong or immoral either, but it’s something that should definitely be looked at by a doctor. A pedophile is also not necessarily a danger to children, just as a normal heterosexual man is not necessarily a danger to women.

    By mixing up “pedophile” with “child molester” we’re probably making it even harder for pedophiles who have never acted on their urges to get help, which might eventually cause them to act on their urges. So shunning someone simply because they have a problem is probably making things much worse.

    And we’re mostly atheists and freethinkers around here, so I’m sure there are plenty of people here who know what it’s like to be shunned by friends and family because they found out something that they’re afraid of*.

    So please say “child molester” rather than “pedophile” when you mean “someone who molests children”. Otherwise you muddy the water and inhibit clear, rational communication. “Think of the children” laws are already way out of hand, partially in thanks to this.

    *Note, I’m not comparing pedophilia, a psychological disorder, with atheism, the cure to another disorder, only people’s not-so-dissimilar reactions to them.

    (And, damn, your comment box is way too small to really encouraging thought-out responses.)

  • Alz

    Has nothing to do with being a priest. An in-law of mine had long ago sexually assaulted his daughter as a pre-teen child, many years later attempted to sexually assault one of the victim’s daughters when she was a pre-teen. Unfortunately, the victims were silenced immediately. He lived a long happy life, everyone in his large family looked up to him, some even wear tattoos with his name after his death (none knew his horrible acts). Such things are probably not unusual.

  • gribblethemunchkin

    Nice comment Chris, and entirely accurate. I work in criminal justice and my colleagues have had many opportunities in probation areas to sit in on offender groups. Without exception they always say the pedophiles are the most pleasant and educated of the various groups.

    One thing that is always overlooked these days is why pedophiles and child molesters do what they do and feel what they feel.

    Note that i’m not choosing to excuse their crimes, but studies show that many, many pedophiles and child molesters are themselves victims of abuse in their childhood. The image of the creepy pervert standing in shadows by the school gate is a very misleading one. As are attempts to brand these people as evil (a term with very little use).

    What is evil is the attempts of people (hello catholic church) to not only protect dangerous people, but to actively shelter them. This kind of abuse is cyclical because people are so reluctant to break the cycle.

    Personally i think i’d avoid any pedophile that i knew or was related to and certainly keep any kids i might someday spawn aay from them, but otherwise treat them as normal human beings.

  • I’m afraid I would have a hard time believing that anyone I know, family or friends, was a child molester. These are people who I love and trust implicitly. To be presented with an accusation like this would be shocking as it would go totally against all that I know about that person. It is easy to see why children are not believed.

    I’m more than a little disturbed at this reaction because I think that accusations should be taken very seriously.

  • Renacier

    If a family member was accused of some atrocity, I would probably disbelieve the charge. I would trust my personal experience with this person over the personal experience of some anonymous accuser.
    But if they were proven to have done it, then being family would not save them from social censure. In fact, if the offence was grave enough,I would most likely disown them as family at all. Certain actions cannot be tolerated at any level of society.

  • Ken

    I agree with Chris. And I don’t think it’s being pedantic to point out that inaccurate use of the term “pedophilia” is leading to problems.

    A good model to follow on this issue might be suicide prevention. Mental illness already has stigma attached. Many Americans are very uninformed, and fearful, about mental illness, doubly so if that illness is pedophilia. Many mental health help websites don’t even cover the issue.

    How many teenage boys out there are secretly beginning to realize that they’re attracted to children? Why are we allowing people to struggle with difficult (and highly stigmatized) feelings alone? Early help or intervention would be the best bet, in my opinion.

    Right now, everything we do is after the fact.

  • I have a cousin who has been in and out of jail for various crimes, mainly assault and drug dealing. He’s a complete screw up but he’s family, we grew up together, and I love him regardless of all the really stupid things he’s done.

    Now I don’t know if I’d feel the same if someone in my family committed any crimes against children. I suppose I’d still care for anyone in my family who molested a child but I sure wouldn’t allow them near any kid.

  • Brandon

    He didn’t ‘molest’ boys…he was giving ‘anatomy’ lessons.

  • gwen

    Yes, pedophiles I have met have been fine upstanding people—in order to manipulate the parents in order to trust them with their children and in order to groom the child to accept the abuse. PEDOPHILES are NICE for a reason, and that reason is completely self serving. Why are you overlooking that obvious point!! It is easier to be a ‘successful’ pedophile with ‘honey’ than with ‘vinegar’.

  • Family member, priest, cop, soldier, politician, or otherwise:


    For those of you claiming you still “love” your hateful relatives, despite being hateful relatives, you are defaming the truth, deceiving yourselves about what it means to love someone, and enabling evil.

    If “Father Tom” were a member of my family, and I’d discovered this truth while he was still alive he would never again be allowed to darken my doorstep — and I would do everything in my power to insure he was never able to get anywhere near a helpless innocent again, for the rest of his life.

    The bottom line is that this is NOT about “Father Tom”, but about the unfathomable crushing physical and psychic pain he inflicted on those twenty-plus boys, and left unaddressed, the continuing VERY REAL RISK that he would do it again.

  • This is one of those difficult things, but it immediately reminded me of a situation we had growing up. There was a young man living with my grandmother who we were told was my dad’s cousin. We really liked him but our parents were always a bit wierd when we were around him.

    Turns out he had murdered his parents as a teenager and was placed with my grandmother when he was released from prison as a way to get back on his feet. When he got on his feet, he was kept at a distance by everyone and I didn’t see him again until my grandmother’s funeral.

    My point is that the reason this guy was kept at a distance with minimal contact with your family was because of what he had done. Even though you didn’t know it at the time, your parents did.

    That one of your relatives desribed him as a nice old man – may very well have been true. He may have been nice to adults – but not enough for them to trust them around their families. would describe my father’s cousin as a really nice guy – and he is a murderer.

    Regardless, a caring compassionate person might think it polite to send the guy a letter now and then, just to make sure he didn’t feel totally alone – seems like a nice gesture. It isn’t like she invited him over to hang out with the children. Long story short – it is a shock, and the guy did something horrible, but he is still a human being. The adults took precautions not to let him around you kids. Would you have understood when you were 10 the issue of pedaphilia anyway?

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