Fathers Donald Cozzens and Stephen Rossetti
Discuss Sex Abuse Scandal in Catholic Church
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Father Cozzens, let me start with you. The Catholic bishops have spoken in Dallas. What do you think of their report to the American people, American Catholics? And secondly, do you think the Vatican will adopt it?
FR. DONALD COZZENS: I think highly of their report to the Vatican--to the American people. My concern is that I suspect that what happened 10, 15 years ago where the reputation of the church and respect for its present structures took precedence over the welfare of young people and children--I think today, something similar is happening. It seems to me that the reputation of the church still is a priority for the bishops. And they're very concerned about maintaining the present structure. And we could almost say that's taking precedence over priests today. Let me try to expand on that. Even criminal law recognizes grades of abuse. The sodomizing of, say, a 14-year-old boy is not quite the same as an obscene phone call to a 14-year-old boy or flashing, if you will--indecent exposure. They're recognizing no gradation at all. Our primary goal has to be the safety of teen-agers and children, no question about that. But why not let lay panels made up of parents and some victims decide if a priest, who is not a pedophile, might be able to return to some limited form of ministry that will not bring him into contact with teen-agers or children? I think the bishops might have addressed that issue, and I don't think they did. So in some respects, I think we're seeing a similar type of behavior, understandable, but similar to what happened 10, 15 years ago.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the Vatican will accept this report?
FR. COZZENS: I have no way of knowing whether or not the Vatican will accept the report. I think they'll accept it probably with some modifications, in one way or another. I would love to have seen the bishops say, "When it comes to bishops who have knowingly transferred a priest who had a record of abusing children, that these bishops might take it upon their own to step down." Bishop Gregory was...
MR. RUSSERT: But that's two-thirds of the bishops.
FR. COZZENS: You know, that would certainly change the makeup of the American hierarchy. But, at least, they should offer their resignation to the Holy Father and that would send a clear signal that the laity are angry, not only at the priests who have abused children, they're also very angry at bishops who have somehow seemed to have condoned this by reassigning priests, and in some cases reassigning them with letters of commendation. That's very difficult for priests and laity to deal with.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Rossetti, you commented to the Detroit Free Press that this really doesn't solve the problem. Explain that.
FR. STEPHEN ROSSETTI: Well, Tim, I think the overall question is: How can we make society safer for children? And simply releasing the priests out of ministry is a good step forward for the church to protect children, but they're simply sent into society. And one of the things I'm glad that was in the charter--it was said that for the protection of young people, these priests would be treated before they would be released. The thing that does work is to treat the priests, to supervise them and to keep them away from children.
MR. RUSSERT: Your institute, the St. Luke Institute, is a center here near Washington where priests come. There was a suicide recently...
FR. ROSSETTI: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...a threat of losing accreditation. And one of the points that the state of Maryland pointed out--and I'll show you and our viewers--"St. Luke Institute, the Catholic Church-sponsored psychiatric hospital for priests, has been cited by Maryland health officials for failing to report to police instances of suspected child abuse by its patients. In a report released [Wednesday], health inspectors said they found no records showing that St. Luke has given police the names of priests who said in the therapy that they had abused children." Why was that your policy and have you now changed it?
FR. ROSSETTI: Tim, that was not our policy. That was--we have a letter from the attorney general, the state of Maryland, 1991, saying that out-of-state cases that occur out of the state of Maryland are not required to be reported by law. And, thus, the privilege--the privacy of our patients by law needs to be respected. So we are obligated by law not to report out-of-state cases, and we do report in-state cases, so, in fact, we were following the law.
MR. RUSSERT: But the deputy attorney general said your obligation is to report all cases.
FR. ROSSETTI: Yes, we have a statement from the attorney general, who was her supervisor, saying that's not the case. And we've asked the state of Maryland to review that, because we have a contradiction. We are operating under the 1991 statement by the attorney general.
MR. RUSSERT: In your experience as someone deeply involved in this field, do you believe a priest can be cured of pedophilia?
FR. ROSSETTI: Tim, we don't speak of cure. We do speak of successfully treating them. Some are not treatable. Some are. And the majority of our residents have gone on to live chaste and celibate lives. And so we think there is a value to the witness of recovery and living chaste lives afterwards.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Cozzens, when you were here with us in March, I referred to your book "The Changing Face of the Priesthood" and I want to show again something you wrote: "During my years as vicar"--as vicar of priests in the Diocese of Cleveland--"I investigated dozens of reports of clergy sexual misconduct, spending a good part of many working days arranging for assessment and treatment for accused priests. ...Without wanting to diminish the harm they had done, there seemed to be something amiss at the core of their personalities. For I sensed little guilt for their seductions, the only regret I could identify was associated with being caught. For the most part, the men I worked with were more concerned about themselves and their futures than for their victims. From my relatively brief work with them I came to regard them as focused sociopaths--little or no moral sense, no feelings of guilt and remorse for what they had done at least in this area of their lives. ...I don't remember one priest acknowledging any kind of moral torment for the behaviors that got him in trouble. The absence of remorse and concern for their victims continues to trouble me."
Having written that, and now learning more and more on a daily basis about the level and intensity of abuse that occurred, do you understand why the laity is saying zero tolerance? Even the obscene phone call, anything, that man does not deserve to be a priest, and--as you found in your own experience, because they're not remorseful for it other than being caught?
FR. COZZENS: I do understand the intense feelings and anger of the laity. I hope I understand. I think unless you're a parent or a victim yourself, you're not going to fully understand the deep suffering that has transpired and continues in the lives of many of these victims and parents. I think it's difficult for me--I'm going to defer it to Steve, who is a clinical psychologist, to determine how extensive that kind of response is that I wrote about in the "The Changing Face of the Priesthood." A number of vicars and chancellors that I spoke with had the same experience. Now, how common that is, I'll leave that to the clinical community. But the anger--I hope we priests understand the anger. I do feel that much of the anger is directed against the bishops, though, for transferring priests to other either parishes or diocese when they really should not have done that.
MR. RUSSERT: And you're suggesting the bishops are now letting the priests take the fall?
FR. COZZENS: I think they're putting the spotlight on the priests and procedures that are well-intended, and I think that are going to be very effective. Let's give credit to the bishops for a lot of good work in Dallas. And I think the leadership of Bishop Gregory really needs to be applauded. But I think we're seeing a pattern here. What remains primary is the reputation of the church, the credibility of the bishops, and the defense of the present structures that we have.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Rossetti, I want to show you one other thing that Father Cozzens wrote in his book that we talked about in March as a way to give you an opportunity as a psychologist to broaden this whole discussion. And that is this: "As a group, abusers tend to be married men who prey on girls, although many pedophiles abuse both girls and boys. Our respective diocesan experience revealed that roughly 90 percent of priest abusers targeted teenage boys as their victims. ...Relatively little attention has been paid to this phenomenon by church authorities. Perhaps it's feared that it will call attention to the disproportionate number of gay priests. While homosexually oriented people are no more likely to be drawn to misconduct with minors than straight people, our own experience was clear and, I believe, significant. Most priest offenders, we vicars agreed, acted out against teenage boys."
In your experience, is it a matter of demographics if there are more homosexual men in the priesthood, there is a stronger likelihood that teenage boys will be abused because of the higher percentage of men who happen to be homosexuals and priests?
FR. ROSSETTI: Tim, I don't know the percentage of priests who are homosexually oriented but certainly we know there are more than a couple.
MR. RUSSERT: What's your best guess?
FR. ROSSETTI: I really have no idea, and I think it would, frankly, be irresponsible to guess on national TV. But what I would say is that it's important for everyone to--and I think the charter speaks of this, that when they review the seminaries, they're going to review them specifically to make sure that the candidates are able to live a chaste and celibate life, which includes anyone who might be homosexually oriented, and they're going to have to be able to accept the church's teachings and to be able to live them with integrity. Now, anyone who has any strong internal sexual conflicts should not be ordained. And I think that will be a challenge for some men who are homosexually oriented. They're going to need to be able to prove and show that they are able to live this chaste life.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Cozzens?
FR. COZZENS: I would agree with what Steve just said.
MR. RUSSERT: The temptation is not greater for homosexual men?
FR. COZZENS: I don't think it's greater depending on one's orientation, and I'm not sure the real issue is a sexual issue. I think it can be an intimacy issue, and I think we need to take a look at the structure of the priesthood today to see if it is unwittingly leading to a level of immaturity in priests that is higher than we might expect, and I think it certainly is a sexual issue. I think it's an issue of control and power. I think many of the priests who have abused minors and children are very lonely men who do not know how to have honest, real...
MR. RUSSERT: Intimacy?
FR. COZZENS: ...intimacy--celibate intimacy--with their peers, and we need to take a look at the structure, and I'm really referring here to mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests. We'll always have celibacy in the priesthood. Men who would like to be priests and who feel called to celibacy usually enter a religious congregation or order--the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, the Jesuits. I think the mandatory celibacy tradition that we've had now for about a thousand years needs to be examined, and studied, prayerfully and honestly. Let's put that issue on the table. I don't think it's fair to say there is absolutely no connection between mandatory celibacy for diocesan priests and the misconduct issue. Clearly there is no connection between celibacy as a cause for pedophilia.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you both a question that I'm asked all the time by people and laity. Father Rossetti, do you believe that Catholics in the United States will ever feel the same way about their church after this?
FR. ROSSETTI: Tim, I think the church has been irreparably changed. We're not going to be the same church we were 20 years ago, but we hope that it's going to be a better church. There were some wonderful phrases in this charter. They talked about accountability, about transparency, about involving the laity in the decision-making processes. And you see in the charter some new decision-making processes, including Governor Keating being part of this national review board. So we're already seeing a kind of a sea shift, a change in the way the church thinks about itself and conducts its policies.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think people look at you differently as a priest?
FR. COZZENS: Oh, I think so. It would be almost impossible for them not to. Parishioners who know their pastors certainly don't look at them differently. They support them, and they admire them. What's fascinating to me is to see ministry now being done by lay people towards priests and bishops and, in some cases, victims actually ministering to priests. I agree with Steve, we're witnessing the dawn of a new era, and I think it will be the laity to a great extent that redeems the church and allows the teaching officers of the church, especially our bishops, to work towards regaining credibility.
MR. RUSSERT: Father Donald Cozzens, Father Stephen Rossetti, thank you very much for sharing your views.
FR. ROSSETTI: Thank you.
FR. COZZENS: You're very welcome.