cover image Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II

Jason Berry, Gerald Renner. Free Press, $26 (353pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-4441-1

This impassioned expose explores the history of priestly pedophilia scandals, and their roots in what the authors portray as the Church's blinkered sexual mores and arrogant hierarchy, through profiles of two emblematic Church figures. The first is Thomas Doyle, an American priest who investigated abuses in the early 1980s; when his recommendations for reform were ignored, Doyle broke with the hierarchy and began testifying about the Church's cover-up. Doyle's antithesis is Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, a secretive, fanatically disciplined order of conservative priests and laymen with a chain of universities and schools that critics liken to a cult. Lionized by John Paul II, Maciel is also a pedophile and Demerol addict, according to at least nine former priests and seminarians who claim they were victimized by him. Investigative journalists Berry and Renner build on years of research and hundreds of interviews to paint a portrait of ecclesiastical corruption. They blame the Church's sexual doctrines--particularly the rule on priestly celibacy, which, they contend, has driven away heterosexual men and fostered a pathologically libertine""gay priest culture"" at some American seminaries. The result is an atmosphere of silence and hypocrisy that simultaneously condemns and tolerates both homosexuality and priestly sexual abuse, in which an authoritarian Church hierarchy, reaching up to the Vatican, protects pedophiles, and buries accusations in labyrinthine legal maneuvers. The book's sprawling, somewhat disorganized narrative sometimes bogs down amidst incidental characters and insignificant details, and the panorama of sordid sex crimes, quasi-fascist brainwashing and cynical Vatican mandarins may lead critics to accuse the authors, professed Catholics themselves, of retailing lurid anti-Catholic cliches. But their exhaustive reporting adds up to a disturbing indictment of a deeply troubled Church, and this book will no doubt cause much discussion and controversy.