Sexual Abuse in Catholic Church was Widespread, Asserts Journalist

Michael D’Antonio’s New Book, “Mortal Sins,” lays out Disturbing Details

HARTFORD, CT, April 17, 2013 – Michael D’Antonio’s book, Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, has only recently been published, but it’s already won rave reviews from the likes of Publisher’s Weekly, which called it “the definitive history of the Catholic Church’s ‘most severe crisis since the Reformation’: the revelations of endemic sexual abuse of minors by priests in the United States and Europe.”

Michael D'Antonio, author of Mortal Sins; Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal, delivers his first public talk about his book at Trinity. 

D’Antonio, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, gave his first public talk about his book on Tuesday in the 1823 Room of the Raether Library, where he described how he went about conducting his research and relating the story of the church’s abuse through the eyes and experiences of three individuals, all of whom were dogged in their pursuit of justice. The three, in turn, motivated others to go public and take action.

D’Antonio’s lecture, “Radicals and Wounded Warriors: Combatting the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church,” was sponsored by the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

Given his background as a journalist and prolific author, D’Antonio said he thought it would be most effective and powerful if he documented “the narrative flow of events through each of the characters.”

Apparently, he was successful. Said Kirkus Review: “The author weaves a captivating tale of legal drama set against the backdrop of an intransigent ecclesiastical hierarchy. The real-life characters of the story range from colorful to tragic; flamboyant lawyers, alcoholic clerics and activist abuse survivors all help make the story a true page-turner. Yet, while entertaining as a work of legal drama, readers are struck on every page by the horror behind the history.”  

In Mortal Sins, D’Antonio is harshly critical of the church hierarchy’s handling of the sexual abuse crisis, dating to 1983-84, when the initial claims of abuse began surfacing. Although many people believe that the crisis began in Boston in 2002, D’Antonio called that “a myth” that has been widely accepted as fact. To the contrary, the sexual abuse cases have been much more widespread and damaging to the Catholic Church than is commonly believed.

Over the course of the scandal, D’Antonio said, more than 6,100 priests were “deemed by the Church itself to be ‘not implausibly’ or ‘credibly’ accused of sexual crimes against more than 16,000 underage victims in the United States alone.”

In his book, D’Antonio points out that more than 500 American priests have been arrested and prosecuted. And of those, more than 400 were convicted and imprisoned. As of 2012, the worldwide Church had paid about $3 billion to settle civil lawsuits, but there are still claims that are waiting to be settled.

Alluding to the Church’s leaders, D’Antonio said many of them ignored the allegations and others simply hoped the claims would go away. For example, in Los Angeles in 2005, the Church’s hierarchy paid $650 million to the victims in the hopes that the issue would face from public view. Other Church elders refused to believe the victims’ stories.

D’Antonio said it wasn’t until the crisis struck that people realized how “profoundly flawed” many priests were. And he criticized Church leaders for failing to discipline any of the bishops who conspired “to cover this stuff up. People are very aggrieved that no bishop has been held accountable,” he said, adding that many bishops evaded responsibility and averted punishment by fleeing to other countries.

In his talk Tuesday, D’Antonio speculated that one of the reasons that Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy was because he had grown weary of dealing with the sexual abuse crisis. D’Antonio suggested that unlike those who believe the new pope, Francis, is a “caretaker,” Francis is younger and more worldly than Benedict and may be better prepared and more willing to tackle the issue of sexual abuse in the Church.

D’Antonio ends his book on a relatively pessimistic note, writing, “the Church in America will inevitably face new civil claims based on fraud, which will drain it of resources and credibility.”

D’Antonio has worked as a reporter in New England, Washington D.C. and New York, covering Congress, presidential campaigns and national political conventions. During his tenure at Newsday on Long Island, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize as a member of a team for its coverage of the Baby Doe Amendment to the Child Abuse Law. 

D’Antonio has published more than a dozen books, including Atomic Harvest, Tin Cup Dreams, Mosquito, The State Boys Rebellion, and Hershey. His media appearances have included 60 Minutes, The Today Show, CBS Morning, the Diane Rhem Show, and Science Friday.