Tom Doyle addresses statements by Catholic priest Joseph O’Leary (Revised)

REVISED 2.25.2010, 5.15 PM, MST.
Today (2.25.2010) I received an email from Tom Doyle. Here is what Tom wrote.

I usually ignore blog statements and things of that nature.  Carolyn Disco [a long time and tireless advocate of victims/survivors of clergy sex abuse, and winner of Voice of the Faithful’s Saint Catherine of Siena Distinguished Lay Person Award] found [on the Internet] … statements by a [priest] named Joseph O’Leary.  Read the statements [provided below].  I would like my comments and his statements distributed as widely as possible.  I don’t want to enter into a debate with him but because he is a priest a lot of people might be convinced by the weird stuff he says.  Thanks.  Tom

I have included Tom’s comments first and then those of O’Leary.

* * *

Thomas Doyle

February 24, 2010


Attached [see below]is a collection of recent statements by a Catholic priest named Joseph O’Leary.  He teaches at Sophia University in Tokyo.  Carolyn Disco picked them up and was understandably appalled by his thoughts.  I am as appalled as Carolyn.  The statements reflect a level of denial and ignorance that I can only hope and pray is not widespread among priests.

The problem with O’Leary’s comments, which are as destructive as they are ignorant, is that there are probably people who will be influenced by them because he is a priest.  There are still way too many enablers of the clericalist virus inside and outside the Catholic Church.

O’Leary’s mindset has not been uncommon among priests and bishops.  I have been deeply involved in well over a thousand cases of clergy sexual abuse. I have been scandalized and demoralized by the cavalier and narcissistic attitude of many priests, so obvious in what they say and do in response to the continuing revelations of sexual molestation of the young, not only in North America but throughout the world. 

The attitude and mindset so blatant in O’Leary’s statements is an attitude shared by many priests and bishops.  There is a tragic and shocking absence of any pastoral or compassionate sympathy for the vulnerable victims.  There is, on the other hand, an almost desperate defensiveness about the priesthood and the hierarchical model of the Church.  Their responses are truly self-serving, narcissistic and in the end, self-destructive.  As many clerics from the pope on down to seminarians, bemoan the loss of respect for the priesthood, the dearth of seminarians, the erosion of trust and the rapidly growing sentiments of suspicion and disdain, they either fail to see or refuse to see their central role in this state of affairs.  Their own behavior has brought about the attitudes of mistrust and even ridicule.  Joseph O’Leary, whether he realizes it or not, has made a significant contribution to the continuing erosion of credibility in the Catholic priesthood and in the Catholic Church itself.

* * *

 Here are O’Leary’s comments.

* * *




Compiled by Carolyn Disco from 

http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=6811 (scroll down through 266+ comments)



If a lay person came to me as a priest to talk about his or her problems with attraction to minors and in the process revealed that they had done things that could get them in jail, I would certainly not hand them over to the police.


I accept that in the case where the penitent or counselee presents a public danger the police should be notified.


A priest who is sexually involved is not such a scandalous thing nowadays as a young man branded as a pedophile. Pedophiles are the favored scapegoats of our sexually permissive but still puritanical age (especially in the punitive USA), so to expose someone to that opprobrium is a very grave matter. Priests who are sexually active are a dime a dozen.


Again, I see a big difference between sex with a 16 or 17 year old, where the minor is a willing partner, and rape of children. But the anti-pedophile rhetoric refuses to countenance any such distinctions. If we ask “What would Jesus do?” I suggest that he would be on the side of the pedophiles against the violence and hatred they face, and I don’t see him as willingly handing people over to the police


But suppose your son had had sex with a minor — perhaps a minor who was in love with him — would you hand him over to the cops, as you expect priests and bishops to do?


A friend of mine interviewed a man who had had sex with my friend’s 15 yo daughter. Did he report him to the cops? No, he gave him a scolding.


You would say my friend has no balls — what violent, macho language. I would say my friend behaved decently, sensibly and non-destructively.


My friend was not an American.



“Fr. O’Leary – there are always “gray” situations. Unfortunately, as you and I both know we have priests who are not emotionally mature getting involved with “older” adolescents – both may be homosexual in nature. The adolescent may be 17 yrs. old – thus, legally in some states a minor.”


I think it is rather puritanical to treat this as if it were the end of the world. There are lots of men who actually boast about such relationships in later life and who claim that they took the lead in them when they were minors.


I knew a man who was the active partner in a sexual relationship with his parish priest from the age of 15 to 20. He said, 20 years later, that he still loved the PP, 20 years later. It is doctrinaire to say that he cannot have been in love with the PP or a willing partner in their relationship. Just this kind of puritan dogmatism is what is not helpful. As someone said, there are lots of gray areas — and in the absence of any clear protocol it is not surprising that many bishops made mistakes.


Another case is a teacher in a lifelong relationship with a young professional — they first met 25 years ago when the younger partner was 13. Say what you like about the morality but don’t say that they are not in love.




“Fr. O’Leary, there are people who are warped for life because they were abused as children. Groping and fondling counts.”


Of course.


But there are many people who were not warped for life or even damaged at all by sexual encounters with adults when they were minors — and who are quite ready to tell us so if we give them an ear. A psychoanalyst friend assures me that this is so.


The instant experts who sprung up in the wake of the pedophilia scandals ritually talk as if all such sexual events made the minor a “victim” and “survivor” –t his frozen vocabulary is typical of witch-hunts, not of humane thinking.


” You seem to think that calling the police on them is a matter of harassing the abuser. It’s a matter of stopping further crimes from being committed. It also says to the child (or teen) that this is serious and that the parent is serious about protecting the young person and is not complicit in their exploitation.”


It may be so, and in some cases it may not be. There was a story in the New Yorker 10 years ago about a priest who took photos, in silence, of a boy at the public baths — the boy willingly posing. As the priest headed off, the boy called “Hey, Father, you’d better destroy those pics!”


The pool janitor reported the incident. Next scene: the boy testifies against the priest in count, in tears. Now he regards all adults as diabolical.


Sometimes it is destructive to pursue a puritanical ideological purity.


According to his family, he now runs away from home when frustrated; formerly an open and accepting child, he now fears adult strangers, and fantasizes that they are murderers and robbers.





In the case of the couple I mentioned, the senior party graduated out of a pedophile lifestyle by falling in love with his present partner when the latter was 13. I think this is an instructive trajectory. Of course there are many cases of people falling in love with very young teenagers and marrying them the moment they reach legal age. As Pushkin remarks, “Love is no respecter of age!”




Well, my experience is very limited. I have never met a victim of child abuse, except some girl students in Japan who related encounters with flashers. I have met a handful of people, male and female, who recounted their sexual encounters with adults as minors and none of them expressed any sense of traumatization. So my deduction is that there are two sides to the story. Morally it is never licit for an adult to involve a minor in sex, but from the human and psychological point of view the results are not necessarily always damaging, as you seem to agree.


The vast field of literature offers me some secondary experience — and here again it is surprising how many writers remember with gratitude the experience of being seduced by their nannies or whoever.




Rev. Dr. Joseph S. O’Leary, born in 1949, is a priest of the Diocese of Cork and Ross in Cork, Ireland, headed by Bishop John Buckley.


He studied at


St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth Co Kildare, Ireland

Gregorian University Rome, Italy

Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes Paris

 Ordained on June 16, 1973

He is resident in Japan since 1983 and teaches in the Faculty of Letters, Sophia University (Jesuit), Tokyo.



List of Fr O’Leary’s writings published on his weblog.

Fr. O’Leary’s website


Bishop John Buckley ,

Cork and Ross Offices, Redemption Road, Cork
Tel: 021 4301717
Fax: 021 4301557


Leave a Reply