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Kevin Cullen

Rush to elevate John Paul ignores victims

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / May 1, 2011

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In 1994, seven years before the clergy sexual abuse scandal exploded, Robert Costello sent a letter to Pope John Paul II.

“Dear Holy Father,’’ it began, “When I was a small boy of about 10 years old, I was sexually abused by our parish priest. The abuse lasted for over four years. At the time, what was happening to me was extremely frightening. I was very battered on the inside and very cold on the outside.’’

Costello was an altar boy at St. Theresa’s in West Roxbury, and a predator in a Roman collar named John Cotter routinely molested him. Cotter would follow him into the pool and put his hands down his swim trunks.

“On the inside, I was dead,’’ Costello wrote to the pope.

Costello felt a shame he could share with no one. He started stealing drinks from his grandfather’s liquor cabinet.

“I think it was the first time I really wanted to die,’’ he wrote to the pope. “I was both physically and mentally raped of everything I knew. My world was dark.’’

He urged the pope to confront the evil in his midst as surely as he spoke out about the evils of communism and totalitarianism.

“What I can’t understand is all of the silence by the Catholic Church,’’ he wrote to the man who was in charge of that church. “This priest admitted what he did. The Church knows he abused sexually, spiritually and mentally many children. He was transferred to another parish where he continued to sexually abuse children.’’

He begged the pope for an audience.

“By us sitting down together you could help the healing process for thousands of people. I would not take up much of your time and it would mean so much to countless others that the pastoral responsibilities of the Catholic Church were making a comeback.’’

Bob Costello never did hear back from the pope, and today in a ceremony in Rome that will put that little wedding in London to shame, the dead pope will be beatified, one step away from sainthood.

“You would think that the institutional church would have learned, would have been sensitive to the thousands and thousands of victims and survivors out there,’’ Bob Costello told me yesterday. “But by making John Paul a saint, and by rushing the process so blatantly, I think it’s pretty clear that the leaders of the church still don’t get it. They still think it’s all about them, not about the ordinary people, not about those who have suffered.’’

There is no doubt John Paul was a great man. He was also a flawed man who presided over a church that was guilty of one of the biggest institutional coverups of criminal activity in history. The pope being rushed to sainthood failed thousands of children and in doing so failed his church and his God.

Nine years before Bob Costello wrote that unanswered letter to the pope, a great priest and canon lawyer at the Vatican named Tom Doyle delivered to the pope a clarion call for action. Priests were raping children all over the world with impunity, Doyle’s report found, and the church risked losing its collected fortune and its collective soul unless the pope did something about it.

Like Bob Costello’s letter, Tom Doyle’s report was ignored.

“Hundreds of thousands of lives were ruined because this pope looked the other way, and now they are falling over themselves to make him a saint,’’ Father Doyle said. “It is self-serving, and it is counterproductive, more evidence that the people who run the church don’t understand that these very actions are driving people from the church. It mystifies me. And when I think of the survivors of sexual abuse, it saddens and angers me.’’

Barry Bonds, the greatest home run hitter of all time, is now considered a cheat who will probably be denied entry into the Hall of Fame. Pope John Paul II is now just one step from entering his church’s hall of fame.

“Major League Baseball has higher standards than the Vatican,’’ Father Doyle said. “And that’s not saying much for Major League Baseball.’’

Out in Western Massachusetts, another great priest named Jim Scahill was on the phone, talking about the lack of humility so evident in the Vatican’s rush to beatify John Paul. Scahill sat with and comforted dozens of victims of sexual abuse. He forced his bishop to defrock one abuser, and then exposed that bishop, Thomas Dupre, as an abuser, too.

Father Scahill was debating whether to talk about the beatification today during his homily at St. Michael’s Church in East Longmeadow.

“I think the kindest thing I could do is not mention it,’’ he said. “The rush to make this man a saint is abhorrent and arrogant. He did accomplish a lot as pope. But to beatify someone who didn’t protect children is a travesty, a continuation of the coverup that damaged the church so much. The money that is going to be spent on this is a disgrace. And in all their pomp and circumstance, the people who run the Vatican are revictimizing the survivors.’’

Some people want John Paul to be the patron saint of Poland.

Tom Doyle, the good priest who was ignored by the pope, has a better idea.

“John Paul,’’ he said, “should be the patron saint of looking the other way.’’

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com