05/02/04 — Church fires SJAFB priest; some say it is retaliation

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Church fires SJAFB priest; some say it is retaliation

By Wire
Published in News on May 2, 2004 8:14 AM


AP Religion Writer

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, the most ardent champion of priestly sex abuse victims among America's Roman Catholic clergy, has been fired by his archbishop and is currently forbidden to lead public Masses.

Doyle said Thursday that Archbishop Edwin O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services withdrew his endorsement of Doyle as a U.S. Air Force chaplain last Sept. 17. Doyle remains a priest, but cannot celebrate sacraments until his career as an Air Force major ends this summer.

He is based at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, where he now works with the medical group on substance abuse counseling and other assignments.

The stated reason was disagreement over providing daily Catholic Masses at military bases with few priests. But victim advocates see payback for Doyle's 18 years of activism and sharp criticism of the hierarchy's handling of molestation scandals.

Asked about this, Doyle said, "I certainly would hope not, but I have no way of knowing for sure because I had no opportunity for dialogue."

The archdiocese's chancellor said only O'Brien could discuss the situation and calls to his office were not returned.

This is Doyle's second career disruption. In 1986, the Vatican embassy in Washington ended his employment after Doyle became immersed in the molestation issue and co-authored a then-confidential memo that went to all U.S. bishops, warning that abuse was a problem of epidemic proportions. Doyle had been the staff canon lawyer who processed confidential data on U.S. bishop candidates.

Doyle then joined the Air Force. He also has provided many victims pastoral counsel, legal advice and court testimony in suits against the church.

"O'Brien can deny it all he wants," said Jason Berry, a journalist who has covered Catholic abuse cases for two decades, and whose new book "Vows of Silence" depicts Doyle's career. "There's not a doubt in my mind that this is retribution for the stand (Doyle) has taken."

David Clohessy of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called retribution "the only reasonable conclusion."

"Most Catholics will see this as a very sad step backward," he said, adding the National Review Board, a lay watchdog panel, should intervene on Doyle's behalf.

The ouster mainly involved O'Brien's directive that priest chaplains "are expected to celebrate Mass daily," though the archbishop acknowledged this "is not feasible" everywhere.

Doyle was assigned to Germany's Ramstein Air Base, the Air Force's largest overseas facility, and three nearby bases as one of three Catholic priests -- though one is usually deployed elsewhere. Chaplains minister to 15,000 residents and wounded troops, airlifted from the Mideast almost daily.

Colleagues asked Doyle for advice on chaplain staffing under church law, in which he holds a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America.

O'Brien objected to Doyle's Aug. 16 memo on the subject, which said daily Masses are "a strong Catholic custom" and "strongly recommended" by church law, but not mandated.

A laywoman sent the memo to O'Brien, who informed Doyle he was dismissed immediately due to "written contradiction of my expectation" and "your attempt to provide an alternative authority."

That happened just after Doyle went on leave pending reassignment to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, where he now works with the medical group on substance abuse counseling and other assignments.

Caught just short of the possibility of early retirement (he turns 60 on Aug. 3), Doyle arranged temporary chaplain endorsement from another denomination, the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church, in what he termed a technicality to retain benefits.

Doyle still is a priest in the Dominican order's Chicago province. His superior, the Very Rev. Michael Mascari, hoped for mediation and asked O'Brien to meet him and Doyle, to no avail.

In 2002, O'Brien was also upset by Doyle's criticism of a "magical notion of the sacraments" in a tough speech to the first meeting of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay reform group.

Doyle said his Dominican colleagues formally praised his "prophetic work" in "advocating the rights of victims" last June and the worldwide leader, Superior General Carlos Azpiroz, endorsed this. Doyle has received several Air Force commendations and laudatory evaluations from commanders.