Priest of Integrity Award
VOTF’S Providence Convention “Disciples in Action” provided an occasion for honoring selected clergy with a “Priest of Integrity” award for their noted courage and compassion in their ministry. We know that there are many untold stories of priests doing heroic service in their communities, but it is our hope that highlighting the ones that we have come to know about gives us examples to follow and hope in the unseen, often unsung, goodness that abounds.
There were many priests nominated from across the country, and although a few were singled out at the convention, there were 10 more who also deserve our appreciation and support.
One such priest is Reverend James MacGee, OMI, who was nominated by an affiliate in Florida. Fr. Jim currently serves two parishes, twenty miles apart from each other. The descriptions written about him paint a vivid image of a man whose story is worthy to be told. Consider what he has accomplished in over 50 years in the priesthood:
- Father Jim has served the Church across the world, and in diverse and challenging ways. He was a Fulbright scholar who taught in Japan. He spent time in Appalachia serving the people the coal companies left behind.
- He converted a 12-room rectory into a foster home for five troubled youth.
- A compelling homilist, he has built communities both within his parishes and in the broader community.
- A social activist, he has encouraged others by personal witness to participate in Crop Walk, Relay for Life, food drives and actions for peace and justice.
- His ecumenism is evidenced in his dual-role as a licensed Presbyterian minister while in rural West Virginia as “clergy supply” for neighboring congregations.
Fr. Jim is described as outspoken, with a keen intellect, natural teaching abilities and a sense of humor. The foundation of his energy and enthusiasm is rooted in prayer and his compassion for others. He recognizes his leadership role as one of service and empowerment: “Part of this ministry is considering oneself a member of the community who happens to have this job. The parish is not ours,” he states.
For a man who was born blind in one eye, and with diminishing eyesight in the other, Fr. Jim is a priest with the vision and clarity that sees a better world and draws each of us to help make it that way. He is a living witness to his belief that, “The work of God’s people is to come closer to God.”
The Providence Convention provided the opportunity to honor three Priests of Integrity, each of whom will be highlighted in In the Vineyard. Father Richard Reissmann, from Delaware, honored us with his presence and encouraging words at the presentation ceremony.
Carlene Sandella, Director of Worship at Saint John-Holy Angels Parish in Newark, Del., introduced Fr. Reissmann to the audience. She was one of several nominators who know Fr. Reissmann not only as a friend, but as someone who has worked with him for nineteen years. She spoke with humor and deep respect for his humility and for his dedication to the victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Father Reissmann is the only priest in his diocese who was willing to support VOTF in his parish, and who is a member himself. His testimony before the Delaware State Legislature is credited with helping in the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 29, the strongest bill protecting children. The bill eliminated the two-year statute of limitations and provided a two-year “look-back” window.
As Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, SNDdN writes, “Long a supporter of the rights of the disenfranchised, Reissmann, a priest of 44 years in the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware, spoke out early and often against the sexual abuse of children in Delaware and especially when it was perpetrated by his own brother priests. He was the only one to speak out so forcefully and with such depth of integrity behind his voice.”
In his remarks, Fr. Reissmann stated that his decision to testify produced one of the most rewarding moments of his ministry. He affirmed that an absolute docile laity is not good for the Church, and that we, too, are integral actors in speaking out on issues of justice in charity and love. He ended his remarks by saying that he is most grateful for this award, and that he is a better priest for his involvement with VOTF. His greatest prayer is that VOTF not be simply a dot in history and that we will continue to be moved to decisive and bold action--slowly, carefully and with wisdom. For, as he concluded, “There is much to do and we’ve only just begun.”
Among some of the many comments made on his behalf are the following:
“Fr. Lasch is the retired pastor of St. Joseph’s in Mendham, NH. He was then and continues to be a vigorous advocate for victims. As a pastor, he literally dragged his bishop to a meeting with seven altar boys, all victims of former pastor James Hanley, to listen to their stories. This event was well documented and commented upon in the press and by one victim in particular, Mark Serrano (SNAP). The bishop seemed to have a change of heart and did not object when the Millstone Memorial was erected on parish grounds. Father Lasch’s persistence in going to the press when stonewalled by his bishop cost him the lasting fury of the diocesan leaders.”
Father Lasch earned a doctorate in Canon Law at St. John Lateran University in Rome, Italy. He is one of the founders of Project Millstones. He has spoken at VOTF gatherings, supported survivors unhesitatingly beginning in 1985, and he continues to speak out both for survivors and the reforms of Vatican II. Google him for more information, or, better yet, log onto his website at www.fatherlasch.com.
Ginny Hoehne is one of the many nominators of Fr. Ken, and as the mother of a son abused by a priest in Ohio, she gave a passionate introduction with a photographs of both her son and Fr. Lasch displayed. Since Fr. Ken was not able to be with us in person, she read his letter to the gathered assembly. At the same time, she had him listen on the telephone so he could be part of the presentation. He could surely hear the applause on his behalf, but couldn’t see the standing ovation he received at the end!
Voice of the Faithful named Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., J.C.D., a canon lawyer, the winner of its first Priest of Integrity Award at its first national conference in Boston on July 20, 2002. Dr. James Post, president of VOTF, hailed the selection of Reverend Doyle, who has worked tirelessly for 18 years to address sexual abuse by clergy. "He was prophetic in identifying the problem, in recommending a responsible course of action for bishops, and in advocating for survivors," said Dr. Post.
Echoing those sentiments, David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said, "You could not have chosen a more deserving individual to honor. Tom's an absolute hero."
In 1984, Rev. Doyle was the canon lawyer at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C. when the first major case to hit national headlines crossed his desk. Rev. Gilbert Gauthe was charged with molesting dozens of children in Louisiana, after having been shifted from parish to parish for years by the local bishop. In addition, numerous other priests had also engaged in criminal conduct and been reassigned.
Rev. Doyle was quick to grasp the nature of the impending crisis, not only in Louisiana, but also across the country. He looked for ways to help bishops respond pastorally to victims and to cope with the medical, legal, canonical, and spiritual issues they faced.
Joining with Rev. Michael Peterson, a priest/psychiatrist who founded a treatment center for clergy, and Ray Mouton, a Louisiana lawyer, the trio wrote a comprehensive report in 1985, and sent it to every bishop, identifying sexual abuse as a compulsive, lifelong psychosexual disorder, not a moral weakness. The report warned that sexual abuse has debilitating, long-lasting effects on victims; that the Church must never step out of character as a sensitive, caring, responsible entity, including in the actions of its legal counsel; and that failure to report abuse allegations is the most common error of the hierarchy. The bishops chose to ignore the report's advice.
Subsequently, Rev. Doyle's position at the Vatican embassy was terminated. He was vilified with accusations that he only wanted to make money from the problem by selling his services to dioceses and found himself marginalized as a loose cannon. Discouraged by the hierarchy's stonewalling, he joined the Air Force as a chaplain to find productive work.
While the 1985 report was a watershed in derailing a promising diplomatic career, Rev. Doyle considers his work since then in behalf of victims as the most important part of his ministry. First, he apologized for what the clerical elite did to hurt victims and tried to help them find spiritual peace. "He mediated Christ's presence to those who were given stone, not bread," said Dr. Post.
Second, he was the only priest to testify for victims regarding the Church's liability in 200 lawsuits, all of which were successful. In addition, he consulted on another 300 cases. His advocacy continues as he receives 50 to 70 emails daily from victims, lawyers, and media around the world.
Rev. Doyle holds a pontifical doctorate in canon law from Catholic University, and five master's degrees in canon law, political science, church administration, theology, and philosophy. His commentaries on canon law and books and articles in several disciplines fill three pages in his resume. As an Air Force major stationed in Germany, he holds 16 military awards and decorations for distinguished service.
Background |Criteria |Nomination and Selection Process |Award Recipients | Honorary Mention
Since the inaugural event of Voice of the Faithful in July 2002, when Fr. Tom Doyle, o.p., was honored for his courage and dedication to addressing the abuse crisis and its coverup in the church, we have sought to honor priests who exhibit the same conviction. "Priest of Integrity" awards have been presented periodically at VOTF gatherings since then.
We acknowledge that recognizing a “priest of integrity” for public recognition is difficult, because so many priests of integrity work without any acclaim or expectation of acclaim. However, we believe that all are encouraged when we recognize specific acts that demonstrate the leadership needed in our Church. It honors both courage and authentic pastoral commitment. We are in great need of leaders who live their faith—and most particularly those who do so with compassion and courage, regardless of the consequences. By the example of such priests, we hope and pray that other priests will speak up, as well as the rest of us. To them we say, “We stand by you and thank you.”
Ultimately, the greatest honor we can bestow is to imitate their courage and compassion.
A Priest of Integrity:
- Is recognized by his immediate circle of faithful Catholics, and by the nominating committee, to have met objective and measurable criteria for nomination for this award (which means specific examples of actions are necessary, because it is those actions that are being recognized as honorable)
- Fulfills his calling from God by living his life in the service of others
- Is marked by a sincere faith, loyal to the vows and promises of the priesthood
- Speaks and acts his conscience, proclaiming the truth with humility, courage and compassion without regard for his own future security
- Models servant-leadership both in the context of his life and of his ministry
- Gives credible witness to the truth in both speech and action
- Strives to promote Christian dignity and the rightful position of the laity in the Church
A Priest of Integrity Award Committee is convened whenever it is deemed appropriate to present such an honor. For national awards, the committee sends out a call for nominations from affiliates and members well in advance of the national meeting date. Each nominee is recommended to the committee by a VOTF member or affiliate, who is responsible for sending information to support the nomination.
Note that we are well aware that most priests work faithfully and often anonymously in their ministries, but by this award we are acknowledging specific actions that demonstrate the leadership needed in our Church.
It is necessary for those submitting nominations to first advise the nominee and to confirm his willingness to be considered for this recognition.
After the deadline for receiving nominations, the committee is responsible for prayerful consideration and due diligence of each nominee, which includes checking with VOTF survivor advocates and support groups (including SNAP and Bishops Accountability), officers, trustees, and the executive director as well as others who are acquainted with the nominees. The selection of the recipient(s) is made by this committee based on all the above criteria, input, and prayerful discernment.
2002: Reverend Thomas Doyle, o.p.
For more than 20 years, Fr. Tom has been an advocate of victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse. He co-authored the 1985 report that warned of pastoral, medical and legal challenges to the Church. He
continues to be a pastoral shepherd to thousands wounded by abuse, listening to them with compassion, and mediating Christ’s presence to them. He has testified as an expert witness and consultant in hundreds of lawsuits involving the sexually abused. Fr. Tom is unflagging in calling for just and inclusive participation by the laity in the governance and guidance of the Church.
2004: Reverend James Scahill
Pastor, St. Michael’s Parish, East Longmeadow MA, Fr. Scahill is a dedicated priest, a compassionate pastor, and a selfless advocate for all those wounded by clergy sexual abuse. He is a model of personal decency and spiritual conviction to the people he pastors, and despite enduring rejection by those who disagree with him, he has demonstrated profound determination to help build a healthy and holy Church that is true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and dedicated to the service of his people.
2005: Monsignor Lawrence Breslin
Monsignor Breslin was a priest of the Cincinnati Archdiocese in Centerville OH. He modeled leadership in speaking the truth about a fellow priest who admitted to being an abuser. In his support for the victim and her family, he chose to place the interest of the innocent ahead of all else. His compassion, courage and leadership is an inspiration for those he serves in ministry. Today, we honor his memory and are blessed by his service to the people he pastored.
Monsignor Kenneth Lasch, Pastor, St. Joseph’s Parish, Mendham NJ
Monsignor Lasch is a priest who has spoken at VOTF gatherings, supported surviviors unhesitatingly beginning in 1995, and spoken out both for survivors and the reforms of Vatican II. He is also a founder of Project Millstone. Although his dedication to his ministry has weighed heavily on him, his example has moved the hearts and minds of the multitudes who love him.
Reverend Richard Reissmann, Pastor, St. John-Holy Angels Parish, Newark NJ
Father Reissmann is the only priest in his diocese who was willing to support VOTF in his parish and who is a member himself. His testimony before the Delaware State legislature is credited with helping in the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 29, the strongest bill protecting children; the bill eliminated the two year statute of limitation and provided a two year look-back window. His heartfelt commitment to the good that we can do together is an inspiration to those for whom he is pastor.
Winter 2007: Bishop Tom Gumbleton
A priest for more than 50 years and a founder of Pax Christi, Bishop Gumbleton was one of the first bishops to speak out publicly about the abuse crisis in 2002. He testified before the Ohio Legislature in order to expose abusers who have still not been brought to account, to make all those responsible truly accountable, and to restore credibility to church leaders. He said, “This may cause pain, embarrassment, and sacrifice for our Church, especially in the short term. It may cause some hardship for us financially. It might seem easier to keep the evils hidden, to move on and trust that the future will be better. But I am convinced that a settlement of every case by our court system is the only way to protect children and to heal the brokenness within the church.” Bishop Gumbleton is a heroic example of living an informed conscience, a man who stood up to his enemies and his associates with courage.
Spring 2008: Bishop Geoffrey Robinson
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is a retired auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, Australia. While on a book tour for his book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, Bp. Robinson was presented with a Priest of Integrity award. Drawing on personal experience in responding to abuse, he is convinced that until the Church confronts the root causes of this crisis, it will continue to be crippled. As he challenges the leadership and insists that the power structure must be reformed, he is adamant that he is not attacking the Church he loves. As he writes in his introduction, “I believe that in this book I describe a better Church, a Church that is not contrary to the mind of Jesus Christ. How others will react to the book is up to them, but the case for reform must be most seriously considered, for we must confront all factors that have in any way contributed either to abuse or to the inadequate response to abuse.”
Bishop Robinson is a highly respected bishop in his country, and has been described as one of the most intelligent and capable of the Australian bishops. He is a former lecturer in canon law and is esteemed for his integrity in coordinating the Australian church’s national response to the abuse crisis in the late 1990s. It is for his courage, his compassion, and his life-long commitment to the people he serves that we honor this man for his selfless efforts.
Reverend Joseph M. Fowler
Fr. Fowler was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1961. Fr. Fowler has served with dedication as a pastor, a teacher and a creative organizer. For example, working with his brother, Wayne, he founded Hand in Hand Ministries to serve impoverished people in Eastern Kentucky, Nicaragua, Belize, and Costa Rica. He is the president of the organization. In 2005, Hand in Hand Ministries facilitated a week-long healing journey to Managua, Nicaragua, for a group of survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
Over the years, Fr. Fowler has tirelessly worked to make things better for those in need. He has spoken out against injustice and dishonesty in our Church and society. Several years ago he publicly urged that a fellow-priest, who has more than forty confirmed minor victims of sexual abuse, be denied parole from prison so that he could never again harm a child. The man remains in prison and is reported to be helpful to fellow inmates.
In April, 2008, at the signing into law of HB211, Fr. Fowler read the following statement to the media in the Capitol Rotunda of Kentucky in the presence of the Governor and legislators. Click here to read more.
Reverend Donald B. Cozzens
Fr. Cozzens has been a steadfast supporter of the mission and goals of VOTF since its earliest days. He is a priest who challenges the status quo with wit, wisdom and unflinching honesty. He encourages priests and laypersons alike to be persons of integrity: to speak the truth, to be a voice for the voiceless, to right the wrongs that have been done, to both challenge and encourage one another, and to do so with compassion and kindness.
By the time the scandal of abuse and cover up surfaced in Boston, he had already written books on the crisis in the priesthood. His Changing Face of the Priesthood (published in 2000) and The Spirituality of the Diocesan Priest (1997) named the critical issues that impact on priests today.
Those who know Father Cozzens well know him as a gentle and kind person, and one who, by the very fact that he is being honored in this way, would deflect the attention and plead unworthiness. Yet this soft-spoken man speaks and writes with courageous candor about the dangers of clericalism, the importance of integrity, and the inability of a hierarchical system that is feudal in its structure to meet the needs of people today. It is within this system that the abuse and its cover up have occurred. Click here to read more.
Reverend Patrick J. Brennan (IL)
Reverend William Hammer (KY)
Reverend David Hitch (IA)
Reverend Stephen Josoma (MA)
Reverend James MacGee, omi (FL)
Reverend Michael O'Connell (MN)
Reverend Mark Schmieder (OH)
Reverend Louis Stasker (MI)
Saturday, November 13, 2004 - Worcester, Mass. - Fr. James J. Scahill, of East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, received the Priest of Integrity award at a conference hosted by the New England affiliates of Voice of the Faithful today. The award, given by the organization of lay Catholics formed in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, honors priests who exemplify the meaning of honorable pastoral service. Fr. Thomas J. Doyle, who received the first Priest of Integrity award in 2002, and David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), presented the award to Fr. Scahill on November 13th in Worcester, Massachusetts at a Voice of the Faithful conference entitled "It's Not History - It's Time for Renewal."
"It's Not History - It's Time for Renewal" brought members of Voice of the Faithful and other area Catholics together to consider the current condition of the Church and ways that Catholics might help to restore trust and faith in the Catholic Church in the United States. Speakers included Sue Archibald, Jason Berry, Fr. Tom Doyle, David France, David Gibson, Paul Lakeland, David O'Brien, Tom O'Neill III, Gerald Renner, and Fr. Robert Silva.
Members of parishes holding ongoing vigils around the archdiocese of Boston also discussed their experiences during the parish closing process and their decision to hold ongoing parish vigils to keep their faith communities alive. Additionally, the diocesan child safety directors for Boston, Worcester, Fall River and Springfield hosted a panel on keeping parishes safe for children. "This was a tremendously rewarding day for Voice of the Faithful and for Catholics across the region," said Robert Morris, conference organizer. "The crisis within the Church has taken a toll on all of us who care about the future of the Catholic Church, but it is much easier to be optimistic about renewal after hearing the many loving and inspired voices we heard today."
Fr. James J. Scahill Outspoken Supporter of Survivors
Fr. Scahill, the pastor of St. Michael's parish, is an outspoken supporter of the community of survivors of clergy sexual abuse. In 2002, Fr. Scahill announced that the parish would withhold its weekly contribution to the Diocese of Springfield, Massachusetts, because the Diocese had not removed a notorious priest and convicted abuser, Richard Lavigne, from its payroll. The monies withheld were delivered to the Diocese only after all payments to Lavigne were terminated.
Fr. Scahill also was instrumental in bringing the allegations against former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre to public attention. Fr. Scahill counseled the mother of one of the survivors. He then brought the claims of abuse to the attention of Archbishop O'Malley of the Boston Archdiocese and to law enforcement officials in Massachusetts. Dupre resigned his position as bishop when the allegations against him became public.
Fr. Scahill has begun to work with the Diocese toward community healing despite some initial tension with the new Bishop in Springfield, Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell. In September, Fr. Scahill and Bishop McDonnell held a healing Mass for survivors at St. Michael's parish. Bishop McDonnell apologized to Fr. Scahill for remarks he had made about him and to survivors for the abuse that they had suffered.
In 2002, Fr. Doyle said about Fr. Scahill, "Scahill has not only listened to his parishioners' concerns, he has realized that they are his concerns as well and he has taken action! This action has galvanized not only his parish, but also the Greater Springfield community behind him and his parish's just cause."
"Fr. Scahill demonstrated exemplary courage and principled Christian leadership by speaking up for victims of abuse and insisting that the Church do the right thing in responding to them," said James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful. "When he spoke out, he could not have contemplated the hardship he would face or the criticism he would bear. But he did not flinch or forsake those survivors of clergy sexual abuse. And, looking back today, we can see the power of his actions - they are a beacon of integrity for all to see."