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Yet only after the Albany testimony did Hoatson receive a formal letter letting him go, "effective immediately." It would take another eight months before Myers reassigned the priest to the Catholic Charities chaplaincy, in early 2004.
The hiatus allowed Hoatson to pursue his work with victims full-time, and he championed their cause at demonstrations, in letters to the editor, before area bishops. At Catholic Charities, he said Mass for employees and did routine parish work, all while keeping up his crusade. He says he'd managed to fulfill his ministry without much interference from the archdiocese until November 2005, when Myers issued a "precept" binding Hoatson to certain conditions. The document orders him "to cease activity in his own business"his victims' ministryand "to show proper reverence and obedience to his ordinary."
Goodness says the archbishop handed down the precept because "Father Hoatson had not been adhering to conditions of priesthood." The priest, he notes, resides in Queens even though he's required to live within the archdiocesan district. Hoatson says he doesn't feel safe in his assigned residence because of the alleged harassment.
He isn't the only one who believes he's being treated differently. Lasch, a lawyer trained in church canon law who has advised his fellow priest, says, "The diocese has exhibited a pattern of prejudicial treatment against Bob." He adds, "I see it as making it difficult for him to do his work."
Either way, Hoatson thinks he knows what's up. "I have to be gotten rid of because I'm trying to break the cycle of sexual disorder in the church," he explains. The disorder includes what he describes as "a promiscuous homosexual culture" perpetuating the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse. Egan, Hubbard, and Myers have hidden predatory priests because they're hiding their own gay activities, he charges.
To stop the abuse, he says, "you have to admit what is going on in the church with its homosexual culture."
What Hoatson is saying is, in many ways, nothing new. Speculation over homosexual bishops has circulated among the Catholic faithful for decades.
The topic remained largely off-limitsuntil the clergy-abuse crisis. That's when a loose network of victims' advocacy and church-reform groups sprang up, demanding accountability and pressing for change. Not only has this survivors' movement encouraged people to come forward and tell their stories, but it has also pushed the church to acknowledge the scale of clergy sexual abuse. To date, according to the Catholic bishops' own figures, 9,660 people nationwide since 1950 have accused 4,089 priests of molesting them. In New York City, 140 victims have named 49 abusive priests; in Albany, it's 141 and 69 respectively.
Among those who've tracked the crisis, it's not hard to find people who believe that the reason some bishops have shielded predatory priests is that they fear exposure of their own sexual activities. Anne Barrett Doyle, of BishopAccountability.org, a nonprofit archive documenting the clergy-abuse crisis, explains that this belief "is widely accepted by activists and scholars and for good reason." Recent cases have shed light on abusive bishops who, in turn, had covered up for others, she points out.
Consider, for example, the case of Bishop Thomas Dupre, of Springfield, Massachusetts. In March 2004, he abruptly retired and fled his diocese when confronted with allegations that he'd molested two men decades earlier. Until then, Dupre had been the target of fierce criticism for his handling of some 14 accused priests, many of whom held powerful positions as his underlings.
Hoatson supporters consider his lawsuitand his outing of purportedly gay bishopsa logical step in the fight for accountability. For Catholic leaders may have acknowledged that abusive priests preyed upon children for decades, but they haven't owned up to their complicity. "Personally," says Maria Cleary, of New Jersey Voice of the Faithful, a church-reform group that has worked with Hoatson, "I feel some things just need to be said at this point. There comes a point in any change process when you have to start pushing the envelope."
Pat Serrano, of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, seconds that: "You need to express yourself loudly to get the church's attention."
If victims and their allies feel more emboldened to question bishops' sexuality, it may be because the church has raised the issue all on its own. Last November, the Vatican handed down a document known as the "Congregation for Catholic Education," in which it denounced homosexuality as "intrinsically immoral" and "disordered." It suggested that homosexual men cannot be celibate, and banned formerly active gay seminarians from ordination.
Sipe, the author and scholar, says the Vatican document "has opened up the question of sexual orientation among the priesthood," including the hierarchy. And it's set the stage for a potential backlash, incensing gay priests and causing Catholic faithful to think twice about the church's hypocrisy. For years, gay Catholic groups like Dignity USA have refused to call gay bishops on it, keeping an anti-outing policy.
"There's conflict in the gay community with the idea of outing a bishop," he says. Indeed, he says one Dignity leader showed him a private list of 142 bishops who are purportedly homosexual. Some are celibate, others not. But nothing has ever come of it.