Banished Catholic Priest Helps Abuse Survivors

Here’s why you should listen to those protesters in front of churches

By Adam Grannick for the Moral Courage Project

The two men sit across from each other on a sofa, like old friends. “When I was 12 years old,” Kevin confesses, “I wanted nothing more in life than to be a priest.” Bob nods solemnly. “In all the time that I’ve known you,” Kevin continues, “I never called you Father Bob. Many people do, but I didn’t. It would have been detrimental for me.”

Kevin is one of many abused by priests as children, and the trauma continues to affect him to this day. Battling various anxieties, Kevin spent time in shelters as well as living out of his car. His unlikely friendship with Bob Hoatson, a former priest and abuse survivor himself, stems from Hoatson’s work as an advocate for those abused by priests.

Many within the Catholic Church feel that it is unfair that so much attention be focused on the Church, when—as we’ve seen—many communities are rife with incidents of abuse. “The Catholic Church’s issue is magnified,” Hoatson explains, “because they covered it up and secreted it for so long.” There are some glimmers of progress, and Pope Francis recently formed a team to combat child sexual abuse within the Church. However, Hoatson is among those who believe that the problems that lead to abuse run deeper. “The image of the Church, and the maintaining of the secrets of the Church, are what is most important to the bishops. I felt that it was very important for me to expose all of this, so that victims would feel more comfortable coming out, so that they can get on the road to recovery and heal from the many injuries that they’ve received as a result of the abuse.”

A big criticism that Hoatson and others like him often face is that it’s not right for clergy to blow the whistle so loudly and so publicly. The abuse occurred within the Church, so it should be appropriate to address the crisis within the Church, right? Wrong, Hoatson says of how Church authorities think. “It became very clear that anyone who was going to whistleblow inside the structure [of the Church] was persona non grata. So we had to use the media, we had to go public. Because children were still being hurt.”

Hoatson’s former ministry included a school in Boston, where he served during the ’80s. When two men who had been students there came forward about the abuse they suffered at the hands of a local priest, Hoatson remembers calling them up immediately. “I told them I was very, very sorry that I hadn’t spoken up more clearly and more strongly in the 1980s.” This conversation, among others, drove Hoatson to create Road to Recovery, an organization that provides assistance of all kinds to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.

But after Hoatson went public with his condemnation of sexual abuse cover-ups, Hoatson’s bishop confronted him and dismissed him from the ministry. Still, Hoatson urges those who perceive injustice to speak up, no matter how much they feel they may be betraying their past or present. The most important thing, Hoatson understands, is to concentrate on the good that can be accomplished. And so, the next time you pass by protesters on the sidewalk, think of Bob and Kevin and take the time to listen.