Anderson Cooper Hammers Catholic Bishops' Clergy Abuse Report – But Gives Them No Chance To Defend It

CNN's Anderson Cooper heavily scrutinized the new study of the Catholic Church's sex abuse scandal Wednesday, but featured no one from the church's side to defend the report. Cooper gave his own critical commentary of the study, voiced the concerns of many clergy abuse victims, and brought on for a soft interview a disillusioned Catholic priest who is resigning from the clergy.

However, Cooper did not bring on a guest from the church or one of the study's researchers to defend the report's findings. Furthermore, CNN had fairly reported on the issue earlier in the day during the 2 p.m. EDT hour of Newsroom. The network briefly hosted a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Miami and asked her two tough questions about the report.

(Video below the break.)


The U.S. Catholic Bishops commissioned the report, a five-year $2 million study conducted by researchers at John Jay College and partially funded by the U.S. Justice Department. The finding concluded that the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s were largely to blame for the clergy abuse crisis, and not priestly celibacy or homosexuality.

Cooper challenged the "controversial" findings and kicked off the segment by replaying an interview he conducted with two sex abuse victims in 2008 who hit the Catholic Church for not dealing quickly and decisively with the abuses.

He then played a brief clip of a John Jay professor detailing the report's conclusions before he slammed the report with criticisms from abuse victims and took issue with the study's definition of a pedophile. He even brought up the riots in Philadelphia over the diocese's handling of the abuse there to give his argument teeth.

This all happened before Cooper then hosted disillusioned Catholic priest, and former abuse victim, Fr. Richard Hoatson. Hoatson ripped the report and called for "a massive overhaul, a massive restructuring of the Catholic Church. The monarchy has to be dismantled. The hierarchy has to go."

Cooper conducted a relatively soft interview of Hoatson and took issue himself with the premise that the '60s and '70s were to blame for the crisis. "But these kind of – this kind of abuse probably has gone on for decades in the church, long before the '60s and '70s," Cooper assumed.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on May 18 at 10:12 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

COOPER: Now, though, keeping them honest. For years, victims of priestly sex abuse have been demanding answers from the Catholic Church, and accountability. Well today the Church came out with a report that's supposed to be the most comprehensive study of priest abuse. Tonight, many survivors of priest abuse say it's anything but that. They say the study plays word games to gloss over the problems and places blame on society, instead of where they say it belongs, on a church that tolerated, harbored, and covered up for predatory priests for many years. Offenders like the priest who abused Bernie McDaid and Olen Horne.

(Video Clip)

BERNIE MCDAID, sex abuse survivor: I was an altar boy at the end of a mass. He would grab you in the sacristy...

COOPER: When your father, when you finally – your friends finally told, I believe it was your father, and he went to the church, the church actually just moved this priest to another parish, and that's Olen, that's where you come in. You had the unfortunate circumstances of being in the next parish that this priest, Rev. Birmingham, came to. Is that correct?

OLEN HORNE, sex abuse survivor: Absolutely true. I mean this gentleman had lax supervision, and he was moved continuously. I mean, from his first assignment in Sudbury, Massachusetts, he's moved each and every time due to these accusations, which he agreed to. There's no doubt about it, Anderson, that there was lax supervision involved, and there was absolutely in place – this man had a great career as a pedophile due to that supervision.

(End Video Clip)

How many times have we heard this story? This new report was commissioned by American Catholic bishops, conducted by researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and funded in part, by the Justice Department.

It concluded that celibacy could not be blamed for the abuse epidemic. It also concluded that gay priests were no more likely to abuse than heterosexual ones. More controversially, however, the report says there's no single reason behind the abuse, but it did blame an era. Listen.

(Video Clip)

KAREN TERRY John Jay College lead investigator: The abuse is a result of a complex interaction of factors. And there are a number of social forces that were taking place in the '60s and '70s that had an effect on a certain group of individual priests, who had some vulnerabilities that might have led to that abusive behavior.

(End Video Clip)

COOPER: So, they're basically kind of talking about social attitudes in the '60s and '70s. Many abuse victims are outraged by this report. Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a group called SNAP, she says: "The Catholic hierarchy wants us to believe that the abuse of children by clerics is situational. It's not. It's systemic." She went on to call the report "garbage in, garbage out" because the report itself was paid for by bishops who also provided the raw data.

They're furious too that report says that over the last half- century, less than 5 percent of priests could be considered pedophiles. Now, what's interesting, when you look at the report's definition of pedophilia, the report authors use a nonstandard definition of pedophilia, using age 10 as the cutoff. The American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," or "DSM," classifies a prepubescent child as age 13 or younger, not age 10 or younger.

So the church's report is saying that a large number of the abuse victims were not prepubescent, and therefore their rapists were not pedophiles. If the report had used the "DSM" definition, a vast majority of the victims would have been considered prepubescent children. In any case, there were plenty of teen victims as well. It's not really clear why abusing a 13-year-old is any different from abusing an 11-year-old or a 10-year-old. It's a crime in any case. And critics say the study minimizes how those crimes were handled. The church, they say, habitually covers up and has a credibility problem.

In Philadelphia – you're looking at pictures – protesters took to the streets recently after a grand jury investigation revealed that dozens of apparent abusers remained in the archdiocese, and at least 37 priests with, quote, "substantial evidence of abuse" have been kept in assignments that expose them to kids. Some have since been placed on administrative leave. And just two days ago, the Vatican ordered bishops to draft tough new guidelines on predatory priests. However, the edict fails to put any sanctions on bishops who don't follow the rules.

Joining us now is Father Richard Hoatson, a former abuse victim himself who is in the process of resigning from the Catholic priesthood. He's founder of the group Road to Recovery, but he is currently a priest. Thank you so much for being with us.

This report basically embraces what some are calling the "blame Woodstock" explanation, that priests were unprepared to deal with the social and sexual upheaval of the '60s and '70s, and that is what contributed to them abusing children. Do you buy that?

FATHER RICHARD HOATSON, founder, Road to Recovery: It's absolutely absurd, Anderson. The fact that the Catholic Church is now going to blame a sociological phenomenon on the internal cover-up, deception, and absolute massive serial abuse of children is absurd.
And I'm ashamed – shame – shame on John Jay College for engaging in an attempt to help the Catholic Church continue this cover-up and deception. And I'm very surprised that a noted university would do such a thing.

COOPER: Do you find it strange that they use this different – they use a prepubescent child as only 10 or below, and therefore they can say, well, less than 5 percent of the priests who were involved were actually pedophiles because they weren't abusing people under the age of 10. But if you use the more standard definition, which is 13 and below, then the numbers skyrocket.

HOATSON: Well, I'm not going to use any numbers that the church uses or gives. The American Psychiatric Association says a pubescent child is somebody 13 and under. And a post-pubescent child is someone over 13. It doesn't matter. Anybody who abuses a child under the age of 18, in my book and in the book of the FBI – Ken Lanning, who was the FBI supervisor of sex crimes for 30 years, says anyone who abuses a child under 18 is a pedophile.

COOPER: The other thing is, this report seems to kind of say that these cases exploded in the '60s and '70s. But I'm not sure that's really true. We know about them a lot more from the '60s and '70s, because the people who were kids then have now been able to break the silence and come forward. But these kind of – this kind of abuse probably has gone on for decades in the church, long before the '60s and '70s.

HOATSON: Oh, not decades – centuries. And unless we do a complete study of the church from the early days of the church, when people were writing about pedophilia and the abuse of children – we have to take a longer view of this. The '40s and '50s – the priests who abused in the '50s, are we going to say that they were influenced by Sputnik? Are we going to blame the '40s abusers on World War II?

COOPER: There are some who are defending the church who actually still continue to blame gay priests, that this is something about homosexuality. What do you think about that?

HOATSON: Well, thankfully, this report has put that -- hopefully that to rest. Homosexuals do not abuse children, as heterosexuals do not abuse children, in general. Some homosexuals do and some heterosexuals do. But the fact that the church has blamed this – or many in the church have blamed this on homosexuals is absurd, unfair, and unjust. And it just adds to the arrogance of the way the church approaches the treatment of people that they seem to want to marginalize.

COOPER: Do you think the crisis is over in terms? The church has talked about it a lot more in recent years. They've paid out a lot of claims. They say they have new rules, new procedures. What have you seen?

HOATSON: Oh, the crisis is not over. We're still in it. I get two to six calls a week from new victims. The victims from the '90s are beginning to come out. What we know that most people can't even begin to deal with this until their 30s, 40s, maybe even 50s. We have people in their 80s who are coming forward. The structures of the church essentially have not changed.

COOPER: So, and is that what you blame for the – why – because in the report, they're – the church is saying well, look, this like – you know, look, there is abuse in schools, there is abuse in the Boy Scouts. We're no different. Do you think there is something different? And what do you think is the cause of this?

HOATSON: Absolutely. The Boy Scouts and the schools and all other institutions deal with this. The church has not dealt with it. They've covered it up. They've secreted it. And they have put it on the back burner, so that the image of the church, which is to be defended at all costs, is the most important thing that the bishops consider at this time.

COOPER: You really believe that; you think they care more about the image?

HOATSON: Absolutely. And that seems to be very clear. In the latest Philadelphia grand jury report just a few months ago, Seth Williams, the Philadelphia DA, said that. They said they were more interested in protecting the church than in helping children who were abused.

COOPER: So, what do you want to see happen now?

HOATSON: We need a massive overhaul, a massive restructuring of the Catholic Church. The monarchy has to be dismantled. The hierarchy has to go. And the faithful have to reclaim their church. We are not going to see any change unless these massive overhauls take place.

COOPER: Father Richard Hoatson, I appreciate your perspective. Thank you.

HOATSON: Thank you, Anderson.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014