When I heard that the Irish government had put out a report detailing sexual abuse done in Irish orphanages and schools over a 60-year period, my thoughts sprang to Joe Rigert, who wrote about this crisis before anyone else did.
I knew of his 2008 book “An Irish Tragedy: How Sex Abuse by Irish Priests Helped Cripple the Catholic Church” because he and I share the same publisher: the Baltimore-based Crossland Foundation (although my book is not out until September). Crossland had sent me a paperback copy of his book, which uncovers the roots of the U.S. clergy sex abuse crisis by looking at the Irish priests who emigrated here from 1930-1960 and were a huge part of the American crisis.
So I called him Thursday night, only to learn that he had only sold 500 copies. “It hasn’t brought me a whole lot of readers,” he said.
A retired Minneapolis Star-Tribune investigative reporter, Joe, 77, grew up Catholic. His various investigative contacts warned him early on of this enormous crisis, so he traveled over to the Emerald Isle to investigate. Back in the mid-20th century, he reminded me, the States were awash in Irish clergy.
“There are so many Irish priests in United States,” he said. “By the peak in the 1960s, half of all priests working in the United States and ¾ of all the bishops had come from Ireland;” that is, they were born there. Those numbers had declined greatly by 2000, even so, 4 out of 10 American priests were of Irish ancestry.
“Bishops would go over to Ireland and recruit priests like they were football players,” he said.”They had such a surplus, it was a very poor country, becoming a priest was something their mother wanted them to do and it was a way out of poverty.”
He guesses Ireland was the biggest sending country in terms of America importing its priests from poorer countries to the East.
“Those who were supposed to be the good priests who came to this country were the most horrible abusers,” he said. “They got moved from parish to parish. It was a scandal so monstrous -– here they were raping and molesting and abusing boys and girls.”
Mr. Rigert’s book tells of some priests who got caught and others who got away and a system that did little to stop these men until decades had passed. You can read more here on how Ireland became a chief exporter of abuser priests to America. Or you could buy his book and by taking action, leave the ranks of the vast majority of Americans who would rather see no evil, speak no evil nor hear no evil.
— Julia Duin, religion editor