The Rev. Gerald Fitzgerald, who founded a Roman Catholic religious order that helped troubled priests, began warning American bishops in the early 1950s that pedophile priests couldn’t be cured. So sure was he that he made a $5,000 down payment on a Caribbean island to quarantine the worst offenders.
The island plan was never realized, but the basic idea to keep problem priests away from young people wasn’t new. St. Basil wrote in the 4th century that clerics who seduced boys should be publicly flogged, imprisoned and supervised so they would “never again associate with youths in private conversation nor in counseling them.”
Yet it wasn’t until 2002 that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a zero-tolerance policy requiring that any priest who has engaged in sexual abuse of a minor be reported to authorities and permanently removed from ministry. The crisis has cost American dioceses more than $2.6 billion in settlements and fees since 1950.