Sins of the Fathers > Sins of the Fathers > TOC > Cardinal Dolan > Open Letter

Your Eminence,

Cardinal Dolan.


Please pardon my using the familiar form, but I wanted to return to you the courtesy you extended to me on that day in early March 2002 when you returned my call to the Archdiocese of St. Louis and you started off the first of our several conversations with...

"Hi, Chris, it's Tim Dolan. Bishop Dolan."

I had called in to report some of my — up to that point treasured but, in retrospect, odd — memories of Fr. LeRoy Valentine at Immacolata, and the sincerity and warmth of your greeting immediately put me at ease.

And not for the first time.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan Open Letter

I'll never forget the day we met in the fall of 1976. I was a 3rd grader at Immacolata, peeking my head out the door and, upon seeing you walking down the hall, excitedly and nervously ducking back into the room while shout-whispering to my classmates, "HE'S COMING." You were a brand-new priest and were joining us in Ms. Key's class for our Religion period in order to introduce yourself, meet us, and help us understand the lesson of Mark 8:22-26; the story in which it Jesus takes two tries to heal a blind man at Bethsaida.

Yes, I remember that lesson in part because you chose me to play the role of Jesus. Which was a BIG deal. But I also remember it because of the passion with which you delivered the message and lesson of that passage.

People make mistakes.

Even Jesus Christ wasn't perfect.

Not when He was in human form.

Today, I'm writing to remind you of that lesson you gave us so many years ago. And I'm asking you to apply it to your own — and to the church's — situation with respect to the sex abuse crisis.

Please stop.

The church made a mistake.

Instead of helping survivors, it abused us.


But things are different, now.

The Pope's recent sex abuse summit has given the church, and you, a second chance. A window. A very small, brief window. But a window, nonetheless.

A chance to change.

To do the right thing.

To help.

To stop abusing the abused.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has taken advantage of this window. He has agreed to meet with me in a few days. While the prospect terrifies me — I fear it will be yet another betrayal and, given my past experiences, have no reason to believe otherwise — at least he took the meeting instead of ignoring me.

That's progress.

But, when I hear how things are in the Archdiocese of New York, I worry that you are squandering the opportunity — the window — the Pope and the summit gave you. Rather than learning from your mistakes, you seem to be doubling down on them. You're like a trader who's had a bad day or week and is running the risk of turning it into a bad year.

Or worse.

PLEASE remember the lesson of Mark 8:22-26 that you taught us way back when.

People make mistakes.

Even Jesus Christ did when he walked among us.

Listen to yourself from way back then.

Hell, just listen to yourself when you said, a few days ago, "We stand in utter need of God’s mercy. As we’re told in the reading from Ezekiel, in a certain way, God depends on our mercy, too. God wants us all to be saved, but He won’t force it. It’s a gift. The conversion of heart necessary to accept God’s gift depends somewhat on us."

Accept God's — and survivors' — mercy.

It's your choice.

To accept it or not.

To change.

Or not.

I don't know when or why you got it in your head, or it was put in your head, that the Catholic Church could do no wrong — or, at least, could ADMIT no wrong — but those days are over. Even in St. Louis, things are changing, thanks to Archbishop Carlson. Monsignor Flavin or whoever shaped your response to abuse was wrong. And you know it. And knew it.

I saw the look on your face.

When you saw us with Fr. Valentine.

You didn't like what you were seeing, but you did what I assume you were told to do.

Which was nothing.

I want to believe your experience in the cesspool that was Immacolata traumatized you — so much for your youthful idealism — as it did us.

And I'm here to tell you it's time to stop.

To break the cycle.

To abandon the old ways.

The truth WILL out.

I'm going to tell my story. The WHOLE story. EVERYTHING. Nobody can stop me. Even if they try, now. Too much of the story is out there.

And nobody can stop the others, either.

And there are a LOT of others.

As Mrs. Sicking used to say, "That's not a threat. That's a promise."

We're committed to ending the cycle of abuse; to making sure that what happened to us doesn't happen to anyone else.

So I'm writing to extend to you my hand.

In peace and friendship.

Offering you a place on the team of the righteous.

And the relentless.

Please join us.


Chris O'Leary
St. Louis, MO