The Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal added another dark chapter to its history, months after Pope Francis reaffirmed his commitment to expose and root out predatory priests from within the Church.
This latest alleged incident involves Father Francis X. O’Toole, of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. O’Toole was placed under arrest after a guardian of the alleged victim notified authorities that an act of inappropriate touching had taken place.
Hank Sheffield, feature reporter for Atlanta’s WSB-TV, obtained raw footage of O’Toole’s transfer from a police holding cell to an awaiting Atlanta Department of Corrections van. “I yelled over and asked if he had any remorse for the victim or anything he’d like to say to her. He looked surprised and said ‘What? Her? You said her. It was a girl?’ He looked at me like I had two heads!”
Sheffield later obtained an exclusive prison interview with O’Toole, in exchange for the priest’s cooperation with authorities in providing details of other alleged acts of abuse.
“I feel awful,” said O’Toole. “I don’t know how I could have done this. I don’t mean the touching — I’ve been doing that for years. I’m sick in the head, for Christ’s sake! What I mean is I touched a girl – er, allegedly touched I mean. I can’t believe it. I’m out of control. I need to be sent away somewhere, to a place where I can’t even touch myself,” he acknowledged.
“When I told him that a crime against a child is a crime no matter who or what the sex of the victim is,” said Sheffield, “he basically got what I was saying, but he still seemed upset about mistaking the girl for a boy, and not about committing this awful crime on a kid. My crew and I were pretty much sick to our stomachs when the interview was over.”
The personable reporter has been a familiar presence to Atlanta area viewers for the past 2 decades. In more than 25 years, he’s never reported on a story like this.
“When I started out, the most controversial thing I covered was when the Berlin Wall opened up. I hate to sound like that old guy on his front porch, but this world has changed a lot. I had a talk with our news director about whether we should run this segment at all,” said Shefield, “but we decided it was better to expose the crime here, rather than keep it hidden.”