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The Dark Side of the Light: Catholic Abuse Issues and Danny Wolfe

You might think that the Danny Wolfe books are anti-Catholic. After all, Wolfe’s whole job is investigating abuse at the hands of priests. But the books aren't anti-Catholic any more than it is pro-Catholic. I hope it presents a balanced look at the issues, woven into the background of the story.

Good Intentions

The thing is, the root thinking behind hiding these abuses doesn’t necessarily come from a bad place. This is true of most of the things I disagree with. If I dig deep enough, I see the kernel of logic that served as the jumping off point. It may go astray shortly after that, but there is usually a good intention behind it.

Catholic Abuse

For this terrible issue of abuse within the Catholic Church, this is true as well.

Historically, the government didn’t do social work. That was left up to the churches. This is the reason for the tax exemptions given to churches in many countries; they did the work of looking after the citizens, so they got a break on the money they otherwise would owe to the government. Many churches have since taken advantage of that, and have become entertainment companies with tax-free status, generating massive amounts of money for those few at the top – this is an example of abuse of a good intention.

When it comes to the Catholic church, and the abuse issues, we should consider the historical background there as well. There are roughly a billion Catholics in the world today, and at one point it was the only Christian instruction doing social work in the Western world. It was effectively the only church there was, so it was that or nothing. The Catholic believers relied on the church for guidance, care, and ultimate salvation through connecting them with God. Trust in the Catholic church was the only way to avoid Hell. That’s the theology.

Underlying Problem

Priests, in accordance with Paul the Apostle’s writings, do not get married and are not supposed to engage in sexual activity of any kind. This comes from an intention for them to focus on ministry and the care of their community, without the distractions a family might otherwise give them. This, too, comes from a good intention.

The problem with the lack of sexual outlet, is that most of us are sexual creatures, with drives and desires to procreate and to express our sexual needs. Repression of those drives is usually a losing game, long-term, and can prompt sexual expression in inappropriate or even highly damaging situations.

Add in another layer: if a person is a homosexual in a world that has made homosexuality illegal, deemed it immoral, and noted it as an activity that will lead to damnation, a good place to hide it is in an organization that expects repression of all sexuality. In fact, a gay man with no attraction to women may look like a great priest. Likewise, a nun with no attraction to men may look very chaste and asexual.

In short, the church could be a good place for well-intentioned LGBT+ people to hide in the heart of a world that rejected them. It was a great place for well-meaning sysgendered heterosexuals to build a life too - who would also have to repress their sexuality.

Likewise, a paedophile can hide within the church, either trying to use it as a cover as they repress their urges, or using it as a hunting ground to express them. A priest’s or nun’s clothing and position were great symbols of trust and authority.

The Perfect Storm

So let’s look at the result of these factors.

Imagine a man who chooses a life in the church. Add in sexual repression, years of holding down sexual desires, condemning any acts or thoughts of sexual desire. At some point, that man will have a day of weakness, of emotional or sexual need, and he will have no healthy place to express it.

If he is weak enough, and opportunity presents itself, he will do something that really is worthy of being called a crime. Let’s say he has sexual contact with a fourteen-year-old (male or female). There will be a victim from among those the church is meant to care for, help, and protect.

The Reaction

So when this is found out, the church authorities have a difficult choice.

It may seem easy. Call the police. Charge the guy with sexual assault. Done and dusted.

The good intention of those in power, however, is to protect all of the other people whom the church helps. There are many, after all. If one incident harms that, they reason, then many more suffer. The damage is done, so there is no turning back time. They could remove the priest from being around children and thereby protect others, and they could keep it quiet in order to safeguard the good the church does. In that time period, if the act was of a homosexual nature, it was thought of as being even worse – many still think so. The authorities may have thought it best to hide one small incident, for the greater good of society as a whole.

I don’t agree with this thinking, but it at least has some logic to it. It allows one victim to suffer more, but saves many others from disillusionment, rejection of the church, and therefore the dangers of eternal damnation. Utilitarianism. Sacrifice for the greater good, even if it would be an unwilling sacrifice.

The Outcome

So let’s say they do this, thinking this is an isolated incident and won’t happen again, now that safeguards have been taken.

Then it happens again. At this point, they are accessories to the previous crime. If they call the police, and the first abuse comes out, they are criminally liable (as they should be). So, they prevent an even greater reputational wound to the church – they hush it up again, this time from a less noble motive, and they move the priest again.

As time goes on, the church leaders realize that this is happening in several places, sometimes to a stunning degree of frequency, such as in residential schools and orphanages. Such crimes are being committed by both men and women, sometimes sheepishly I moments of weakness, and sometimes with intentionality, great cruelty, and depravity difficult to grasp.

By the time they realize that the problem is not solved by hushing it up, they are neck-deep in criminality, guilt, and have set the church up for a reputational hit that would reverberate across the Catholic world and beyond.

Even Darker

Now consider a priest who has been caught abusing a child, but the incident was hushed up. Maybe that has happened more than once. That priest now knows that the church as a whole is effectively complicit in the crimes – the church is now in trouble too. Should that priest reject being moved to a place away from children, he could demand a regular placement, leverage what he knows to blackmail his authorities through the threat of mutual destruction.


So the dynamic grew, deepened, and solidified. It took the banding together of the victims in the end, people who had already rejected the faulty care of the church and stepped away from what they had been told to do… people who had had enough of the abuse – these were the ones who finally blew the whistle at what was going on and blew the scandal wide open.


Father Daniel Wolfe (main protagonist of The Daniel Wolfe Thrillers) is one of those from inside the organization who is on the side of the weak and victimized. He too is flawed, and broken, and in some ways betrayed by the institutions he has chosen to serve, but he is determined to do something good, even at his own expense.

Unlike the unwilling sacrifice of the victims of abuse, Wolfe’s is a self-sacrifice, a willing giving of himself to take on some of the hurt and damage of those his church has failed.

He, too, will fail. There is no reversal of this type of thing, only learning to live with it.

Perhaps Wolfe will learn that sometime too.


The dark secrets and problems of the Catholic church are not the main plot points of the books, but they are a big part of the setting, of the mood of brokenness and betrayal that permeates Wolfe’s life, and the struggle he has to survive and perhaps someday to thrive within it. He lives very much in the dark side of it all – but perhaps he can serve as a light to those in the darkness with him.

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Hey everyone - one request from me: This is a volatile and emotional topic. Please don't verbally abuse anybody (including me) in your fervor to defend the otherwise abused. Strong arguments welcome, but more damage won't help anything.

I've had discussions in posts like this go nasty, fast... let's try to prevent that.

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