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Jim Foley, Man Of God

Catholic philosopher Michael Foley turns to his late father Jim for a strategy to fight clergy sex abuse. [2] Jim Foley (1930-2009) was a Korean war vet and Irish Catholic who loved the Church, but was no clericalist. Mike Foley writes about a time when he was a kid, and a new priest at their parish asked him to go on a cycling trip. Mike was thrilled, but the day before the trip, the priest phoned and told young Mike that Mike’s father didn’t want them fraternizing, and that he (the priest) respected Mr. Foley’s wishes. Mike was upset, and didn’t know what to make of his dad. Excerpt:

Only later did I hear the rest of the story. Jim Foley had heard from a parishioner at the priest’s previous assignment that the priest had been accused of homosexual activity with a teenage altar boy and it was for this reason that he had been transferred to our parish. My father had no proof, but the rumor made sense. Jim did not make a federal case out of it by writing to the pastor or the bishop; instead, he went straight to the potential troublemaker and told him not to spend time with me. If the priest “had any problem with this,” Jim added as he thrust a finger at the priest and then a thumb over his shoulder, “I’m going ask you to take off your collar and we are going to step outside.”

I can offer two other details. First, anyone who knew Jim Foley even cursorily would have also known that he was not bluffing. Second, that priest never laid a hand on me. Years later I heard that he had been laicized under mysterious circumstances.

Wow. More:

One of my friends likes to joke that the only improvement to the 1983 Code of Canon Law is that it is no longer an excommunicable offense for a layman to deck a cleric. Perhaps this improvement was providentially ordained by God as an additional tool in the box for responding to crises such as these. My father didn’t know the niceties of canon law, nor would he have much cared when it came to protecting his family, but neither was he a suspicious or paranoid man. He only acted in response to a credible threat, and he never forbade me from socializing with other priests, which I did and for which I am grateful.

I anticipate all kinds of backlash from the Jim Foley Option. I don’t care. Our culture has moved away from fist fights (which, do note, is all that I am suggesting) to ridiculous lawsuits and hysterical shaming on social media, and I don’t think it is the better for it. We have forgotten the quick and easy art of conflict resolution through threat of a bloody nose.

I do not recommend the Jim Foley Option as the only solution because it clearly is not. But while reforming clerical culture and eliminating the hierarchy’s Lavender Mafia will take time, the Jim Foley Option can be instituted without a moment’s delay. Just think for a moment how much different the last few decades would have been if every homosexual or pedophile clergyman had lived in fear of getting the stuffing kicked out of him for preying on the innocent. Just think how different the lives of so many victims would be if they had had a Jim Foley like I did. If fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, perhaps a fear of pugilistic dads could become the beginning of clerical chastity.

AMEN! Read the whole thing.   [2] Maybe it’s just because I was raised in rural South, but it seems to me that the Jim Foley Option ought to be the normal male response when confronted with a child molester, sacerdotal status be damned.

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67 Comments To "Jim Foley, Man Of God"

#1 Comment By simon94022 On August 9, 2018 @ 12:29 pm

An awful lot of the critical comments about Jim Foley are judging his actions by 2018 standards and what we know today about the scale of abuse by gay clergy in the Church. In the early to mid 1970s normal people barely had words for such things.

Personal story: I was a boy scout in that same period. One year we got a new scoutmaster, a single man, around 30 years old, Vietnam veteran. At first all of us kids enjoyed listening to his dramatic war stories. But within maybe a month, his behavior began to creep out many of us who had been in the scout troop for several years.

He would suddenly ban all veteran scouts from going on campouts for minor or made-up infractions, like talking out of turn. That left him leading camping trips with only 12 and 13 year olds. He went skinny dipping with them on multiple occasions. He treated one in particular like a special pet, fawning over the kid, asking how he liked this or that, and talking the kid up around everyone else. He routinely directed the young scouts to zip their sleeping bags together with his in order to “stay warm”. Once zipped together, they discovered that he slept naked because, you see, he had learned in the Army that it was “healthier.” He made constant flattering comments about certain scouts’ appearance.

My friends and I found Scoutmaster Creepy disgusting, but while we talked about these specific behaviors we couldn’t really articulate the problem. Parents also began to see his behavior as weird, but more gradually. The default assumption was that in a dispute between an authority figure such as a Scoutmaster and grumbling teenagers, the Scoutmaster was in the right.

After nearly a year, a huge open meeting among parents, scouts, and regional scout leadership resulted in Scoutmaster Creepy’s angry resignation. But at that meeting, the parents of some of the favored younger boys vociferously defended Scoutmaster Creepy and insisted that his behavior was entirely innocent. I remember one Mom in particular accusing us older scouts of being “jealous” of the attention given to the younger kids.

What has always struck me since then is no one in my memory — not parents, and not us older kids talking among ourselves — actually stated explicitly what we all realized at the time was going on: Scoutmaster Creepy was grooming and/or sexually abusing some of the younger kids. The concept was too alien, and people 40+ years ago truly did not have the language to express it (even the use of the word “gay” in the current sense was a very recent innovation, not yet widely adopted).

In that milieu, a report to the police or tip to the local newspaper would have resulted in nothing.

Scoutmaster Creepy left our troop, but he remained in good standing with the regional Boy Scout Area Council. There was nothing definitive to pin on him, after all. No younger kid came forward to say he had been abused. My belief is the guy went on to lead or assist with other troops. I have no idea what may have happened to other scouts or young people in his charge, but can only imagine.

I wish some blue collar dad had kicked the crap out of Scoutmaster Creepy in 1977. It might not have prevented him from abusing again, but he would have at least thought twice about it.

#2 Comment By Elijah On August 9, 2018 @ 12:43 pm

“…count me one who generally thinks vigilante justice in a poor idea…”

Good thing nobody is talking about vigilante justice here. We’re talking about confronting someone BEFORE anything happens, and yes, making a THREAT of violence and nothing more.

I would remind you folks who think that Foley should have “called the cops” that in many dioceses, like Eerie and Altoona-Johnstown in Pennsylvania, it is credibly alleged that the cops were very much in the pocket of the diocesan staff, particularly the bishop.

Although a pretty big man, I am not one to use physical violence or intimidation, but I have been called upon to do so by a friend who saw a youth in trouble at a retreat. I don’t regret it for an instant.

#3 Comment By Nkc On August 9, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

@Charles Cosimano
Jim Foley was lucky. I’ve known men who simply would have shot him. Threats of violence are never wise. There are more effective methods.

Uncle Chuckie are you thinking about that priest on the other side of Wisconsin from you in Hudson who shot and killed two people about 15 or years ago? Mr. Podles has an article about him somewhere. I heard about it because my brother and his family were living in Hudson at the time and a lot of people were afraid because they did not catch the killer right away. The priest ended up killing himself before he could be brought to earthly justice. Obviously, he did not improve his chances for when he reaches the eternal court of justice.

#4 Comment By Kevin F. Keiser On August 9, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

“Our culture has moved away from fist fights (which, do note, is all that I am suggesting) to ridiculous lawsuits and hysterical shaming on social media, and I don’t think it is the better for it.”

It’s because we’ve moved from an honor culture, through a dignity culture, to a victim culture where no one deals directly with problematic people.


This part’s interesting:

“Cultures of honor tend to arise in places where legal authority is weak or nonexistent and where a reputation for toughness is perhaps the only effective deterrent against predation or attack.”

There you go. I contend that in the current application of canon law, priests and laypeople have very little intra-ecclesial deterrent to use against bishops. But Jim Foley came from a culture of honor that still had tools to deal with that situation.

#5 Comment By Antonia On August 9, 2018 @ 3:02 pm

Good that Jim Foley protected his kid. But he still should have raised the issue with the bishop. What about all the other boys in the parish, whose parents probably hadn’t heard about Father Perv?

The complicity of the laity is the second elephant in the room, and not just those in power. My friend is still a Catholic, but belongs to no parish. She floats among several different parishes, but will not set foot in the one in which her home is located. I don’t know if her son was one of the victims, but she told me that a number of parishioners knew what was going on, took care to protect their own sons, and didn’t bother to warn other parents. My friend will not go there because some of those parishioners are still there.

#6 Comment By RB On August 9, 2018 @ 3:23 pm

My rule is simple. Hurt my child, I hurt you. That’s what fathers do. Any man who is too cowardly to defend their own child is not worthy of being called “Dad”.

#7 Comment By Unanimous Consent On August 9, 2018 @ 4:47 pm


See if he’s listed here.


#8 Comment By VikingLS On August 9, 2018 @ 5:09 pm

“The problem with fist fights are two: A) they affirm the very mistaken notion that Might Makes Right and B) They can easily escalate into something worse, especially in places with ill-considered “Stand Your Ground” laws. There are reasons we have courts and legal remedies to deal with wrongs done to us.”

Yep JonF, Jesus should have have left those poor money lenders alone too, or perhaps lodged an official complaint.

Can’t have people thinking violence is EVER justified, not even against child molesters.

#9 Comment By VikingLS On August 9, 2018 @ 5:14 pm

“Good that Jim Foley protected his kid. But he still should have raised the issue with the bishop.”

And when the bishop told him to ignore the rumors and show his priest the proper respect, what then? The bishop was the one who put his child in danger in the first place.

#10 Comment By Juvenal On August 9, 2018 @ 6:47 pm

The “Jim Foley option” could work in a few particular scenarios, as it evidently did in his own case. But that’s no systemic solution, will only work in small % of cases, while a systemic solution is needed.

Unlike when Mike Foley was a kid, today more than half of all marriages end in divorce & children often grow up without stable traditional father figures involved in kids’ lives to that degree.

What does a hardworking but dainty & petite struggling single mother raising 3 kids working 2 jobs do when she depends on a local parish daycare to watch her kids & somewhere overhears vague rumors about one of the priests?

For that matter, even kids who do have fathers in their lies, it’s baseless stereotyping to assume all or even most grown-up men are big strong confrontational fighters who are accustomed to making personal threats of violence like that, never mind actually having to follow through on such threats.

Jim Foley may have been an Irish blue-collar “solidly-built Korean War vet who grew up on the streets of eastern Los Angeles” used to regular fisticuffs but most men are not.

Neither capable nor comfortable of threatening- and possibly even having to try to carry out- physical violence on anyone, never mind a priest or bishop, who may also be much bigger & stronger than they are…that’s why we have rule of law, and you call the authorities to resolve such conflicts, only resorting to take things into your own hands as a last resort.

[While thankfully abuse not an issue (God forbid) at local parish, due to demographic changes in US Church, noticed jarring contrast between growing numbers of Mexican & Central American families with short men/fathers not even 5 ft tall, with limited grasp of English (some with potential immigration issue vulnerabilities) vs. our intimidating oldschool Irish-American veteran priests towering over 6’2″ or so. That contrast between ‘old’ & ‘new’ image of US Catholics just matter of mild innocent interest here…

…but theoretically at some similar parish where their 6’4 Irishman veteran powerful pastor trusted by their old community for decades is secretly a child rapist monster, simply as a matter of practicality the “Jim Foley option” is NOT an option. No matter how much a father loves his kids, a relatively recent Hispanic immigrant dad standing less than 5ft tall going up & threatening to deck a parish priest twice his size who is a long-beloved trusted pillar of the local native Irish Catholic community, over vague rumors alleging abusive activity in his past…just absurd to expect that to work out well.]

To put it all more succinctly, the power imbalance between trusted long-time big tall jovial veteran clergymen vs. parents of children who become involved in their parish is more often than not too great for any individual parent to solve things & put a stop to any potential serial child abuse pattern behavior- based on rumor, typically lacking hard evidence- by making personal threats of physical violence against the priest….not a solution.

If the priests are in fact secret sociopathic monsters guilty of grooming & raping children, they will be 10 steps ahead of any accuser, well aware of any powers at their disposal to threaten, intimidate, silence, neutralize an accuser.

Say a dad actually had the physical superiority to get a good punch in knocking the alleged bad priest to the ground, who controls the narrative? Next thing you know the local community is rallying around the pastor as a victim, assault & battery charges brought against the dad alleging the lowlife tried to violently rob & sucker punch their beloved parish priest after the priest agreed to meet to provide private counseling for the dad for his issues. Machiavellian monster priest gets up at the pulpit & says let’s pray for forgiveness, his assaulter knew not what he did, but the parish community still ostracizes the whole family of the dad- who goes to jail…

#11 Comment By VikingLS On August 9, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

Years ago I was on a long walking street in Saint Petersburg, walking in my direction was a young woman. Two men came up behind her and tried to grab her. I yelled at them and they left her alone. Had it come to it yes I would have fought them. There were no police around, there was nobody around right then but the four of us. (Yes this can happen late at night in a large city)

Would that fist fight have proven “might makes right”? Could it have escalated? Had I stepped into a role as a vigilante that properly belongs to state? Yes! Absolutely.

So what?

Some times the wrong thing to do is not to resort to violence or the threat thereof.

Men generally do not like the idea of being punched. Oftentimes the threat of being punched is a sufficient deterrent to bad behavior.

As others have pointed out Jim Foley wasn’t in a position to go to the authorities. We know many of the Bishops sided with the child molesting clergy in cases where the molestation had actually occurred. He had nothing to tell the police other than a rumor. Thankfully the police can’t just arrest you on a rumor.

He didn’t even actually hit the priest. He told him if he attempted to groom his child he would hit him.

What many of the anti-Foley comments boil down to is “this sounds conservative and rednecky, so I’m obliged to object.”

No you’re not.

#12 Comment By Simon94022 On August 9, 2018 @ 7:56 pm

he still should have raised the issue with the bishop. What about all the other boys in the parish, whose parents probably hadn’t heard about Father Perv?

I think we all know what would have happened if he had raised the issue with the bishop: Nothing.

the complicity of the laity

Look, there have been plenty of complicit lay people who denounced abusers and insisted allegations could never be true because Father Light Loafers was “such a nice priest.”

Jim Foley threatening to rearrange the face of a suspected abuser who made overtures to his son is … not an example of lay complicity.

#13 Comment By VikingLS On August 10, 2018 @ 5:48 am


Given that we KNOW the church authorities were deliberately unhelpful in these situations and the police had no evidence here, perhaps the best thing for parents to do is to simply allow their children to be sexually molested?

#14 Comment By JonF On August 10, 2018 @ 9:17 am

Re: Can’t have people thinking violence is EVER justified,

Violence never is “justified”. Sure, it may be necessary at times, but you will never make it feed where the beasts of virtue feed, nor starve the rabid dog from its frothing mouth. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

#15 Comment By MrsCole On August 10, 2018 @ 1:45 pm

Jim Foley knew how to do it right– establish dominance and “ownership” of the family in his care. For those who don’t understand the social mechanics at play– in this video she’s talking about Joe Biden’s inappropriate touching of senators’ wives and daughters. The principle is the same. Video starts with an example of submissive male behavior that gives Biden “permission” to do his creepy thing with the adolescent daughter, and about 15:25 shows an Oklahoma senator demonstrating how to do it the right way (ie “This is MY family and you WILL NOT”):

#16 Comment By VikingLS On August 10, 2018 @ 2:28 pm

“Violence never is “justified”. Sure, it may be necessary at times,”

If it’s necessary it’s justified, and yes sometimes an act of violence is required by virtues such as courage and compassion.

#17 Comment By JonF On August 11, 2018 @ 11:42 am

Re: If it’s necessary it’s justified

Necessity never baptized any evil to be good. And while God can bring good from the darkest evil, that does not bleach one nanometer of darkness out of the evil.
There’s a reason one of petitions in the Liturgy is for God to preserve us from “all affliction, wrath, danger, and necessity.”