Survivor who led fight against priest abuse dead at 58

If not for people like Joe Crowley, the Catholic Church’s chronic problem of sexual abuse might never have found its believers.

Crowley was [edit] among the the first victims to come forward publicly when the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team resisted all the pressure the Boston Archdiocese could muster to stop the investigation.

“Joe took an incredible risk coming forward,” said Barbara Dorris, national managing director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “And when one survivor does it, it’s like giving the rest of the survivors permission to tell. We’ll never know how many people came forward because Joe did, and how many people had hope because Joe did it.”

Dorris, who noted that some clergy sexual abuse victims have committed suicide, added of Mr. Crowley: “He’s probably saved lives.”

He suffered from alcoholism, depression, anger, and unemployment, a familiar trajectory for the victims of priests, the Globe says.

He was a Boston College High School student when a priest raped him, then passed him on to other priests.

Ultimately, people began to believe what Crowley, played by Michael Cyril Creighton in Spotlight, courageously tried to tell them through the Globe’s team of reporters.

He died on Sunday.

Today, Sacha Pfeiffer, one of the Spotlight reporters at the time, penned a tribute to him.

A bond of sorts sometimes develops between reporters and people who share with them these kinds of intimate, traumatic stories. That’s probably why Joe and I never fell out of touch.

Over the years, I checked in with him periodically to make sure he was reasonably stable, and he called and wrote regularly with chatty updates, comments on stories I’d written, and critiques of plays he’d seen. He was entertaining and loquacious; it wasn’t uncommon for me to glance at my phone and find two dozen new text messages, all from Joe.

I also heard from him faithfully on the annual date marking when he had given up drinking. “Thanks for all your encouragement over the last fifteen years,” he texted me on Feb. 7, his 21st “sober anniversary,” as he called it.

In the fall of 2015, I attended a private screening of the “Spotlight” movie along with Joe and a small group of other people depicted in the film. I hadn’t seen Joe in months, and he looked terrible — overweight, bloated, wheezing, tethered to an oxygen tank.

He had recently suffered heart and respiratory failure and was in cardiac rehab, his illnesses worsened by years of heavy smoking and drinking. Listening to him rasp, I thought: the toll of the abuse he suffered as a teenager is still unfolding decades later.

But the movie had a powerful positive effect on Joe. It made him feel important and valued, perhaps for the first time. He adored the actor who played him, Michael Cyril Creighton, nicknaming him “JC2.” They became texting pen pals and phone buddies, just as Joe and I were.

Crowley was 58 when he died on Easter Sunday, a day Pfeiffer found significant.

It was an honor to know you, Joe Crowley. You made me laugh. You helped me understand the lasting trauma of sex abuse and the power of human will. And you emboldened countless other survivors to release their painful secrets and reclaim their lives.

That is a life well-lived.

“Every time somebody speaks up about this, every time one of us speaks up and talks about this, it’s going to be more difficult for someone to rape a child, to rape any person,” Crowley told the Globe after Spotlight won an Oscar for best picture a year ago.

  • DPierre


    MPR keeps anti-Catholic bigotry alive and publishes flat-out errors in the process.

    1. “Crowley was the first victim to come forward publicly when the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team resisted all the pressure the Boston Archdiocese could muster to stop the investigation.”

    Crowley was not the first victim to come forward publicly.
    Not. even. close.

    In fact, Crowley did not make his name public until many years after the Globe’s 2002 reporting.

    2. “[Crowley] was a Boston College High School student when a priest raped him, then passed him on to other priests.”

    Indeed, Crowley went on to have sex with other men, but I have never seen anything that says Rev. Shanley, allegedly his first abuser, “passed [Crowley] on to other priests.”

    Did you make that up? What are the names of the other priests? Eh?

    Listen, we all know how much MPR despises the Catholic Church.
    That is fine. We have a free country and a free press.
    But get your facts right.

    • Jerry

      Criticism of the Church is not criticism of the Faith.

    • // MPR keeps anti-Catholic bigotry alive

      by reporting on sexual abuse in the church? OK.

      • DPierre

        Bob Collins: “by reporting on sexual abuse in the church?”

        No, by lying about it all the time:


    • Mike

      Your second point is a claim made in the Boston Globe article. Apparently you didn’t read that.

      I don’t know that MPR despises the church, but plenty of people have ample reason to despise a destructive, authoritarian institution that has abused countless people in its 2,000 year history.

        • Mike

          I guess his stance makes sense, given the context. The institution he defends wouldn’t admit that Galileo was right until a few years ago. Mythology dies hard.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            Trust me I am no defender of the Catholic Church, but what most people don’t realize is there were Jesuit astronomers who agreed with the Copernican model. Galileo’s “crime” was he disobeyed an order from the church to publish in Latin and not in “the vernacular” better known as Italian.

        • BJ

          He wrote 3 that I could find – the reviews all are in the vein of:
          “REAL scandal: mainstream news organizations, corrupt lawyers and judges, greedy people, gullible jurors make for a modern witch-hunt where priests are guilty until proven innocent.”

          Basically the reviews agree that everyone is to blame except for people abusing children and those covering it up.

        • He also has a website, on which he rants against the NYT, SNAP, MPR, and “Hollywood”.

        • DPierre

          I “wrote a book that the priest abuse scandal in the church is made up”??

          Sorry, but you’re wrong – again.
          If that were my position, I would say so.
          But it isn’t.

          Anyone who has read page 1 of any of my three books knows that that is not the case – at all. Not. even. close.

    • crystals

      I am Catholic. I am grateful for the reporting of MPR, the Boston Globe, and all of the other institutions whose work brought about justice for children when the church itself would not.

  • SNAPJudy

    Joe Crowley was a very brave survivor who helped so many others by NOT staying silent. He will be missed by so many.

    Judy Jones, 636-433-2511.

    SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

    • DPierre
      • KezStar

        I’m a victim of priest sexual abuse. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the late seventies. When I filed charges against the priest in 2009, he confessed to all charges. The state SOL barred my civil action from prevailing, and the criminal case was dismissed due to dementia on behalf of the defendant, five years after his arrest. Until then not one single court procedure had taken place.

        I am writing a book. I have evidence that the diocese provides factually inaccurate information, at a high level, that I recanted my allegations and that the defendant never confessed. Pure lies and fabrication.

        This is an abject effort to malign my position as a plaintiff, to undermine my PROVEN and CORROBORATED testimony which is archived on the official court record for my cases.

        I can smell your type from miles and miles away. I guarantee it.

        DPierre: Your comment about the plaintiff, Crowley “Indeed, Crowley went on to have sex with other men, but I have… passed [Crowley] on to other priests.”

        To clarify, you’re claiming knowledge that “Indeed, Crowley went on to have sex with other men…,” loudly begging the question as to your proximity to these instances of “sex with other men,” or other possible manners of indisputable method in which you become qualified to make such a blatant claim of knowledge. Were you there too? Are you one of the men Crowley went on to have sex with? Where do you gain your information from?

        I find your emphatic need to dispute claims made by MPR about the victim being “passed on to other” perpetrators, smacks of an utterly vile passion to further malign this victim by changing the narrative from one in which he was a victim, to one in which Crowley “finally relented to ‘galavant’ his way through ‘homosexual sexual relationships,” implying the victim engaged in such personal scenarios on his own volition, uninfluenced by the atrocious traumas imposed on him as an innocent child. These are my quotes and I not attributing them to you, rather I’m articulating what I strongly believe you intended to say worn your disgusting comments.

        The level of disingenuousness and disdain for this innocent victim, which you go out of your way to display, is nothing less than disturbing and pathalogical, at best. This man, whose life was destroyed by the selfish, evil and disgusting behavior—the soul assassination—perpetrated by this priest is unforgivable and something that we as a society should never ever accept or defend. Doing so is a conscious effort to malign innocent children; an evil and unforgivable crime against nature and the very essence of what our world holds near and dear to hope and what’s good in our world. Anyone endeavoring to further assassinate the character of the victims of these nasty, depraved, satanic, beastlike cowards deserve nothing less than that which our society holds in store for these broken men of the cloth.

        How can you possibly attempt to “correct” the story by MPR, only to offer some insipid, cowardly suggestion that the victim went on to be the “despicable homosexual he probably was in the first place.” (again, my quotes suggesting what I believe you intended and meant by your comments).

        No one in this side of the issue is stupid Mr Pierre, we can easily recognize your attempt to send your disgusting message. You make sure the word “men” is bold-face type, as if the distinction might otherwise somehow be lost on readers. But I question exactly where you get your information from. If you’re going to contradict the MPR account you should disclose your sources. If you are a published author, the intended the inherent elevation to a more stringent level of accountability in terms of citing sources when making such claims. This you should know, if not you do now. It’s the professional and moral thing to do.

        The Catholic Church can defend themselves. I know this personally as I watched them go through MILLIONS of dollars as they fought me for five years in court. Mr Crowley, however, unfortunately cannot defend himself, obviously. Your effort to malign him post-mortem is disgusting and the act of a quivering, drooling coward.

        If I had the resources I’d sue you for defamation of character and take some of the money you’ve made defending the church against innocent victims. I’d give it to a charity defending the innocent children STILL being assaulted by these disgusting priests. Yours is a disgusting character flaw and I highly suggest you get as much face-time with your god because I’m fairly certain that people like you are quite welcome in the hell you so fervently spend your energy trying to avoid.

        You’ve made it very clear about which side of the issue you stand. Everything you say or do in opposition to protecting innocent children from pederast priests, and supporting those who so horribly victimize these children as the vile predators they really are, masquerading as benevolent father figures.

        You’re being watched. Count on it. You belong to them, not us. Not the innocent. Not the crusaders against child sexual assault. You belong to them. You stand with pederast priests and sexual violators around the world.

        We get it.

        • DPierre

          KezStar, you literally have no clue what you’re talking about when it comes to my work.

          When you say that I stand “in opposition to protecting innocent children from pederast priests,” you are 100% factually incorrect.

          And your false and mean-spirited attack on me is emblematic of so many who don’t care what the facts are and only want to hear what they want to hear.

          My issue is with the reporting of this story, not the victim.
          Collins’ brief article has a number of falsehoods, and I called him out on it.
          Collins reported that other priests besides Shanley abused Crowley, and I called him out for reporting that when there appears to be no support for that claim.

          And instead of acknowledging his falsehoods, Collins attacks me personally and further misrepresents my work.

          And in reference to my citation of sources … I know of no other writer on this issue on the planet who cites his sources more than I do. No one. Read my books. They are teemed with footnotes.

          Read my rebuttal to MPR’s error-laden “Betrayed by Silence.” I link to *sources*.

          These reporters at MPR are not “good people.”

  • Jim Tucker

    Childhood sexual abuse is just one type of early trauma that can affect ones life for decades. Research has shown that childhood trauma increases the odds of heart disease, stroke, depression, suicide, diabetes, lung diseases, alcoholism and liver disease later in life. It also increases risky behavior like smoking and having a large number of sexual partners. It contributes to “low life Potential”. One more thing : Those traumatized as children die earlier.

  • Jim Tucker

    There are people in life who I describe as “bottom feeders”. Drug dealers who supply people with drugs that destroy peoples’ lives so that they can profit financially are “bottom feeders”. Pimps who destroy the lives of prostitutes., both male and female, for financial gain are “bottom feeders.” Someone who attacks a victim of clergy abuse after their early passing for their own financial gain[selling books or running a website], I would also describe as a “bottom feeder”.