An Island Retreat: Sin, Secrecy, and the Offshoring of Sexually Abusive Priests

A public lecture by Kevin Lewis O’Neill



Emerson Auditorium

Knight Hall
Washington University in St. Louis


  • An Island Retreat: Sin, Secrecy, and the Offshoring of Sexually Abusive Priests

    A public lecture by Kevin Lewis O’Neill


Please join us for this public lecture by Professor Kevin Lewis O’Neill.

Between 1952 and 1968, a Roman Catholic religious order known as the Servants of the Paraclete sought, bought, and finally sold several small islands in the Caribbean for priests unable to stop “sin[ning] repeatedly with little children.” This talk details the Servants of the Paraclete’s mid-twentieth-century efforts at offshoring sexually abusive priests. It is an historical account that encourages scholars and activists alike to rethink the geography of clerical sexual abuse: though there is a generally agreed upon history that bishops throughout the United States transferred priests between parishes to evade suspicion and at times prosecution, this provides a previously untold account of how the U.S. Church leveraged developments in moral theology, pastoral psychology, and free market capitalism to secure transnational lines of flight for some of its most incorrigible abusers. 

Kevin Lewis O’Neill is the Director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies and Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. A cultural anthropologist, his work focuses on the moral dimensions of contemporary political practice in Latin America. O’Neill has written several books on the politics of Pentecostalism in Guatemala City – City of God (University of California Press, 2010); Secure the Soul (University of California Press, 2015); and Hunted (University of Chicago Press 2019) as well as a bilingual photography book titled Art of Captivity / Arte del Cautiverio (University of Toronto Press, 2020) with Benjamin Fogarty-Valenzuela. Working across the themes of democracy, security, and drugs, these books explore the waning viability of disciplinary institutions and how new strains of Christian piety have become recognizable modes of governance in Central America.

O’Neill is currently writing two books. The first is supported by a 2021 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. It considers clerical sexual abuse in Latin America, with a focus on U.S. priests who moved (or were moved) to Central America to evade suspicion and, at times, prosecution. The second is an ethnography of traffic in Guatemala City that realigns conversations about security, mobility, and infrastructure in Latin America.

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Free and open to all.

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  • Kevin Lewis O’Neill