A Call to My Fellow Catholics; or What Sara Said When They Gave Her the Microphone
Updated: Apr 10
I do not like public speaking.
It’s not so much that I’m bad at it (I think I do ok), it's that I spend days as a big ball of anxiety and nerves before I give a talk. So, maybe it was better that I got the invitation to speak at a recent press conference only a few days in advance. I was planning to decline, but my friends from Awake convinced me it was too good an opportunity to pass up - a chance to share a unique perspective that isn’t often heard in the secular media, the perspective of faithful Catholics who want to stand with survivors and work to make our Church safer.
So, on March 7, a few folks from the Awake Leadership Team took a road trip to Green Bay to stand with the family and friends of Nate Lindstrom, a victim of clergy sexual abuse who died by suicide one year ago. If you want to learn more about the powerful event we were part of, you can read my friend Mary’s reflection on the Awake blog here: The Anniversary of Nate Lindstrom’s Suicide Strengthened My Resolve to Aid Survivors. But I also wanted to share the full text of my remarks with all of you, as a message of support to the survivors reading this blog, as well as a call to action to my fellow Catholics. So, here’s what I said when they gave me the microphone:
Hello, my name is Sara Larson and I’m the executive director of Awake Milwaukee, a growing grassroots nonprofit organization of Catholics seeking to address the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Our mission is to awaken our community to the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and work for transformation and healing throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
I am here today because as a Catholic, I recognize that transformation and healing can only come when we know the whole truth of what has happened in the past - and what continues to happen today. Awake Milwaukee, and many Catholics throughout the state, are honored to stand in solidarity with the family and friends of Nate Lindstrom, and all who have been harmed by sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church.
You deserve so much more than apologies, but I stand here today, as a member of the Catholic Church, to offer a heartfelt apology to all who have been harmed by my Church. I speak on behalf of Awake Milwaukee and of the more than 300 Catholics who have signed our Open Letter to Survivors, and, as a committed Catholic, I speak on behalf of my Church. We are so, so sorry for all the ways that we have failed you and your loved ones, by our actions and by our silence. We offer no justifications or excuses, only our sincere regret for the ways that you have been harmed - not only by the abuse but by all the ways we showed a lack of care for you and for your loved ones in the lifelong aftermath of that abuse. We know that we can’t take away the past, but from this moment forward, we pledge to listen to you and work with you for justice and healing.
I am here today because my Catholic faith compels me to stand up in the face of injustice and act in solidarity with those who are suffering. The call of Jesus Christ is a call to compassion and courage, and I am here to listen and learn how I can better live out that call today.
I am also here to share a message from Awake to our fellow Catholics. We believe that as Catholics we should be the loudest voices calling for truth, transparency, accountability, and compassion in our Church. We should be the ones most invested in understanding and facing the full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and in seeking real change so that our Church can be a place of comfort and safety, rather than a source of pain. I encourage all Catholics to truly listen to those who have been harmed and consider how God is calling us to respond to Nate’s story and the stories of so many others who have been wounded by our Church.
It is time for us as Catholics to step up and act.
After reading this post, I invite you to pray for all victims of sexual abuse who have died by suicide, especially Nate Lindstrom, as well as for their loved ones, particularly Nate’s widow, Karen, and their three young children.
Lord, please be close to all who grieve. Give them your comfort and strength.