In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: April 20
This pandemic edition of my biweekly news roundup is shorter than previous roundups, as the world's attention is understandably focused on other things right now. My own heart is a bit overwhelmed with daily life at the moment, but I know it's important not to lose focus on this important issue, so I will continue to read, write, and post through this time. Let's all take care of our own mental and emotional health and then do our best to give this issue attention to the extent that we are able.
(Note: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. However, sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse of every word in that article. I do believe that reading broadly, from many sources and perspectives, is a valuable way to become better informed and, thus, more able to respond with wisdom and prudence. The top three reads below are a great place to start!)
** YOUR TOP THREE READS **
A thought-provoking reflection on the role of apologies and forgiveness in this abuse crisis:
"For decades, Catholic dioceses throughout the country have had to embark on what can only be described as apology tours, during which clergy have again and again asked abuse victims for forgiveness. Nick Ingala, from the lay activist group Voice of the Faithful, told the New York Times that Archbishop Blair’s Reparations Mass was not going to be enough for many victims. 'Apologies,' Ingala said, 'will only go so far. Where is the responsibility? The accountability? You can’t say ‘I’m sorry’ over and over and over again.' Among the reader comments on the New York Times article, one of the most upvoted was from 'Janet,' who stated that 'apologies are fine,' but that 'nothing, absolutely nothing, ever compensates enough for the heart-heavy, dirty-soul feeling that remains with [victims] until we die.'"
I am so grateful to my friend Jerri for her honesty and vulnerability in sharing her story.
We don't hear nearly enough about the family members of abuse survivors, but their voices are an important reminder of the real, lifelong, far-reaching consequences of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
"I remember the first time you and Dad told me about your abuse. I told you that I already knew. I don’t know how I knew, other than it was just a child’s intuition. Your story of abuse by multiple priests has always been part of my life."
This is an honest personal reflection from someone who admired Jean Vanier. It also provides some insight into how news about sexual abuse can trigger powerful reactions from those who have experienced abuse in their own past as well.
Let's continue to support and pray for all who have been abused - both in the Church and in wider society.
"Like that nine-year-old child, my innocence has again been shattered. The women abused by Vanier have lived with the shame of being coerced. How afraid they must have been. Confused, angry and even ashamed to the point they could not come forward with accusations which would destroy the image we had created of Jean Vanier.
I am hurting. Who can I trust in this world? My Catholic faith and my love for God has not wavered — but my faith in man has."
** THE REST OF THE NEWS **
"Australia’s highest court on Tuesday will judge Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against convictions for molesting two teenage choirboys more than two decades ago. But the legal battle over the world’s most senior Catholic convicted of sexually abusing children may not end there.
The High Court could deliver Pope Francis’ former finance minister a sweeping victory or an absolute defeat. Or the seven judges could settle on one of several options in between that could extend the appeal process for another year or more."
"Cardinal George Pell will be immediately freed from prison after Australia's High Court unanimously overturned his conviction on five counts of historical child sex abuse...
In its two-page summary of the ruling, the High Court said that the jury 'ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offenses for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.'"
Here's an updated story on the acquittal of Cardinal Pell, including statements by several leaders of the Australian Church.
"'The sole matter for examination in this case was whether Cardinal Pell committed certain despicable crimes, of which he has now been acquitted, and not about the broader question of how Church authorities have dealt with sexual abuse,' [Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourn] said.
'Yet, I fully appreciate that people have seen in this case another emblematic story of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest,' he said, noting that 'it has brought a deeper weariness of soul to people of faith.'"
"The high court acquittal of George Pell is likely to be followed by a string of civil claims against the cardinal and the Catholic church from alleged abuse survivors and their families, lawyers say...
Last year, lawyers acting for a man who claims he was molested by Pell and horrifically physically abused by staff when he was a ward of the state in the 1970s filed a lawsuit that named the state of Victoria, Pell and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne as defendants... The 50-year-old man was a resident in St Joseph’s boys’ home in Ballarat from February 1974 to 1978 and says he was abused by Pell and a nun during that period. Claims against Pell have also been filed by those who claim he failed to prevent their abuse at the hands of other priests. These claims are also denied by Pell."
Whatever you think about the overturning of Cardinal Pell's conviction, it's important for us to consider what effect this case might have on the global movement for justice for abuse survivors. This article has a hopeful take on the good that may still come of this. I'm not sure if I agree with all of these assertions, but it raises some good questions.
"Cardinal Pell's was one of the most high-profile lawsuits to spotlight child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The question now is whether this latest ruling is a setback in the pursuit of justice for the institutionalised sexual abuse of children."
As I strive to raise up the voices of all survivors, I am happy to share this hopeful story from my friend Mike Hoffman.
"My primary act of recovery was telling [my wife] Kathy my story of childhood sexual abuse. We had been married over 12 years at that time, and I had never told her - or anyone – my story. I didn’t want to introduce such a sick and depraved story like that into my marriage. Initially I thought she would think differently of me, as her husband, as a provider, as a father to our children. Exhausted from the inner struggle, I finally decided to tell her. With tears streaming down my face, hands shaking and heart pounding, I told her.
Of course, Kathy didn’t think differently of me. She responded to me with compassion, love and understanding. To be able to share my story, which I had kept secret for over 30 years, and, still to feel safe and loved, is such a profound experience. I believe God’s grace was, and remains, amongst us."
This cancellation is not surprising and it's an understandable decision, but I'm disappointed to lose an opportunity for forward progress on responding to the issue of sexual abuse in the Church.
Momentum had already slowed significantly, but I worry that this issue will be completely off the agenda by the time the bishops gather again in November.
The first report of this kind from the Catholic Church in Japan. This is clearly a small portion of the actual abuse that has occurred, but it's a tiny step forward to at least acknowledge the reality of sexual abuse in the Church. We'll see what - if anything - comes next.
"A new internal report by a Catholic bishops organization found that 16 sexual abuse cases against minors since the 1950s in Japan have been reported from the dioceses...
The report noted in four of the cases, the accused cleric admitted to the abuse. Of the cases the accused denied the allegations, only one was followed up on for an investigation by a third-party panel... Five of the alleged perpetrators are still working in the priesthood."
As you know, I like to close every blog post with an invitation to prayer. For these news roundups, I encourage all of us to bring everything we just read to the merciful heart of God. If there is a specific story that you found moving, hopeful, painful, or unsettling, please place those thoughts and reactions into the hands of Jesus and ask Him what he is calling you to do in response.
For those who are not able to attend Mass right now because of the coronavirus, I ask you to consider my invitation to offer this challenging time to God in solidarity with abuse survivors, particularly those who are no longer able to go to Mass because of their trauma.
My Jesus, I long to receive you in the Eucharist.
I offer this longing to you, praying for all who have experienced abuse in my Church.
May we all someday be one, as You and the Father are one.