• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: December 18

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church.

Today, I'm wrapping up all of the recent news, and then I'll be taking the next two weeks off to celebrate Christmas with my family and spend some time recharging. The last four months have been very busy, especially with the expanding ministry of Awake Milwaukee, and I am definitely ready for a break! I will still be checking my email regularly, but you can expect silence on the blog and Facebook page until January 4.

By the way, if you are making year-end donations, please consider supporting Awake's first fundraising appeal. As a small non-profit organization with a tiny budget, every dollar makes a difference and helps us plan for growth in 2021. If you want to support my personal ministry through In Spirit and Truth, a one-time or recurring contribution through Patreon is greatly appreciated and helps keep our family afloat while I follow God's call.

(As always: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises in the Catholic Church. However, sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse 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!)


First came sex abuse allegations at the abbey. Then secret payments. Then a suicide.

This is a painful story but a piece of excellent journalism that hits close to home for many of us in Wisconsin. I know some family members of other men abused at St. Norbert's, and Nate's suicide rocked many lives. (Trigger warning: Descriptions of sexual abuse; suicide.)

"The Norbertines quietly sent Lindstrom monthly checks totaling more than $400,000 over 10 years after his parents complained to the Catholic order's leaders about the harm their son suffered from being sexually abused by at least one priest in the late 1980s.

Lindstrom spent years in therapy and taking medication, and he eventually settled in suburban Minneapolis with his wife and three children. But in 2018, his life changed when the order's abbot told him the monthly payments would end. After that, Lindstrom pushed back and reported additional allegations, but those efforts came up empty. The last check arrived in May 2019. He became increasingly depressed and defeated.

One day this past March, Lindstrom retrieved a case from the trunk of his car. He took out a gun and brought it inside to the basement of his home. Then he killed himself. He was 45."

In shift, Springfield Diocese will name all credibly accused priests

This is an encouraging first step from the new bishop of Springfield, and his public comments indicate he might actually understand the seriousness of this issue. Time will tell how this plays out, but this is a good start.

Quotes from soon-to-be-bishop William Byrne:

  • "We have to wash the wound if we’re ever going to let it heal. And our first responsibility is to victims.... When we talk about victims, we’re not just talking about the individual that experienced the devastation at the hands of somebody who should have been protecting them — a clergy person, or someone who worked for the church. We’re talking about their mom or dad. Their brothers and sisters. Their best friends.”

  • “It’s not one hole in the ice, it’s a crack that spreads through the entire unit of the family and friends and the community. The tentacles go deep. We’re ever going to begin to heal, then the first step is, we have to be honest. We have to lay this out. Transparency and communication. That’s what people are asking of us.”

  • “Until everything is on the table, we can’t know how deep the necrosis is. The process of bringing things out allows us to see just what the effect of this is.”

  • “Generations ago, bishops did what they did because they were afraid of scandal. That it would hurt people’s faith if people know about this. Brush it away, they thought, because scandal would be the worst possible thing. Little did they realize that every time that that happened, below the surface, those cracks started forming. All of a sudden the surface was blown away and we realized we had a house of cards that had been constructed over decades. We have to know what exactly is going on.”

Keeping Quiet: The downside to “voluntary laicization”

I am honored to know the survivor mentioned in this article, and I can attest to the incredible pain and destruction Peter Mitchell's actions have caused her. I'm glad to see someone telling this story.

"The decision to deal with abuse cases quickly, by encouraging men under investigation to petition the pope for voluntary laicization, can help avoid complex and protracted canonical trials, the outcome of which is not assured. It also allows men to leave the priesthood – or more properly, the clerical state – in relative quiet: there is no public notice of conviction, where there is no conviction."


The McCarrick Report, Clerical Culture, and a Path to Change, with Fr. Daniel Griffith

This is the video from last week's Courageous Conversation with Awake Milwaukee, with guest presenter Fr. Daniel Griffith and yours truly starting off the evening. You can skip ahead to 8:55 to get straight to Fr. Dan's refreshingly honest presentation. I think you'll find it worth your time.

Georgetown Dialogue - The McCarrick Report: Findings, Lessons, and Directions

I summarized some of the key themes that emerged from this online dialogue in my blog post earlier this week, but it's definitely worth watching yourself as well. The panelists are truly experts on this subject matter and have an abundance of thoughtful insight to share.


Courageous Conversations: First Awake Event Addresses the Harm of “Clerical Culture” in the Church

The latest post from Awake Milwaukee summarizes the Courageous Conversations event linked above, with reflections on clerical culture and what the average Catholic can do to make change.

"The twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Church are fostered by an 'insular clerical culture' that needs transformation, said speaker Fr. Dan Griffith during Awake Milwaukee’s first-ever Courageous Conversations event, held virtually on Thursday, December 10...

'If the Church doesn’t change its culture, these problems will continue to manifest themselves,' Griffith said, suggesting that future revelations will likely involve the abuse of adults or financial misconduct. 'The clerical insular culture that is rife through the McCarrick Report, is so much … an underlying cause. Until that culture has been transformed, the continuing saga will continue to harm the Church,' he said."

A Second Look into the McCarrick Report

The author of this piece raises a lot of good questions about what is in the McCarrick Report - and what was left out.

"While not wishing to impugn the author’s good faith, the only way that readers can objectively confirm the truth of this statement is for them to have access to the Acta so that they can compare the original document with the part that is quoted. Accuracy in the citation is not the only purpose of providing access to the original document. Again, a review of the full record alone will confirm or undermine the conclusions presented in the Report based on evidence only cited in part.

'[T]his Report should provide a significant contribution to the record,' in the words of Cardinal Marc Ouellet, through its presenting 'a critical, comprehensive view on the procedures and the circumstances of this painful case, so that such events are not repeated in the future.' A significant contribution, yes, but in a matter of such grave scandal, far from complete. Or satisfying."

The scandal of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and why no major media outed him

This 2018 piece gives some sad but helpful information about why it took so long for Theodore McCarrick's abusive behavior with adults to be made public - even when many journalists knew there was a story to be told.

"I ran into similar blockages everywhere. There were priests and laity alike for whom McCarrick’s predilections were an open secret, but no one wanted to go after him. I heard about various settlements but couldn’t confirm the details. No newspaper can publish such explosive accusations with only anonymous sources and no court documents to back it up...

After I was laid off in 2010, I sent copies of my files to another reporter on the East Coast so he could have a go at cracking this story. He too ran into the same barriers: People who refused to go on the record and there was always the threat of a lawsuit should he get one detail wrong. My reporter friend did tell me that another writer managed to get the necessary details for a big story that should have run in the New York Times magazine around 2012. But it got killed. Over the years, I’ve told other reporters about this story; even pitched it to one magazine myself but again, no one would be the first to go public."

Mistakes Were Made

This is a brief, helpful analysis of the lessons and limitations of the McCarrick Report. Worth a read.

"The report relies largely on two types of sources: archival records and interviews with relevant parties. The result is an unprecedented public look into the privileged correspondence between prelates in both the United States and Rome, and an account of allegations against McCarrick, as they were received, prior to 2017.

One can learn a lot from official correspondence and archives; what one cannot learn are precisely the kinds of details and information that would never make it into official correspondence and archives. As for the interviews, many of the principal actors, especially from early in McCarrick’s career, are now dead. Other interviews pertain to events that are decades old. And the reliability of the interviews depends not only upon the memory of the persons being interviewed but also their honesty and candor.

A report of this kind necessarily presents an incomplete picture. It is important to acknowledge these limits to avoid both the false impression that it is a totally comprehensive account of the subject matter and the false impression that its inadequacies are evidence of deception."


Further investigation into Colorado Catholic Church IDs 46 more victims, 9 more abusive priests — including Denver’s Father Woody

The deeper you dig, the more you find. Notice that the release of the initial report led to more survivors coming forward. This is one of the many, many reasons we have to keep talking about this.

"The new incidences of abuse included in a supplemental report released Tuesday bring the total number of known abusive priests in Colorado to 52 and the total number of children they abused to 212, according to the independent investigator hired by the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and the diocese. The investigator, former U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer, released his initial findings in October 2019 but continued to investigate as more survivors came forward after the publication of his first report.

More than half of the 212 children were abused after church leaders knew of allegations that the priest abused children, according to the report. Several of the children were younger than 10 years old when a priest began to abuse them.

'Specifically, these incidents provide further evidence that historically the dioceses enabled clergy child sexual abuse by transferring abusive priests to new parishes; taking no action to restrict their ministry or access to children; concealing the priests’ behavior with secrecy, euphemism and lack of documentation; silencing victims; and not reporting the abuse to law enforcement,' Troyer wrote in the supplemental report released Tuesday."

Update: Dioceses and Parishes Consider Survivor-Centered Approaches to David Haas’s Music

Many people have "moved on" from thinking about the impact David Haas's music might have on abuse survivors. I have not, and neither has Awake.

Some parishes and dioceses are leading the way with thoughtful, sensitive reponses. Others are... not.

Top priest at Orchard Lake St. Mary's sued for sexual harassment

What a mess. If you read this piece carefully, you will see several threads that are common in so many stories like this - a refusal to take sexual harassment and abuse of adults seriously, institutions retaliating against accusers, a victim who tried to get people inside the institution to listen but was unsuccessful and ultimately had to resort to legal action.

"The Rev. Miroslaw Krol, the top priest at Orchard Lake Schools, was sued in federal court Monday for sexual harassment by former subordinates who claim he pressured them for sex. Two men, one a priest and the other a former lay staffer, claim that Krol recruited them to Orchard Lake in 2018, then preyed on them, groping them, kissing them and trying to have sex with them. When they rebuffed his advances, he retaliated against them, the suit claims...

The school said in a statement that Krol is on administrative leave. 'In our judgment, these former employees of the Orchard Lake Schools who are asserting these claims while simultaneously seeking to remain anonymous have mischaracterized the circumstances surrounding their terminations,' Steve Gross, chairman of the school's board of regents, said in a statement. 'It is important to note all individuals named in the lawsuit are adults. These former employees bringing this employment action did not work with any minors, nor did their roles involve the high school on our campus. We are confident that the facts, in this case, will prevail, that the legal process will determine their claims lack merit, and that we acted appropriately at all times.'"

Paris court convicts former Vatican envoy of sexual assault

This might not sound like good news, but I think it is. Note that the victims felt able to come forward and were believed, and the Vatican lifted Ventura's diplomatic immunity so that he could be prosecuted in France. I know it may not sound like much, but this is progress.

"A Paris court on Wednesday convicted a former Vatican ambassador to France of sexually assaulting five men in 2018 and 2019, and handed him a suspended 8-month prison sentence... The path for the prosecution of Ventura was cleared after the Vatican lifted his immunity in July 2019... Five men alleged that they had suffered Ventura’s 'hands on the buttocks' during his public diplomatic duties in France."

Clergy abuse survivors face a lifetime of recurrence of PTSD

This is a valuable piece about abuse survivors and PTSD, featuring my friend Jim Richter.

"Richter, who is now 49 and who continues to practice his Catholic faith, eventually sought counseling to cope with the disorder. He acknowledged that he can experience PTSD at any time -- as can any survivor.

'It could be the news, a book, a story someone is sharing,' he said. 'There's still no question when there's particularly national stories, these absolutely bring about a season of fresh hell for people,' Richter said. 'Triggers are very real. Victim survivors talk about them. When we talk about them they can cause a momentary disruption in or thoughts or our feelings. Sometimes it can last a day or two. Sometimes they can last a whole season,' Richter added."

An Ambrose of Our Own: The people should choose their bishops again

This makes more and more sense to me. And it's so helpful to remember that this. is. possible. We've done it before, and we could do it again.

"There are a number of conclusions one could draw from reading the Vatican report on former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. For example: that the clerical sex-abuse crisis in the Church is worse than we thought and extends to vulnerable adults. Also, that position and influence in our Church are easily bought, and that bishops lie, even to the pope, to protect other bishops. But the conclusion that encompasses all of these things is that the way we choose our bishops is deeply flawed, producing bishops who are, in turn, deeply flawed. How did things get this way, and what can be done about it?...

First, let’s consider a bit of history. Once the office of bishop was clearly established in the early Church as the unitary head of a diocese (a Roman administrative unit), that office was filled by someone chosen by local people and priests, then ratified by the neighboring bishops, as a sign of the unity of the Church...Today, we are so used to the pope choosing our bishops for us that we think it was always that way. It wasn’t. In fact, the right of the pope to choose bishops was only settled with the 1917 Code of Canon Law, a papal document that clearly allocated that power to the holder of the papal office."

Advocacy Groups Call For Investigation Into Archdiocese Of Cincinnati

The particulars of this opinion piece and the situation in Cincinatti are important, but I'm sharing particularly because of the unique collaborative authorship - representatives of Concerned Catholics of Cincinatti, Cincinatti Voice of the Faithful, and the Cincinatti SNAP group are all listed as authors on this piece.

"When will the Archdiocese be called to accountability? When will the cover-up be called what it is? When will victims be heard? When will the Ohio Attorney General investigate Archdiocese of Cincinnati's private files? When will Ohio legislators reform its laws to protect children? When will Cincinnati Catholics see accountability and transparency in our Archdiocese? It is long, long overdue."

You can find the archdiocesan response here.

The Battered Priesthood

I am sharing this article because it is an unfortunate, painful look at the kind of thinking that still prevails among some Catholics. I would not recommend reading if you are a survivor or might feel hurt by language dismissing sexual abuse allegations. But if you are a Catholic who wants to understand the mentality that offers compassion to priests accused of abuse but leaves victims out of the equation, this is a well-written example.

"Every priest already knows he can be removed from ministry on the basis of a mere phone call claiming that some incident occurred decades ago. Once a complaint is lodged, the relentless machinery kicks in: A diocesan review board (often nameless) first certifies that the accusation is 'credible'—a vague designation meaning, essentially, that a crime 'could conceivably have occurred.' From that point on, the priest’s life is a hellish descent: He is deprived of his ministry; he is stripped of his clerical garb; his name is publicly announced; his reputation lies in tatters; a subsistence wage is doled out to him; and he enters a process that takes not months, but years as the accusation is investigated. In most of these cases, someone claims that a priest committed abuse decades ago, meaning there is little chance that any evidence exists to prove either the priest’s guilt or innocence. The battered man is left in limbo for years, deprived of his priestly identity—with his bishop often hoping he will just walk away and cease to cause him further trouble or bad publicity."

There is one good point in the article though, about the problem that holds priests accountable to higher standard than their bishops: "Furthermore, what are priests to make of the fact that the bishop of Brooklyn, New York, who has had two abuse accusations lodged against him, has not stepped down from his episcopal ministry? Will Archbishop Aymond petition American bishops, in solidarity with their priests, to seek laicization if they, too, are credibly accused?"

Inter-American Human Rights Commission to look into clerical sexual abuse

This in an interesting development, particularly for countries where the government is still involved in covering up or ignoring cases of clerical abuse.

"For the first time in its history, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission promised to defend victims of clerical sexual abuse, with cases being reported in at least 19 countries in Latin America. In a hearing held last Thursday on the issue, the commission’s vice president, Flavia Piovesan, told victims and survivors “you have our firm and absolute commitment to be a part of this cause.”

The Washington, D.C.-based commission is an autonomous part of the Organization of American States and is the main human rights body in the Americas... The commission said it was committed to using its power to demand information on cases that are not being resolved by member states."

Breaking our silence: A primer for research on clergy sexual abuse

Wow. This is quite a resource. It's more than I've had time to dig through myself, but I thought some of the other super readers following this page might be interested!

Abuse survivor’s spiritual growth shows the church can heal, too

This is the second account I've come across from a survivor who was very encouraged by their meeting with new Philadelphia Archbishop Perez. Sounds like a hopeful sign.

"I openly share that I have hope for a damaged church. Personally, I know and have been friends with priests, good priests, and a sitting auxiliary bishop. Today I see a priest for spiritual guidance and pastoral counseling made available to all survivors of clergy sex abuse. Father Jim Paradis, O.S.A., was referred to me by the IRRP (Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia) advocate Lynn Shiner. An incredible gift in my life today, both.

I told the archbishop, in an emotional exchange, how ashamed I was for my own actions toward the archdiocese. Without a blink of an eye or hesitation is his voice, Archbishop Perez leaned forward in his chair and said, 'let it go.' I wept like I had not in years."

An Update on the Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse

"CHILD USA’s Social Science Department did a lengthy literature review and consulted leading experts to conclude that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 13 boys (roughly 20% and 8%) are likely to experience CSA. The majority of CSA perpetrators are family members and acquaintances."

Good data matters, but whatever the percentage of children who are abused, we all know it's far too high.

'Trust has been broken': Hope, skepticism greet new Buffalo bishop

Honestly, I hear more skepticism than hope from those I know in Buffalo - the wounds there are just so, so deep. But I'll just wait and see what steps the new bishop takes in the months ahead.

This article includes a quote from my friend Stephanie, who has been hurt and betrayed by Catholic leaders more times than you could count: "Clergy abuse survivor Stephanie McIntyre said she couldn’t afford 'to waste any of the little hope I have left on any Catholic bishop doing the right thing when it comes to dealing with the rampant sexual abuse and cover-up in the Church.'"

Suspended priest's supporters protest at St. Joan of Arc Church

Note to all Catholics: Don't do this.

If your priest is suspended from ministry while abuse allegations are investigated, please don't stand outside churches and protest for his return. No matter how sure you are that he's a good priest who would never do such a thing. Remember that you might be wrong, that abusers are often charismatic and well-loved by their communities.

And even if you are right and the allegations are ultimately found not credible, please think of the damage you might be doing to other victims, of any church leader, who are watching to see how the church might respond if they came forward.

Profiles in Catholicism: An Interview with Sara Larson

In case you're interested, this is an interview I did for this online publication earlier this fall. .

"We reflect on the passage about the Body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12. That exhortation really challenges me to recognize that every baptized person - whether clergy or laity - is an essential part of the Body of Christ and is responsible for tending to the health of the body. In verse 26, we read that “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” There has been so much suffering in the Body of Christ as a consequence of sexual abuse and the unjust response to that abuse; the whole body has been wounded in a deep way, even if not all members have been paying attention to that wound. So, as a member of this Body, I am responsible for attending to the suffering. I cannot brush this off as someone else’s job. I believe everyone involved with Awake shares a core conviction that we are co-responsible for the mission of the Church and therefore, we are called by God to do our part to work for transformation and healing."


As always, I will close this blog post with an invitation to prayer. 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.

God, please give all victims of sexual abuse your healing, justice, and peace.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

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