• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: February 17

It's time for another In Spirit and Truth News Roundup! Read on for the latest collection of important articles about the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church.

NB: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful, but please note that 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.

Here's the roundup for the last two weeks:

Why Catholics Need to Hear Survivor Stories (and 5 Ways to Listen Well)

This is a short, helpful post from the Awake blog about why it's so important for Catholics to listen to survivors' stories, along with simple tips for listening and offering support.

"'The truth is that if you’re not a sexual abuse survivor yourself, then you likely know and love someone who is, because the rates are just so high,' Cook says. 'This is understandably hard to think about. But if we deny the occurrence of sexual abuse and its potentially devastating consequences, then we don’t help those survivors among us to heal and that’s a disservice.' She suggests that listening to survivors is faith in action. Survivors need to know that they matter and belong. They are often deeply pained by their traumatic experiences, Cook says, and they need our congregations to accept them and show them understanding.'"

The 2020 Letter by the Twin Cities' YArespond

I admire the thoughtfulness of this letter from YArespond to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. This organization of young adults has clearly taken the time to dig into the details, research diocesan policies and best practices, and commit to this work long term. Their 2020 letter is worth a read, wherever you live.

"YArespond will continue to offer support to this Archdiocese, but our support will always involve vigilance and, at times, require critique. As YArespond develops from an informal gathering of concerned Catholics to a formal organization with an established mission, we are seeking ways to leverage what we have learned to provide informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse and other related crises facing the Catholic Church. To that end, we recall our eight recommendations from last year and now provide new perspectives..."

McCarrick report: Questions needing answers

This is a much more detailed look at the questions I raised about the McCarrick report in my blog post last week. The author has an obvious bias, but the questions he raises about McCarrick's enablers are spot-on.

Parolin: On McCarrick report release, Pope Francis has 'final word'

The report will be released "soon."

Pope Francis Dismisses Founder of Miles Christi Institute From Clerical State

There hasn't been much press in the United States about the Miles Christi Institute, but it's a pretty terrible story. This is a positive step.

"Pope Francis has dismissed from the clerical state Argentine priest Roberto Juan Yannuzzi, founder and superior of the Miles Christi (Soldier of Christ) Institute, who has been found guilty of abuse. The order has locations in the U.S. dioceses of San Diego and Detroit, as well as Argentina, Mexico and Italy.

Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández of La Plata, Argentina, where the institute was founded, said in a Feb. 2 statement that Pope Francis made the decision because Father Yannuzzi 'has been found guilty of crimes against the sixth commandment with adults, the absolution of the accomplice, and the abuse of authority.'

The abuse involved male religious who were members of the Miles Christi Institute, which Father Yannuzzi founded, the statement said."

Vatican orders further investigation into Crookston’s Bishop Hoeppner

This is an important case to be following, as it's the first time the process prescribed by Vos Estis is being carried out for a U.S. bishop - and the allegations against him are not of abuse, but of cover-up.

"The Diocese of Crookston announced Tuesday that the Vatican has ordered additional investigation into the conduct of Bishop Michael Hoeppner, the first U.S. bishop to be investigated through a process developed by Pope Francis last year. Hoeppner will not be permitted to oversee sexual abuse cases in his diocese during the follow-up investigation.

'Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis has recently been authorized by the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, to conduct further investigation' concerning Hoeppner, the Crookston diocese announced Feb. 4.

The follow-up investigation is 'related to claims that Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner had engaged in ‘acts or omissions intended to interfere with or avoid civil or canonical investigations of clerical sexual misconduct’ as prescribed by the motu proprio, Vos estis lux mundi,' the diocese added."

Video: MN Deacon Candidate Accuses Bishop Hoeppner of Blackmail

This is the case at the heart of the investigation into Bishop Hoeppner. I have to confess, I had not really looked into it much until today.

Please watch this deacon candidate talk about the way his bishop blackmailed him to recant his abuse allegations.

Lord, have mercy.

From 2002: Church allowed abuse by priest for years

I've been trying to better understand the history of the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, so I'm going back to some of the original news reports that brought this abuse to light.

Here's the Boston Globe Spotlight report about John Geoghan that started it all, published on January 6, 2002.

While this report was big news at the time, sending shock-waves throughout the country, it's chilling for me to realize the details of this case no longer surprise me. They sound just like so many I have read before.

The La Crosse Diocese says 25 former priests sexually abused kids. Its report omits key details.

I have come to see this as the expected pattern when a diocese releases a list. Various entities (lawyers, media, survivors, etc) quickly point out the deficiencies in the disclosures. Publishing the initial list is an important starting point - but there's usually plenty of work to be done after that to get to full disclosure.

"The Diocese of La Crosse has so far released no information about the number of children who were sexually assaulted by the 25 priests on its list of abusers, nor any details about when or where the abuse happened."

La Crosse diocese names seven more priests accused of sexual abuse

It's been less than three weeks since the Diocese of Lacrosse posted their list of credibly accused priests - and they've already added seven more names.

As I said before, it's a process.

You can find the list on the diocesan website here. Note that they indicated the date new names were added, which is a helpful element of transparency many dioceses have not implemented.

Legionaries elect U.S. leader as superior general

"In a letter Feb. 2 to U.S. members of the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi, the broader organization including consecrated women and lay members, Father Connor said that during their meeting, members of the general chapter 'chose to give priority to the issue of sexual abuse perpetrated by some members of the congregation and the way in which superiors dealt with this abuse in the past, postponing other matters until later.'

'We haven't always addressed these cases well and we have a responsibility to revisit them in light of the information' published in December looking at the 'phenomenon of abuse of minors' by members of the order from its founding in 1941 through December 2019."

It's interesting re-reading this announcement in light of the newest allegations (found in the article below). A reminder of the difference between words and actions.

New Legionaries of Christ superior accused of mishandling priest allegations

Seriously. Enough is enough.

"Women who made allegations against a priest in the Legionaries of Christ say the religious order’s newly elected superior general mishandled the situation, allowing the priest opportunities to cross boundaries with women even after complaints against him had been made...

Connor became the North American territorial director for the Legionaries of Christ in 2014. Three years later he received two reports about boundary violations on the part of Fr. Michael Sullivan, a priest of the order...

Both women reported their experiences to the Legion in 2017. They say they were told that the priest was sent for a week-long psychological assessment, and then heard no more about him. After a week’s psychological assessment, the priest resumed ministry, doing pastoral work and spiritual direction in Texas...

In 2019, a different woman reported to Legion officials that Sullivan had “put his hands on me in a way that made it appear that he was romantically attracted to me,” the woman told CNA. She said that when she confronted the priest about it, he told her that he had acted in a similar way toward other women during his priesthood, and that he had been in an ongoing sexual relationship with one woman while he was a priest.

But the woman said that when she made a complaint to Legion officials overseen by Connor, they told her 'repeatedly that they had had no idea that he had any issues with women.'"

USCCB announces new head of National Review Board

"The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has announced the new chair of the National Review Board, a lay advisory body to the bishops on the protection of children and youth.

Suzanne Healy was appointed Thursday by USCCB president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, to succeed Dr. Francesco Cesareo, who has led the body since 2013. Healy will begin her term after the bishops’ annual spring meeting in June."

God help her. (I mean that literally.)

Fr. Hans Zollner: Clergy abuse has damaged the church, but ‘more damage has been done to human beings’

When Fr. Hans Zollner speaks, I listen. I really believe that he's fighting the good fight within the institution, doing the best he can to make a difference. Fr. Zollner is the president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. If leaders of the Church are listening to voices like his, I think there's real hope for progress.

Another article on Fr. Zollner's talk at Villanova also mentions this: "He asked the faithful to draw inspiration from the 19th century founders of religious communities, many of whom were laypeople. 'They didn't wait for Rome to solve the problem. They didn't wait until their spirituality could find a new path in a difficult situation. The church has seen difficult situations every 200 to 300 years in its history. And the solution in those moments did not come from Rome, or from the bishops.'"

Polish Bishop Investigated Over Sex Abuse Allegations

Any church investigation into clerical sexual abuse in Poland is a big deal.

"The Catholic Church is investigating claims that a bishop in Poland sexually abused a young girl decades ago, the clergyman confirmed on Monday. Jan Szkodon, a bishop in the southern city of Krakow, said in a statement that the Vatican had told him of the inquiry, adding that the accusations were 'false and harmful' — though he gave no further detail.

The Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper carries claims that he molested a 15-year-old girl in 1998. The accuser in the case told the paper she came forward after seeing a documentary on abuse in the Church — a film that went viral on YouTube last year and led to a slew of new allegations."

Update: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responds to Awake’s Priority Questions

Here's a little update I wrote about Awake's work in Milwaukee. "The Archdiocese has started answering Awake's questions about the local response to the abuse crisis. Read here for answers on religious order priests, the Archdiocese's therapy fund for survivors, the new Victim Assistance Coordinator, and more."

Archdiocese of Philadelphia pays $38 million to sex abuse survivors

"The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has paid out almost $39 million to survivors of clergy sexual abuse in the past year through the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP) set up for the archdiocese, administrators confirmed this week.

The program began in November 2018 as a process independent of the archdiocese to offer money to people abused by clergy in the past. Program administrators assess claims and offer compensation with no monetary cap, either individually or in total. The archdiocese has pledged to pay all awards as indicated by the plan and agreed to by the survivors.

A total of $38.9 million has been paid as of this week to 181 survivors who accepted the amount determined by the program’s administrators, according to Lawrence Stengel, a retired federal district judge who serves on the Oversight Committee of the IRRP. To date, 614 claims have been made to the program, some 400 remain to be processed and 216 claimants have received 'determination letters,' with details of the money on offer, he confirmed."

Why Catholics should welcome ProPublica’s clergy sex abuse database

"While no list of alleged and known offenders will ever be perfect, ProPublica’s work provides abuse survivors with an important tool to help in their healing process. Seeing the name of one’s offender on such a list provides confidence to someone who has been afraid to come forward because they assumed that no one would believe their allegation. For some who have already reported their abuse, seeing the name of their offender on such a list can be affirming and bring a sense of peace. For others, these lists represent a small amount of justice and a type of accountability for their offenders."

FBI arrests man accused of making death threat to investigative reporter Charlie Specht

Oh my goodness. I'm so glad Charlie and his family are safe, as well as Siobhan and Fr. Ryszard.

Note: The man making the death threats (and months of threatening and harassing messages before that) was a professor at the (recently closed) Buffalo seminary.

Let that sink in.

Then pray for our Church - and for all reporters, whistleblowers, and anyone else speaking the truth. It's more painful and dangerous than you might think.

"But they went willingly": Understanding the sexual grooming of teens

This is really important.

"Because they were groomed, children and teens who were abused often feel that they were in some way responsible for the abuse. This is especially true for teens who feel that they went into the situation willingly and thus in some way it was their fault. This shame and guilt then prevents them from reporting, as they fear that no one will believe them. In fact, many teens who have been groomed are confused as to whether what happened to them actually constituted abuse as it didn’t follow the stereotypical pattern of a violent rape. In many cases this confusion can prevent or delay reporting for many years."


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.

In particular, I invite you to remember the names, faces, and stories of all the abuse victims who were mentioned in these stories and keep those people in your daily prayers.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, heroic martyr and patron saint of journalists, pray for us.

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