• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: February 8

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. I invite you to read and be informed.

If you would like to support my ongoing work with this blog, as well as the behind-the-scenes ministry to survivors that accompanies it, please consider making a one-time or reoccuring contribution through my Patreon page. I am so grateful to the nine people that provide ongoing financial support for this work through Patreon. That's my only income right now, and it really makes a difference. Thank you!

(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!)


Recovering from Past Abuse by Acknowledging What Happened

This a really honest account from a 71 year old survivor about what it's like to come forward about sexual abuse that occured decades in the past. (FYI, no specific descriptions of abuse are included.) Remember that the average age of reporting childhood sexual abuse is 52 years old.

“Knowing that this wasn’t my fault, learning that was something that was new to me. It is not me that needs to be blamed because I lived with that for 50 years. I didn’t allow it to happen, but in a way, I did,” he said. “I was a guy, a young kid, and I looked at these men disguised as [clergymen] that took everything away from me. I’m trying to recover still from the damage they caused by being sexual predators.”

This part is particularly painful: "In June 2019, Bartley received a considerable settlement from the church he belonged to where the abuses occurred. Since then, he has not heard from the religious order he belonged to. He said not one person has checked in on him to see how he is doing since the settlement. 'I got the settlement and an apology from the church, and I have heard nothing since. Not even a ‘how are you Steve? Just wanted to check in,'' he said. 'It’s like the DMV, you are out the door and then they are calling the next person in line. ‘Next! Number 275!’ I’m just a number, I got a settlement, then I was signed off.'"

Vatican says allegations against Wyoming bishop can’t be proven

This is big, disappointing news. Please note that an inability to prove allegations again Bishop Hart certainly does not mean they are not true. I don't think anyone familiar with the numerous allegations believes Hart is innocent.

One bright spot is Bishop Biegler's consistent position of support for victims of sexual abuse. You can read a subtle rebuke of the Vatican's decision in the statement from the Diocese of Cheyenne, which outlines all of the independent experts who found the allegations credible at the diocesan level, before "a bishop with a degree in canon law" made the assessment for the Vatican.

Biegler's statement: "Today, I want the survivors to know that I support and believe you."

Courageous Conversations: Awake Welcomes Three Women Who Spoke Out About David Haas

If you haven't taken the time to watch the recording from January's Courageous Conversation, check out this summary on the Awake blog. This post includes an action step Catholics can take today to help make our Church safer for survivors.

"Hillman and Delgatto-Whitten made compelling arguments for suspending the use of Haas’s music in dioceses and parishes. 'This man intentionally used his music for four decades to manipulate and harm women,' Delgatto-Whitten said. 'Why would you want something with those connotations?'

Hillman mentioned that she sings at many funerals, and when grieving families ask for a David Haas song, she tells them either that the bishop has asked music ministers not to use that song, or she mentions that the composer 'had some issues' and asks them to consider other music. In her experience, they do so without question.

The 100-person audience hailed from all over the country, and at the conclusion of the event, Awake leaders encouraged Catholic attendees to consider asking their parish music ministers and local bishop to halt the use of Haas’s music. (For more on the call to action, see below.) The people of God have an obligation to care for the wounded among us, Hillman said. 'We are Church, and we need to do better,' she said. 'We need to do better for people who are suffering, or we’re just paying lip service.'"


Dozens rally at church in support of Pfleger

This really frustrates me. Catholics, do better! If a priest you love and trust is accused of abuse, don't assume that it's impossible that he could be guilty. Offer him support in private if you feel called to do so, but don't make this kind of public show of support. Even if he's innocent, this does serious harm to any victim of abuse that is thinking about coming forward.

"Supporters of the Rev. Michael Pfleger rallied Monday outside St. Sabina Church to back their beloved activist pastor as he faces allegations that he sexually abused two brothers beginning nearly five decades ago. More than 50 people gathered outside the South Side Roman Catholic church where Pfleger long has ministered and crusaded, often rejecting traditional priestly decorum while becoming an outspoken advocate for the city’s Black community.

Supporters wore shirts reading 'We stand with Father Pfleger.' Some held Bibles. Some speakers spoke angrily about the accusations, while others appeared deeply shaken.

Christopher Jones Jr. said Pfleger had baptized him and that he recently graduated from DePaul University in part because the priest helped him secure a scholarship. 'I’ve never seen or heard anything bad about his character or reputation,' he said."

Understanding Clergy Abuse in Latinx Communities

I'm really grateful to Fordham's Taking Responsibility Project for launching this ongoing series addressing the abuse crisis in historically marginalized communities. This is a question I have been thinking about for a while, but there's honestly not a lot written about it. This online speaker series is a great start. (The complete video is linked in the blog post, if you'd like to watch it yourself.)

"[Damellys] Sacriste mentioned that a lack of open conversation by Latinx families about sex may leave young people vulnerable. 'I think the hardest thing in our culture is to talk about sex, period,' she said. 'I never had ‘The Talk’ in my house.' This means that many kids don’t get guidance from family members about the risk of abuse or how to protect their bodies. Safe environment training in Hispanic communities can be complicated because many Latinx Catholics view scrutiny of priests and deacons 'as synonymous with distrusting God,' Sacriste said. Hispanic cultures tend to elevate clergy members above other people, placing them on pedestals. Sacriste mentioned a priest who told her that he loved leading a majority Latinx parish because whenever he proposes an idea, the parishioners respond, 'Si, padre.'"

There’s a new Baptist sex abuser database, but SBC action is still needed

The scandal of sexual abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention has come to a head in the last few years, thanks to the work of a few key advocates who have forced their church to face this issue. It sounds like they have a long way to go, but at least the process is beginning.

It's very strange to hear the Catholic Church held up as a positive example for other religious groups, but it is true that certain basic steps taken by the Catholic Church in the past 20 years have yet to be taken by other religious groups. But boy, do we have a long, long way to go too.

"In other faith groups, ecclesiastical review is a significant means for documenting abusive clergy who have been credibly accused but not criminally convicted. In the Catholic Church, diocesan processes have documented 6,754 credibly accused abusive priests, and those 6,754 priests have been compiled into a publicly accessible database.

By contrast, the SBC has refused to establish any process to assess and document credible allegations and has no track record of institutionally exposing its own credibly accused abusers. Southern Baptist abuse survivors therefore lack a significant resource for obtaining documentation that could support entries into a database."

How to React to Allegations of Abuse in the Church: a Guide for Priests and Pastors

I have heard far too many horror stories from survivors about the way a priest reacted when they shared their story. Training in how to respond really should be mandatory for all clergy, if we want to have any hope of creating a Church that is safe and welcoming for survivors. This blog post, written by a survivor, is a good start. Much of this should be obvious, but sadly, it needs to be said.

"The first confidence that a person of faith gives to their pastor of abuse suffered in the Church is often a scary, intimidating step for them to take, whether the abuse happened recently or several years ago. A pastor's initial reaction to their story is often vitally important to their healing and to whether or not they continue to participate in the life of the Church. These stories are often difficult to hear and respond to. Remember that it's usually an extremely vulnerable thing to disclose this."

Victim speaks out after abusive priest sentenced

In case you don't feel sufficiently enraged today...

"The victim recalled that he and his mother saw [archdiocesan safeguarding officer Jane] Jones together who told them the archdiocese would ensure Quigley would not be around children... When we met the safeguarding officer for the third time, she told me: ‘I would strongly recommend you don’t go to the police. You won’t win.’ Both the victim and his mother have reported this conversation to his lawyer, Richard Scorer, now acting for him as he sues Quigley and the Archdiocese of Birmingham for compensation.

After the meeting with Jones, the victim decided against reporting the matter to the police. 'At the time I had no reason not to believe her,' he said, 'so out of fear of not being believed I didn’t go to the police. I know now that there had been other allegations made against him by another victim. The Church hid it and brushed it under the carpet.'"

Seattle archbishop is stonewalling push for more transparency of church sex-abuse cases, group contends

The dynamics of this situation are complicated, but this little detail caught my attention: "Carroll and Mike McKay, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, both served on the Seattle Archdiocese’s first review panel. They’ve since become outspoken critics of what they’ve described as the archdiocese’s opaque handling of the scandal. The two were among a core group who helped launch Heal Our Church and the latest push for more transparency."

When the former members of your diocesan review board help found an organization calling for change, that's something to pay attention to.

A Vanishing Priest, a Wall of Secrecy and a 25-Year-Old Abuse Case

Knowing several survivors who were abused by priests in religious orders, I can testify to the challenges involved with trying to report and get action from some of these orders. It's quite a mess - and almost a third of priests serving the US are from religious orders, so this is not a small issue.

"'The worldwide moving around of religious order priest offenders is the biggest unknown scandal,' said Jeff Anderson, who specializes in clergy abuse cases, including several involving religious order priests that were filed under the Child Victims Act. 'We have found offenders in South America and Africa.'

Close to one-third of the 464 [New York] Child Victims Act cases against priests involve religious orders, like the Dominicans, Franciscans and Redemptorists. These are autonomous organizations that have Vatican approval but that operate independently, with their own hierarchies and protocols. They nonetheless often provide priests to work at diocese churches."

Misuse of Power

An interesting perspective on the power dynamics in the Catholic priesthood, from someone who experienced it firsthand.

"When someone has tremendous positional power they frequently receive less critical feedback and are treated as more valuable or more special than others. This can cause strange things to happen. When I was in the seminary, preparing to become a priest we used to watch our friends as they got ordained. We watched all of them change in positive ways. But we also saw that strange and not-so-great-changes happened as our classmates moved from the lay state to the ordained state. In the process of ordination they changed (ontologically as our theology taught us) from regular men to holy priests. And then they were treated differently by almost everyone, largely because of their title. This process worried some of us.

I prayed it wouldn’t happen to me. And then it did. I got ordained and I felt extra holy. I liked being called “Father” and enjoyed the privileges it brought me. People respected me and gave me attention. It felt good. And it fed both my ego and my sense of entitlement. I did not stay in the ministry long enough to find out how being treated as special would have shaped me as a leader. I did stay long enough to see clearly how deferential treatment can contribute to unconscious and even abusive behavior, because I witnessed it in some of my mentors and teachers."


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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