• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: January 12

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

While much of my attention has been focused on recent events in Washington, DC, there has still been plenty of news on these issues as well. Today's roundup includes recent updates, as well as some older articles that I found valuable.

Also worth highlighting: On January 21, Awake Milwaukee is hosting our second "Courageous Conversations" online event, titled The Women Who Spoke Out: A Survivor, a Colleague, and an Advocate Share Their Story of Exposing David Haas's Abuse. I am truly honored to have the opportunity to raise up the voices of these brave women, and I hope you will consider joining us. Please click here to register to attend or receive the event recording via email.

(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!)


Truth-Telling, Transparency, and Accountability

I have not followed progress in the Canadian Catholic Church closely, so I'm grateful for this article pointing out a recent investigative report into a particularly horrifying case and the strong argument for a more comprehensive response to abusive behavior by clergy.

"As if to rouse Canadian church leaders from their self-congratulatory complacency or to shock the sanguine conscience, on November 25, the Archdiocese of Montreal released the report of an independent investigation into the (mis)handling of complaints against former priest, Brian Boucher, now serving an eight-year prison sentence for the sexual assault of two young men. Retired Quebec Superior Court Justice Pepita G. Capriolo paints a detailed and sorry picture of repeated failures to investigate multiple complaints concerning Boucher’s inappropriate behaviors that predate his 1987 admission into seminary."

From the investigator: "I do not believe that restricting the need for greater responsibility, accountability and transparency to the sole issue of sexual abuse of minors is reasonable. All abuse, be it sexual, physical or psychological is unacceptable. And although the idea of subjecting a child to sexual abuse is particularly abhorrent, the abuse of anyone in a position of vulnerability and inferiority must equally be pointed out and eliminated. … A priest has an inordinate power over people who put their trust in his spiritual strength and his apparent connection with the divine. It is therefore easy for a priest to abuse this trust if he so wishes and that can happen even if his victim is 18, 25, or 90."

Daniel Vanier, and what comes next

Many Catholics, myself included, are grappling with the hard reality of losing trust in those they once considered heroes and mentors. I'm grateful to JD Flynn for this honest reflection on what it's like to learn you have named your son after a sexual abuser.

"All of that has led me to something like a crisis of faith. At its worst, it becomes nearly a kind of epistemic despair. Of course, that feels like a cliche. It is a cliche. But it is no less true for its banality. I thought this man was holy, and he wasn’t. And now I am surprised to find myself wondering if holiness is real. If he wasn’t holy, I thought to myself those first few days, was anyone? If he spent a lifetime meeting the peculiar demands of loving people with disabilities, and wasn’t transformed in holiness, can I be? Is no one really freed from sin?...

It is foolish to expect so much of people. I’ve warned friends against it. It is one thing to see Christ in another person, I’ve said, but it is naive to trust uncritically anyone but God. I know well the danger of succumbing to the cults of personality that surround spiritual figures. But I thought Vanier was worth trusting. A lot of people did."

McCarrick report shows former cardinal's character: ambitious, brazen, untouchable

I'm still reading analysis and perspectives on the McCarrick Report, and I hope you are too. There is a lot to be learned and a lot to be discussed, and we as a Church should not just "move on" from the horrible truths of the McCarrick scandal.

I appreciate Fr. Peter Daly's insightful perspective on clerical culture, McCarrick's powerful personality, and especially the role of money in church politics:

"Money has a corrupting influence on the decisions about and by the hierarchy. The church is a money-eating machine. McCarrick was a champion fundraiser. His fundraising ability gave him power beyond his position and insulated him from criticism. Every time he was evaluated for a promotion to higher office, his ability to raise money was mentioned in his favor. On Page 4, the Vatican report says, '… although McCarrick's fundraising skills were weighed heavily, they were not determinative with respect to major decision made relating to McCarrick, including his appointment to Washington in 2000' (Page 4). On that statement, I simply call 'BS.'

Money always talks. McCarrick virtually made it sing. He founded the Papal Foundation in 1990. He sent millions of dollars to Rome during his career. Even in retirement, he was raising money and giving lavish gifts to Vatican officials. He knew that some of those very people might someday sit in judgment over him. These gifts were nothing other than a prophylactic bribe. It strains credulity to think that they were anything else."


The McCarrick Report: The Monster and the Mirror

As I continue reading analysis of the McCarrick Report, I came across this series that walks through the report in much greater detail than most of the one-off news reports.

This is a mix of facts and interpretation, and the author has a particular bias, but he identifies that bias pretty clearly, which I appreciate. I've read a LOT about the McCarrick Report, and he managed to point out a few items I hadn't really considered.

If you have some time, I would recommend you start from the first post here. Read straight through to get the full picture.

If you want just one highlight, I would choose this article on McCarrick himself, with the author's educated guesses about his psychology. I particularly appreciate the hard question he raises about McCarrick: "I have little more than educated guesses. I discuss my guesses here not to trample on his reputation, but because what is possible to one man is possible to others. Most of us don’t like to think about that. We like to think of abusers as a different species; it’s comforting to call them monsters. Monsters aren’t human. I’m human. I’m not like that. I could never be like that. My indulgences are no big deal.

But if McCarrick is not a monster, but a human being,—?"

New ‘benchmarks’ released to help seminaries deal with sexual misconduct

Helpful ideas about improving safety and accountability in seminaries:

"The benchmarks stem from a 2018 national study the McGrath Institute conducted with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, in which over 1,500 seminarians participated.

There were three main findings Cavadini drew from the study – a lack of knowledge around what sexual harassment was, a lack of knowledge of seminary policies, and a lack of credible reporting structures for seminarians... The five benchmarks are systematic training of seminarians, faculty and staff regarding harassment policies; internal and external reporting and investigation procedures; victim support; assessment of internal policies and consistency; and portability of standards to suit local conditions."

England is reckoning with a clerical sex abuse crisis. Again.

The report from the government inquiry into the sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales was released on the same day as the McCarrick Report, so it has been mostly overlooked by many. However, it's provides significant information about both past and current problems - and further evidence that abuse and cover up are not thing of the past.

"The inquiry found that the church’s mismanagement of sexual abuse is not merely a historical problem but one that persists today... Government investigators add that they experienced significant resistance from the Vatican in providing evidence sought by the inquiry. According to the report, '[t]he Holy See’s limited response on this matter manifestly did not demonstrate a commitment to taking action. Their lack of cooperation passes understanding.'"

This article also provides a powerful, painful narrative from a clergy abuse survivor about the long-term effects of that trauma in her life. ("Ms. Cox said it is essential to understand the crippling consequences that child sexual abuse often has for survivors. It is an experience that 'completely destroys lives,' she said.")

California Bishop Cantu under Vatican 'Vos estis' investigation

I apologize, I somehow missed sharing this important news, which was published in November (in the week after the McCarrick Report). We don't have much information about the reason for this investigation (and there have been no updates since this news broke), but this now makes three sitting US bishops under Vos estis investigations: Bishops Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, and Oscar Cantu of San Jose.

I wish there were more transparency about the reason and timeline for these investigation (an official announcement from the Vatican every time a Vos estis investigation is opened would be a good start), but it's a start.

"The Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops has ordered an investigation into Bishop Oscar Cantu’s handling of allegations of clerical sexual abuse and misconduct. The investigation is being carried out under the provisions of Vos estis lux mundi, Pope Francis’ 2019 law for holding bishops accountable in the handling of sexual abuse cases. Senior sources in the Vatican told CNA that the investigation was ordered by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, in October and that the allegations concern Cantu’s handling of abuse and misconduct cases in his former diocese of Las Cruces, New Mexico."

Annual report: Some US dioceses improve financial transparency, others remain secretive

I'm sharing this article because financial secrecy has a strong tie to abuse and cover up. I'm grateful to Voice of the Faithful for their ongoing, data-driven analysis so that we can call our dioceses to continued improvement. Check the chart beginning on page 25 of this PDF for your own diocese's report card.

"The report, released in November, surveys the financial practices of all 177 dioceses that belong to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. It scores dioceses' financial transparency practices on a scale from 0 to 100. The organization awards each diocese points for publishing a variety of financial documents, including audited financial reports, information about the diocese's cathedraticum (tax collected from individual parishes) and a current list of members on the diocesan finance council.

'From the beginning … our motivation has always been to encourage greater financial transparency, which should foster trust in diocesan leadership and strengthen stewardship,' said [Margaret] Roylance, who drafted the financial transparency report."

German cardinal asks Pope Francis to review his handling of abuse case

This is interesting. I don't think we have any way of knowing whether this a true demonstration of transparency and humility, or a shrewd political move, but it's an interesting precedent.

"A German cardinal announced Friday that he would ask Pope Francis to review his handling of a clerical abuse case.

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne said Dec. 11 that he would seek the pope’s verdict on the decisions he took regarding an accused priest in 2015. “In order to clarify the canonical accusations made against me, I ask the Holy Father to examine this question,” he said in a statement on the website of Cologne archdiocese. “The fact remains: Failures in dealing with sexualized violence must be disclosed, regardless of who they were raised against. This includes me too.”

Trove of Buffalo Diocese abuse records turned over to victims in bankruptcy court

Positive developments in Buffalo:

"Lawyers and survivors of childhood sexual abuse are reviewing more than 25,000 pages of internal Buffalo Diocese documents relating to clergy abuse, diocesan finances and personnel files. Diocese lawyers began handing over the files in December under the terms of an agreement that they hashed out with abuse survivors who make up the committee of unsecured creditors in the diocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, according to multiple sources...

Ultimately, though, many survivors want public disclosure of diocese abuse files that have been secret for decades."


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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