• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: January 26

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.

Also - I'd love to connect with you on LinkedIn! You can send me a connection request here and follow Awake's page here.

(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!)


Abuse victims demand real change

Powerful words from abuse survivors in England, in response to the report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It's short. Please read the whole thing.

"The report clearly shows the Church’s lack of willingness and ability to change of its own accord. There should be no crocodile tears from the Church hierarchy, calling this report a 'wake-up call.' The Catholic Church has been here before, with the Nolan report in 2001 and the Cumberlege report in 2007, both followed by broken promises and shocking inertia. The Church has had victims and survivors hammering on its door for decades, pleading with it to listen to our cries for help, to stop the abuse and to put proper safeguarding measures in place, a theme repeated in evidence given to IICSA.

Colossal amounts of charitable-status church wealth have been used to employ lawyers and insurance companies, to fight civil claims and to overpower victims and survivors, exploiting any legal loopholes they can to put us off pursuing cases or speaking out. Every effort has gone into protecting the reputation and resources of the Church, and providing care and support for our abusers, while neglecting us, the victims and survivors."

Selecting Shepherds

The process of selecting bishops is something I have been thinking about a lot since the McCarrick Report - and moving to a more transparent, consultative process is a reform that is actually quite possible.

"While the Vatican likes to cloak the selection process in the mantle of 'tradition,' the current system wasn’t even codified until a century ago. Bishops – like popes – have been chosen in any number of ways over the centuries, from acclamation by the crowd to election by clergy to a decree by the local ruler. The Apostles chose Judas’ successor by lots. Moreover, elements of almost all these traditions still exist in various places.

The point is that nothing is set in stone and it’s well past time for the episcopal selection process to undergo an overhaul...

None of this would be revolutionary. The pope would still have the final say, but there would be a much broader consultation and a much more transparent and comprehensible process. The point is not to figure out how to deal with a bishop like McCarrick once his perfidy is discovered, but to stop someone like that from becoming a bishop in the first place. It’s not that hard, and there were enough red flags in McCarrick’s career that any reasonable vetting system would have asked enough direct questions to stop his appointment."

What happens when a priest faces an allegation decades old?

When journalists Ed Condon and JD Flynn both left Catholic News Agency at the end of 2020, I was really interested to see what they did next. They certainly know the United States Catholic landscape well, and their new journalistic endeavor - The Pillar - is off to a strong start. They've already given significant attention to the issue of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Church, and they promise more investigative journalism ahead.

Here's a fair piece about the problem of addressing very old abuse allegations. "When a decades old allegation against a priest is announced, it is sometimes like the opening of a dam, and a torrent of other long unknown allegations follow. Sexual abuse allegations can lie dormant for decades because of the psychological damage abuse inflicts on victims; it requires immense emotional strength to be the first victim to come forward. But once the silence is broken, sometimes others abused by the same priest find themselves ready and able to come forward.

In cases like that, when multiple allegations emerge at around the same time, the Church is usually able to conduct some penal process, and, if the priest is guilty, see him laicized, or otherwise permanently barred from ministry. When a priest faces a single allegation of abuse decades old, the situation is more complicated."


The Women Who Spoke Out: A Survivor, a Colleague, and an Advocate Share Their Story of Exposing David Haas’s Abuse

Please consider taking the time to view this event recording of Awake's most recent Courageous Conversation. This is why I do what I do. To stand with these women. To call my Church to do better.

We're doing important work at Awake that reaches well beyond our local area. Please consider connecting with Awake (you can sign up for our weekly email newsletter here), wherever you live.


Since McCarrick

This is a thought-provoking reflection from Teresa Pitt Green of the Healing Voices online magazine. She offers really challenging words, especially for Catholics like me, who weren't paying attention to the issue of sexual abuse in the Church until 2018. I probably started out with exactly the kind of well-intentioned ignorance she's warning about here. I have learned a lot since then, but I hope I have not hurt anyone along the way. Let's all work to ensure our good intentions are strengthened by knowledge, humility, authentic compassion, and persistence.

"In 2018, I found myself feeling dubious about the outrage. Where had everyone been for years? The 2018 AG Report out of Pennsylvania seemed like old news to me. Horrific cases had been in the news since the early 1980s. The sudden fury left me cold... The new outrage falls into that greater context. It strikes me as overdue and also strangely self-referential. Since 2018, I have seen a surge of Catholic interest in survivors.

That has been bad news from where I sit. Too many survivors are being hurt, yet again, by “helpful” Catholics who are winging it so they can feel like they are “doing something” by being “helpful” or “sympathetic.” These people put out general calls and welcome, but they remain selective in choosing “good” or easy survivors or in choosing those survivors who agree on points of policy or faith. That means they turn away many others, who feel minimized and rejected yet again. Where do they return? To silence. This kind of accompaniment, insensitive to trauma issues, is simply not safe for the vulnerable survivor seeking a homecoming in the Church — or even God. And, it breaks my heart. That it continues to happen haunts me."

Checking the List of Abusive Priests Gave Me a Shock—and a Wake Up Call

This is a thoughtful reflection from my friend Patty who is a member of the Awake Leadership Team.

"As I continued reading the list, another name jumped out at me. This time it was Alphonso Wagner, my great uncle, the man who was my dad’s godfather. I sat there, stunned, as I read and reread the name and the history of ministry. He was listed with multiple substantiated allegations; he had frequently been moved between parishes. He eventually was placed on sick leave and moved to the Diocese of Davenport in Iowa for the eight years proceeding his death.

I was shocked. How could this be? How could someone who held such a place of honor in my family have sexually abused minors? I remembered my grandmother lovingly talking about her brother, Reverend Uncle. The cross that had been given to him at his orientation to the seminary was hanging over the entryway of my childhood home to bless us as we came and went."

Confessions of a Vatican source: Jason Berry on the McCarrick report

Here's a unique perspective on the creation of the McCarrick Report, including some background on Jeffrey Lena, the California lawyer who conducted the investigation and wrote the report.

"The deeper story behind the McCarrick report is Francis' rationale in releasing a devastating portrait of the inner workings of the hierarchy, laid out in dry prose without opinions. The language of cardinals and bishops constantly referring to one another as His Excellency and Your Excellency speaks volumes about the cozy back-patting of an elite world, shielded from the norms of justice. Perhaps, after years of personally hearing survivors' wrenching stories and acting as a prosecutor of certain bishops, removing or defrocking them before the McCarrick spectacle, Francis felt himself, nay the church, swamped by systemic pathologies. If nothing else, the document is a shot across the bow to prelates trying to guard guilty back pages."

It also includes information I have never heard before about Pope John Paul II's lack of action regarding Marcial Maciel: "In 1999, Dziwisz and Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano had bolstered John Paul's support for another pedophile, Legion of Christ founder Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado. In a 1998 canon law case filed in Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tribunal, eight ex-Legionaries (one a priest in Spain) wanted to testify how Maciel sexually abused them as teenage seminarians. The man who spearheaded that procedure, Mexico City college professor José Barba, went to Rome, had a letter on their grievances translated into Polish and delivered to Dziwisz, entreating him to share it with the pope. Eight sexual assault survivors wanted to testify." (No action was taken against Maciel until 2006.)

Can the Catholic Church find a better way to choose bishops?

Here's more detail on the process of episcopal appointments and what we could do better (which is, quite clearly, a lot).

While a greater role for the laity is an obvious requirement for any reformed process, I do agree with this important caution as well: "Sister Wood said that 'the laity are as politicized as any bishop.' The church should not 'rush in and say the laity are the solution because we can also be the problem,' she said. 'I think the danger in the church is always when ‘like speaks to like,’ when it becomes an insular culture that doesn’t let in other voices and can’t listen to them and keeps its own secrets,' with the result that 'you have the same people talking to the same people, preserving certain values which preserve certain privileges.'"

Brazilian archbishop faces accusations of abuse of seminarians

This is ugly - and a very familiar pattern. (Warning, the article does include specific details of sexual and spiritual abuse. Proceed with caution.)

"Archbishop Alberto Taveira Corrêa of Belém, an archdiocese with more than 2 million residents in the Amazon region in Brazil, faces criminal and ecclesial investigations after being accused of sexual harassment and abuse by four former seminarians... The names of the former seminarians have not been revealed. All of them studied at the Saint Pius X seminary in Ananindeua, in Belém’s metropolitan area, and were between 15 and 20 years old when the alleged abuse happened.

According to the alleged victims, Corrêa usually held in-person meetings with seminarians in his residence, so they didn’t suspect anything when they were invited by him. One of them, identified as B. in El País’s story, used to frequent Corrêa’s house for spiritual guidance, but the harassment began after the seminary discovered he had a love affair with a colleague. He was 20. According to the report, B. asked Corrêa’s help and the archbishop said that the young man had to comply with his spiritual healing method."

Malta archdiocese condemns charismatic group accused of abuse

I'm encouraged to see spiritual and emotional manipulation and abuse being taken seriously. These abuses are serious and harmful themselves, and they also often set the stage for sexual abuse.

"Following a 5-month investigation into the charismatic Community of Jesus the Savior, the Archdiocese of Malta has issued a decree forbidding participation in the group after finding what it described as abusive tendencies causing harm to members...

Things erupted for the community when a former member of the group referred to the group as a “cult” in a Facebook post, and shared her experience on the TVM Maltese television network. Having been raised in the group, the woman said her parents were among its leaders and told her that she would get sick and would be condemned to hell if she left."

For Coptic Church, changes, questions after priest ouster

Different church, same terrible story.

"For 17 years, Sally Zakhari said she told priests and leaders in the Coptic Orthodox Church her childhood nightmare — how a Coptic priest visiting from Egypt sexually abused her at her Florida home during what was supposed to be her first confession.

'I’ve already gone to countless bishops. I’ve already gone to two different popes," she told The Associated Press. She went to police as well.

She said she watched the priest — Reweis Aziz Khalil — continue serving at Coptic churches. Then, Zakhari aired her allegations on social media in July and Khalil was stripped of his priesthood and ordered to return to his pre-ordination name days later... Zakhari said she is not trying to hurt the church she loves. 'We wanted this to just be handled,' she said."

Explainer: What Is Restorative Justice, And How Can It Help Heal the Catholic Church?

Some basics on restorative justice from the Awake blog:

"Geske, who is Catholic, remembers that as a wave of abuse cases became known in the early 2000s, some fellow Catholics expressed anger toward abuse survivors. 'People would say ‘Why don’t they just get past it? Why are they still pushing this? Don’t they see what they’re doing to the Church?’” Geske recalls. 'By that time I’d worked with a lot of survivors, and thought: If you could hear survivors tell their stories and talk about the impact of what happened over their lives, you’d understand why they’re not ‘getting over it.’”


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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