• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: July 13

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. I know there are many important issues to pay attention to these days, but I encourage you not to forget this one.

(As always: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. However, 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. The top three reads below are a great place to start!)


Abuse of Adults in the Church: What You Need to Know

Raising awareness about the sexual abuse of adults in the Catholic Church is very important to me. This happens so much more than most people realize, and our Church still has not figured out how to handle this.

Awake Milwaukee has been very clear from the beginning, that when we talk about the "full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church" that means adults too. This is a helpful blog post examining this issue.

Ohio priest indicted on charges of child pornography and juvenile sex trafficking, US attorney says

Lord, have mercy.

"'Posing as a female, McWilliams allegedly enticed the minor male victims to send sexually explicit photographs and videos, sometimes threatening to expose embarrassing information McWilliams already knew about the victims if they did not send such images,' according to the news release...

The US Attorney's Office alleges that some of McWilliams' victims were young boys he knew through his work as a priest in parishes."

A Survivor-Centered Response to Allegations against David Haas

It's good to see faith communities wrestling with the revelations about David Haas in a thoughtful way. Definitely worth your time to read this whole piece.

"In our consultation, Hilary suggested the following three-step process for developing a survivor-centered response in our community. Step 1 is listening: Gathering, and sharing transparently with the community, resources, articles, and information about what Haas is alleged to have done and especially the impact upon survivors’ lives of what he has done, finding out what survivors want to have happen in response, and what power we have as a community to make our community safer by 1) interrupting patterns of sexual violence in our community, 2) empowering the survivors in our parish, and 3) building stronger solidarity with survivors. Step 2 is action: representing survivors’ voices, furthering their goals, and disrupting patterns of violence in our community in a way that is accountable to survivors. Step 3 is self-reflection: engaging in an ongoing individual and communal process, a discipline, of noticing and interrogating thoughts that come up within us that might de-center survivors, noticing what social and cultural messages are keeping us from telling the truth to ourselves and to others."

This is also really good: "Hilary explained the situation of sexual violence in a community with this helpful image: imagine that a 1,000-pound weight of sexual violence is bearing down on our community. It is resting mostly upon the shoulders of those who have experienced sexual violence. By silencing their voices and centering our response on forgiveness for the perpetrators, we are ensuring that the entire 1,000 pounds of that pain, suffering, and loss continues to rest on the shoulders of survivors. But if the community can acknowledge that pain—if the community can share in the suffering, in the betrayal, in the loss, even in the small way of losing the joy of this music—that shared loss actually can move some of the burden off of the shoulders of the survivors. Not all of it—most of the burden still rests with them—but some. And that is what solidarity looks like. It looks like standing next to your neighbor who is suffering and saying, hey, would you please let me carry some of this with you."


Alleged Theodore McCarrick victim says he is helping fact-check abuse dossier

This is an update from an anonymous man who claims to be one of the McCarrick's victims. I would recommend reading the whole essay here.

"'Time will tell, but nothing in my experience thus far indicates any type of cover-up or attempt to minimize anything by anyone involved in the Holy See’s investigation,' Doe writes in a June 5 blog post.

'In fact, my experience has been quite the opposite. The questions that I have been asked have been detailed, searching, and seemingly intent on uncovering truth. There has been a lot of fact-checking and cross-referencing of information. I was actually surprised by the level of due diligence I witnessed.'"

I'm still skeptical, but I hope his assessment is correct. There is so much more we need to know.

'He Played With People’s Minds': Fresno Priest Left a Trail of Sexual Abuse Allegations

Ugh. This is an awful story.

"The case raises questions about the vulnerability of adults, including undocumented immigrants, to sexual abuse in the church, and reveals how religious institutions are struggling to respond — decades after the systemic cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church first came to light."

"In 2007, when the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin was considering hiring Castañeda, they contracted Oxford Document Management Company to perform a background check. The company sent a questionnaire to the Catholic Diocese of Yakima, Castañeda’s former employer, asking questions including whether he had ever had sexual contact in a professional context.

Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla of the Yakima Diocese replied, saying he could not complete the questionnaire, but that Castañeda had been dismissed from the clerical state in the Catholic Church for “substantive and grave reasons.” A follow-up letter gave additional detail: Castañeda had been accused of violating the seal of confession. Castañeda was ordained by the Anglican Diocese anyway in 2008."

Strong trigger warning on this article. Please proceed with caution.

Awake’s Commitment to Understanding the Full Reality of Abuse in Adulthood

My recent post over at the Awake blog:

"As I dove deeper into learning about this subject in 2018, I became increasingly aware of the sexual abuse of adults taking place in the Church, both in years past and in the present day. We all know the story of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whose abusive behavior victimized both minors and adults, including seminarians who felt they were completely under his power. Over time, I have learned that the McCarrick scandal is only the tip of the iceberg, as more and more survivors come forward to share their stories of being harassed, groped, assaulted, and raped during their adult years, by clergy and other religious leaders.

Through my work with Awake, as well as my personal blog and ministry, In Spirit and Truth, I have come to know many victim-survivors who have experienced abuse in adulthood. Many of these survivors are women in their 20s and 30s who had a deep faith that has been utterly devastated by their abuse. Almost all of these women have felt misunderstood, shunned, and rejected by the Church that they love. As I have grown to know and love these women, the issue that was once distant is now deeply personal for me."

Pope moves against Polish bishop accused of hiding predators

This is a positive step. Unfortunately, bishops who are under investigation often remain in power and operate as usual for extended periods of time, causing great damage to their dioceses (see: Bishop Richard Malone, Diocese of Buffalo).

"Pope Francis has ordered a Polish bishop to leave his central diocese and let someone else run it while he is under investigation for covering up cases of sexual abuse that were featured in a second clergy abuse documentary that has rocked Poland’s Catholic Church.

Francis on Thursday named the archbishop of Lodz, Grzegorz Rys, to temporarily take over as head of the Kalisz diocese. The Vatican’s ambassador, in explaining the decision, said the current Kalisz bishop, Edward Janiak, 67, retains the title of Kalish bishop for the time being. But the explanation, posted late Thursday on the Polish bishops conference website, said Janiak must leave the territory of the diocese and can’t have any form of influence on how it is run."

Eastbourne man who exposed abuse [in the Church of England] is awarded for ‘outstanding service’

Wow. It might seem like a small thing, but can you imagine the Catholic Church giving an award to someone who has worked on exposing abuse? This kind of truth-telling is an important service to the Church, but it's not often seen that way.

"From the age of around nine, Phil Johnson was abused by priests, and for 20 years has fought for justice and greater support for survivors of abuse within the Diocese of Chichester. Today (June 29), he was awarded the Canterbury Cross for Services to the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He said, “I’m in two minds about it. It’s good to be recognised for the contribution that I have made, along with many others. I know I will be criticised for accepting the award because there are many victims still suffering. My view is that I accept it on the behalf of all the victims and survivors of abuse.”

Columbus Diocese has a priest take abuse reports

This might seem small, but it could make a bit difference to a survivor who is thinking about reporting to their diocese.

"The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus is one of only three dioceses in the country with a priest assigned to take reports of clergy sex abuse from survivors. Several victim advocates, survivors and coordinators of victim assistance in other dioceses say having to meet with someone in the same uniform and position as the person who abused them as a child could re-traumatize survivors or dissuade from reporting abuse.

'If you’re looking at survivors, their abuse was a cleric, so you’re wanting to make sure you’re not causing further trauma because it’s someone in a collar,' said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 'It’s all in the approach, in the manner the person carries out the ministry, and the competence.'"

Fortunately, Columbus has since hired a licensed counselor to fill in this role. Does anyone know what the other two dioceses are?

‘I thought God had presented this guy’: 20 years after reporting clergy abuse to the University, a Notre Dame survivor shares his story

“'It’s some kind of a soul murder, you know,' said Fuller, who graduated from the University [of Notre Dame] in 1977. 'It really is. It damages something so important that you can’t see.'"

But also: "If he could talk to a young survivor, he’d like to offer them hope.

'I would want that person to know — to be encouraged — that it sometimes gets dark or hard,” Fuller said. He paused. 'And then it gets lighter.'"

Trigger warning: Descriptions of sexual abuse.

Open letter calls on USA Swimming to end "culture of sexual abuse"

I continue to be horrified at the pervasiveness of both sexual abuse and a cover-up culture throughout our society. What a tragedy that the Catholic Church is used as a point of comparison in cases like this. I wish it wasn't true, but it is.

"An open letter, released on behalf of six victims, has called on USA Swimming to 'dismantle' a culture of sexual abuse within the organisation. The letter, delivered to USA Swimming chief executive Tim Hinchey yesterday, has called on the organisation to take action to what it describes as an 'epidemic' of sexual abuse within the governing body. The letter, written on behalf of six victims by their attorney Robert Allard, includes the names of eight individuals, who the victims say should be immediately removed from USA Swimming.

An extract from the letter reads: 'Having been deeply involved in the handling of sex abuse claims against USA Swimming for more than a decade, it is clear to us that there remains a deeply embedded culture within your organisation which condones the criminal sexual behaviour of coaches towards its underage athletes. This culture is similar to that of the Catholic Church, where a long-standing unofficial code enabled rampant sexual abuse by punishing those who report and rewarding those who remain silent. This must end, and it must end now.'"

Victim of clergy abuse says Archdiocese tried to keep settlement details secret, against its own rules

"Last week, [survivor Kevin] Bourgeois provided WWL-TV with documents indicating the archdiocese wanted to keep the terms of his settlement secret, in apparent violation of a 2002 church code that sought to address the sex abuse allegations in the U.S. head on.

Another document showed the Archdiocese tried to get Bourgeois to sign a tax form as a 'vendor' and threatened to deduct from payments for his therapy if he didn’t. The Archdiocese told WWL-TV that it sent him a form letter by mistake and apologized for the error."


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.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

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