• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: July 27

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. We still have a lot of work to do.

(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!)


Four Things You Need to Know if You Have Religious Trauma

This is really well done.

"It is a good thing to be angry about it. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. A lot of people assume that people who have experienced religious or spiritual abuse are angry about it, and they assume this because anger is a natural response to being hurt. What they might not understand is that a lot of people with these painful experiences actually do not feel angry; instead, they might feel that they deserved it or that they are overreacting.

Sometimes, it takes years of work and healing just to feel angry about what happened. And when you do finally feel that anger, you might feel guilty about it or worry that you're being a bad person.

In case no one has told you this yet, it is good that you are angry. Whether you are just starting to feel it or you have been angry for years, you deserve to feel angry for being hurt. Your rage is justified, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise."

Vatican says bishops should report sex abuse to police

The headline is not particularly helpful, but dig into the details and you'll see why this new document is a small but significant step forward. Keep in mind that, for all our continued problems in the United States Catholic Church, there are other areas of the world that have even further to come on this issue.

"The manual, issued in a half-dozen languages, appears aimed in part at depriving bishops and religious superiors of their frequent excuses not to carry out preliminary investigations into accused priests.

The manual states, for example, that anonymous allegations should not be dismissed outright, as they often are, and that even hearsay and social media posts can constitute the basis on which to launch a preliminary probe. In addition, the manual says bishops should not ignore allegations just because they fall outside the church’s statute of limitations, since the Vatican can at any time decide to waive the time limit.The only justification for dismissing an allegation outright, the manual says, is if the bishop determines the “manifest impossibility of proceeding,” such as if the the priest wasn’t physically present when the alleged crimes took place.

The manual also makes clear that the type of crimes that fall under sexual abuse is “quite broad” and includes not only sexual relations but any physical contact for sexual gratification, including actions bishops frequently dismiss as mere “boundary violations.” The manual lists exhibitionism, masturbation, pornography production and “conversations and/or propositions of a sexual nature” that can occur through a variety of means of communication as crimes that must be investigated."

Analysis: Two years after McCarrick, questions are unanswered

This is a thoughtful reflection from a faith perspective, including a useful overview of the major events of the last two years.

"What many Catholics said they wanted, they have not yet gotten: Accountability. Who knew what when? Who participated in coercive, abusive, or immoral behavior? Who enabled or facilitated it? Who ignored it? What will be the consequences?

Diocesan investigations in New York and New Jersey have not been published. Records sit in file cabinets in the Washington archdiocese, but have not been released. A long-promised report from the Holy See has not been published. Most bishops have simply stopped asking for the McCarrick report, at least out loud; whatever zeal they showed in the first few months has apparently been tamped down.

For many Catholics, the silence has become its own scandal. The delays seem, to many observers, incomprehensible, regardless of whether the reason is to avoid litigation, to avoid embarrassment, to avoid accountability. And a long wait has turned, for many lay Catholics and clerics, into a kind of cynical resignation that very little might actually be coming, and even that won’t be coming soon."

Let me repeat that: "The silence has become its own scandal."


Does it matter if journalists have quit asking about the missing McCarrick report?

A follow up to the CNA piece on McCarrick:

"It’s July of 2020. Do you know where the McCarrick report is?

There are people who still care about the who, what, when, where, why and how of the scandal that brought down former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, at one time the most press-friendly and influential cardinal in the United States of America.

In a way, it’s even more important to know more about the rise of McCarrick in church circles in and around New York City and then learn the details of his networking years in Washington, D.C. Who were McCarrick’s disciples and to what degree did they protect him, during the years when rumors were thick on the ground about — to be specific — his unique personal style when dealing with seminarians.

It’s totally understandable that the McCarrick investigation has faded from view. The year 2020 has, after all, served up challenge after challenge for journalists and church leaders, alike. McCarrick was shipped off to western Kansas and, now, it appears that he has moved to a safe house of his own choosing.

The former cardinal is now an afterthought. But not for everyone."

FYI: McCarrick is not an afterthought for me. Read my blog post on the topic here.

Suit alleges McCarrick, others abused youth at beach house

This is only an allegation right now, but I will be watching this case closely. Remember, we're still waiting for the Vatican's McCarrick Report. I am sure there are many ugly things yet to be revealed.

"A new lawsuit alleges former Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and several other clerics sexually abused a teenage boy at a New Jersey beach house in the 1980s.

The suit filed this week in state Superior Court in New Jersey claims the youth, who is not named, was first abused at age 11 when he attended Catholic school in Newark and later was chosen to participate in overnight visits to the beach house in Sea Girt, about 50 miles north of Atlantic City.

McCarrick 'assigned sleeping arrangements, choosing his victims from the boys, seminarians and clerics present at the beach house,' the suit alleges."

Survivor Story: Even If You’re Not Hearing Survivors’ Voices, It Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Here.

A heart-breaking story from the Awake blog.

“I thought about going to the police,” she says. “But when I thought about the evidence, I knew it would be ‘he said, she said.’ I didn’t have a realistic hope for justice or accountability.” But roughly a year after the wine tasting, Anne says, she noticed the deacon hanging around someone at work who was going through a messy breakup and “very vulnerable.” The pattern was familiar to Anne, and she was suddenly motivated to protect that woman. “I thought, ‘Okay, I have to pull myself together and do something.’”

Victim Blaming Response - Emily

Wise words from a survivor of sexual assault by a priest - and a call for Catholics to do better.

"What isn’t commonly understood is that priests who are sexual predators often groom precisely by actively seeking to break down these boundaries themselves. They usually only break their vows after weeks, months, or even years of pushing and breaking down professional distance and after integrating themselves ever more intimately and influentially with their victim’s lives. It doesn’t just happen one day because their victim decided to wear a low-cut shirt and lipstick. In my experience, it can happen when you’re wearing a baggy T-shirt and jeans, too...

People don’t want to believe that their pastors and priests might be intentionally breaking down boundaries and victimizing people. If that’s the case, then it could happen to them as well. It’s much less scary to believe that the victims did it to themselves somehow, that there was some action or piece of clothing or way of behaving that made the priest assault them. Because if it was because of something that the victim did, that means that all I have to do is avoid that behavior, and I’ll be safe. When people victim-blame, it’s because they’re afraid it could happen to them, too."

Update: The Archdiocese Responds to Awake’s Remaining Questions

For those who are interested in our on-the-ground work in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, here's a blog post with questions and answers about the local response to the abuse crisis.

"To understand how our local leaders are responding to the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Awake submitted questions on 35 topics to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. We first sent the questions in December 2019, and seven months later, we have now received answers to all of these questions."

Abuse victim of Opus Dei priest wants case to be acknowledged

This is a good article to read carefully, as it reveals both the progress and the ongoing problems with transparency in handling abuse cases.

"By December 2018, the file was at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that handles allegations of sexual abuse by priests. It was this office that ruled on June 30 that the priest had been found guilty.

The sentence was communicated to Lucas, but no formal statement has been made. Furthermore, a representative of Opus Dei reportedly told Lucas that no statement should be expected, because his case “wasn’t that big … Cociña is no McCarrick or Karadima."

Opus Dei confirms one of its priests sentenced by Vatican for abuse

This article contains an update about the above case, three days after the previous article was published.

"Through a statement released on Thursday, Opus Dei publicly acknowledged the first sentence issued by the Vatican against one of its priests for sexual abuse...

Father Manuel Cociña, 72, was found guilty of molesting one young man, who was 18 when the abuse began in 2002 in Spain... According to the statement released by Opus Dei Spain, the priest was found guilty of “solicitation” — using the confessional to ask for sexual favors."

Natrona County prosecutors again decide not to charge retired bishop with sexual abuse

This decision is really disappointing. I don't fully understand the legal reasons for the decision not to prosecute, but I can't imagine how his victims feel right now.

"The decision deals a serious blow for those who want Hart to be held accountable from within the criminal justice system. There’s still an ongoing church investigation that could see Hart expelled from the priesthood, but church officials and people who’ve accused Hart of abuse say they’ve received no update on the status of that case, which was referred to the Vatican two years ago. A previous church investigation into Hart ended with no action being taken; Hart was eventually restricted from publicly celebrating mass in 2015."

But there's at least this point of light: "Last month, after Martin was told that prosecutors wouldn’t proceed with charges, both the Kansas City and Cheyenne dioceses put out statements saying that they continued to believe the victims and that the dioceses stood by their previous determinations that Hart had abused the victims. 'This decision not to pursue a criminal case does not mean that the victims are not credible,' Biegler wrote in his statement last month. 'Once again, I commend the victims who have spoken courageously about their abuse.'

Our Accountability for Church Music Composer David Haas’ Abuse

This is an interesting reflection on accountability for David Haas:

"If the church community had called Haas to accountability and addressed his abuse when it first came to light, he would not have become the famous composer he became and we would not know the songs we know now. We might, instead, be singing the songs of women he abused—many were fellow musicians and composers. Or he might have gotten help, and we’d be happily singing his songs of redemption today. Whatever the outcome, we wouldn’t be in the predicament in which we now find ourselves: trying to reconcile the melodious songs that have inspired our faith with the embodied antithesis of their messages. 'You Are Mine' wouldn’t have a creepy double entendre.

But, the church community did not call Haas to accountability. Instead, he flourished in a 'rape culture', a culture that normalizes sexual violence and blames victims for the violations they experience. Women reported, but as one victim-survivor relayed, they weren’t heard, weren’t listened to, and weren’t believed. People in positions of power in the church knew that Haas crossed boundaries, but they brushed it off. On social media, some people acknowledged that they were not surprised by the allegations. This complicity upsets me more than the allegations. People knew. Was his talent too amazing? Did we look the other way because we did not want to lose his lyrical melodies? Was he bringing in lots of money at conferences and for his publishers?"

You can also see Haas' weak apology here.

East Bay Catholic priest charged with sexual battery against woman

"Five months after the Catholic Diocese of Oakland placed the Rev. Varghese “George” Alengadan on leave following accusations of inappropriate behavior, the Alameda County district attorney announced Friday that the priest has been charged with one count of misdemeanor sexual battery involving a woman last year while he oversaw St. Joseph Basilica.

Alengadan, 67, unlawfully touched “an intimate part of Jane Doe” against her will and for his sexual arousal, Assistant District Attorney Michael Nieto alleged in a complaint signed Thursday. He allegedly assaulted the woman on July 24, 2019, the same month four diocese employees and one volunteer at the Alameda church made sexual harassment claims against Alengadan. Last fall, the diocese conducted its own investigation and found the priest engaged in inappropriate conduct of a sexual nature with the women, leading to his resignation from his post there, according to the diocese...

In an exclusive interview with The Chronicle in February, a woman recalled an earlier encounter with Alengadan in 2002 in which he allegedly fondled her before he was supposed to officiate her wedding. The parents of the alleged victim said they immediately reported the 2002 allegations to the diocese, deciding against going to police because they trusted the church to handle it internally. But they said they never received a response. The mother again alerted the diocese of the complaint in 2016, sending an email to Bishop Michael C. Barber, but said again nothing was done."


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.

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