• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: June 2

Hello! I am writing this post from our new apartment, after a busy week of packing, moving, and settling in. The move went well, and we are very happy to be in our new home at last.

Obviously, there is a lot going on in our country, and in Milwaukee in particular, right now, so it feels a bit strange to be writing about anything else at the moment. However, In Spirit and Truth has a specific focus - the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church - and that topic remains important, whatever else is happening in the world. So, I will continue this work, but please know this does not mean I am not paying attention to other issues of injustice. May we all be attentive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and stand up to injustice wherever it appears.

(Note: 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!)


The Danger of "Forgive and Forget"

One of the many blogs I follow is written by survivor and author Faith Hakesley. I found her take on anger, safety, and healing thought-provoking.

"One of the worst and most harmful pieces of advice I have personally come across many times over the years (and this may be different for everyone) is, “Forgive and forget.” Think about those words for a moment and consider what they truly mean and then consider whether or not this is truly helpful, good advice... Forgetting is impossible and unhealthy."

Explaining the Vatican’s lingering ambivalence on “zero tolerance”

This strikes me as a fair analysis of some of the complications involved with the phrase "zero tolerance."

"Experience has shown that no matter what else the Church may say or do, survivors generally won’t believe it’s taken their suffering seriously as long as their abuser remains a priest.

Nonetheless, the recent Deodato essay is a reminder that decades into the arc of the crisis, even those most horrified by clerical sexual abuse remain divided about what the “zero” in “zero tolerance” should mean - which, among other things, may help explain why the Vatican hasn’t yet made the American approach global."

Polish priests defy bishop amid pedophilia scandal

Well, this is something:

"After the film's premiere, the diocese's council of priests, which acts as an advisory body to the bishop, was called upon to sign letters of loyalty to him. But the members of the council refused. They stated that they first wanted to wait for the results of a Vatican investigation, launched after Poland's Catholic primate, Wojciech Polak, had informed the authorities there of the abuse accusations."


New documentary highlights abuse cover-up in Poland

I haven't watched this documentary yet, but it's important for those of us in the United States to pay attention to how this in unfolding around the world. Note the dates in this story - this cover-up is very, very recent.

"[The victims] did go to Bishop Edward Janiak, who became bishop of Kalisz in 2012, but only to receive a reprimand: 'These are lies and you have to leave now,' he told the parents. The bishop then moved the priest to the city hospital, without reporting the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which Church law required.

It wasn’t until the case began to be become publicly known in 2018 that Janiak finally referred the case to the Vatican: Hajdasz had been abusing multiple children for over 20 years."

One positive note: This kind of truth-telling seems to be waking up certain Polish church leaders:

"Less than half an hour after the new documentary went online, [Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak] issued a statement announcing he was making use of Vos Estis. 'The film Hide and Seek shows that the standards of protecting children and youth in the Church have not been obeyed,' the archbishop said. 'Due to the information presented in the film, I am asking the Holy See through the nunciature [the Vatican embassy] to initiate proceedings ordered by Motu Proprio of Pope Francis, regarding abandonment of the action required by law,' Polak continued."

'Vos Estis' at one year: Some question pope's process for investigating bishops

A fair summary of these issues.

"It is a bit early to assess the effect of Pope Francis' new global system for how the Catholic Church evaluates reports of clergy sexual abuse or cover-up by individual bishops, say canon lawyers who spoke to NCR.

They also raised questions about the new process, first established in May 2019, which involves the empowering of archbishops to conduct investigations of prelates accused in their local regions.

Among their main concerns with the procedure, outlined in Francis' motu proprio Vos Estis Lux Mundi ("You Are The Light Of The World"): the possible bias that can arise in asking one prelate to investigate another, and whether there has been an appropriate level of transparency about bishops who are being investigated."

(I wrote about this problem back in April.)

What is Grooming, and How is it Related to Sexual Abuse in the Church?

A simple, helpful post from my friend Erin over at the Awake blog. We all need to be aware of warning signs to help protect our children.

"Not all cases of sexual abuse involve grooming. But when a perpetrator does groom victims, it often begins with the perpetrator targeting a person who seems vulnerable in some way, Johnstone explains. That person may be chosen because he or she is easily accessible to the perpetrator, shows signs of low self-esteem, and in the case of kids, lacks supervision from adults. Children who have had adverse life experiences and trauma exposure may be more at risk of being targeted, she adds."

More on Grooming: How Should I Respond if I Suspect Grooming Behavior?

This is a second post from the Awake blog about grooming behavior and its connection to sexual abuse. Some really important nuance in this one. Thank you to Erin O'Donnell, Awake's talented blog editor, for continuing to create important content week after week!

"Often perpetrators will dance right at the edge of boundaries without being seen to cross the line, explains Jan Ruidl, a victim-survivor who was abused as a teenager by her parish priest, and who served several years as a parish director in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. As a member of two review boards, where she was responsible for examining abuse allegations against clergy, Ruidl has considered many scenarios where behavior exists in a gray area, including adults who give hugs to children or engage in physical contact such as touching a shoulder or rubbing a back during conversation. Is it harmless, or is it a grooming behavior, and a possible prelude to abuse?"

New Australian report may help church find its way out of abuse crisis

This is intriguing.

"My experience with this group has been an important one that will remain unforgettable: not just in terms of my professional life, but also of my life as a Catholic. This group has been guided by a true collegial and synodal spirit, a genuine sensus Ecclesiae — obedient but also courageous citizenship in the church both local and global.

The experience of the Australian church in dealing with the abuse crisis has been interpreted in the group with a wisdom capable of staying clear from facile ideological exploitation of the scandal. The group was aware of the danger of weaponizing the crisis and refused to find refuge in a causal, simplistic or popular explanation of what happened.

The work of the group and our report promote a development in the governance of the church toward the direction of a co-responsible synodal model that involves much more input from laypeople, particularly women, at all levels."

After 26 years, Eileen Piper has finally won an apology from the Catholic Church for her daughter's abuse

This is a painful read. Eileen's persistence is admirable, but I wish it had not been necessary.

"The Special Issues Committee convened by the church concluded Stephanie was lying. The committee relied on evidence from another youth who attended St Christopher's, which discredited Stephanie. 'My knowledge of Stephanie Piper is that she creates fantasies and after a period of time actually believes they came true as fact,' the man wrote in a letter in August 1993. 'We had a pact about who could seduce him first,' the man wrote. He would eventually tell investigators he was pressured by the church to provide the false statement.

Stephanie Piper killed herself in January 1994, aged 32, two months after she reported her experiences to police."

Dallas priest suspended over allegations of sexual misconduct at former diocese in Colombia

This is a case from Dallas last month. There's not a lot of information yet, but it highlights the importance of cooperation between dioceses throughout the world in tracking and sharing allegations. It looks like the two dioceses in this case may have communicated appropriately, but with the global travels of many of today's priests, we need to have clear systems in place to ensure consistent communication throughout the world.

"The Dallas Diocese said in a written statement that Mora arrived in Dallas in 2016 and passed a criminal background check from Colombia then. According to the Colombian archdiocese, the accuser first raised the allegations earlier this year.

'Upon receiving word of the allegation from the Archbishop of Villavicencio in mid-March, the Diocese of Dallas, out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with its Safe Environment policy, immediately removed Father Oscar Mora from active ministry,' the diocese statement said."

Child protection policies in Twin Cities ‘good in comparison to other archdioceses’

Independent reviews like this one in the Twin Cities are an important step for Catholic dioceses who take this seriously.

"Nearly five years after the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis entered settlement with civil authorities over its mishandling of child sex abuse cases, an independent review of its protection policies finds the archdiocese new policies “are good in comparison to other archdioceses in the U.S.”

The final report was released on May 15 and conducted by CHILD USA, a research-based think tank that promotes child protection policy improvements, and compared the archdiocese’s policies to that of the other 31 archdiocesan policies around the country."

(I have seen plenty of snarky comments about how low the standard in this headline is - which is true. But still, it's good to highlight the few places that seem to be genuinely committed to improvement.)

The complete report is here. I'm adding it to my reading list!

Tom Johnson, St. Paul Archdiocese clergy abuse ombudsman, steps down

When I first saw this headline, my stomach sank because I assumed Johnson was resigning to protest problems he saw with the system. However, it sounds like that's not the case.

The idea of having an independent person to be a point of contact for abuse survivors sounds like a positive step, if the individual really is a person of compassion and integrity. I'm not aware of this system being set up in any other dioceses in the U.S., but I'd love to hear if there are other examples.

"Twin Cities attorney Tom Johnson, the first ombudsman for clergy abuse for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has stepped down from the role he’s held since 2018, citing health reasons. The former Hennepin County attorney served as an independent point person for clergy abuse survivors who were reluctant to seek help from the archdiocese. His wife, Victoria Newcome Johnson, an attorney and educator active in the Twin Cities Catholic community, will assume the voluntary position."

LI priest molested me, now church is trying to keep me quiet, lawsuit says

I understand that some investigation is necessary, but is there a way to do it without making victims feel violated all over again?

"This past May, several months after the lawsuit was filed, Hein was contacted by an ex-roommate who had attended drug rehab with him in Florida. “He said he got a call from an investigator asking about the abuse and whether I’d ever discussed it with him,” Hein said of his friend. The investigator told Hein’s pal that he had been hired by the church to probe the alleged abuse victim’s claims, the plaintiff told The Post.

“I felt like I was being violated again,” said Hein, who has been sober since the 2017 stint at the in-patient facility and recently moved to Colorado for a fresh start. “How they got [his] information is just beyond me.”

Hein added that he hadn’t discussed the alleged abuse with his ex-roommate and was embarrassed that the investigator had revealed it to him. “Here they are exposing me,” Hein said. “I feel like they’re trying to dirty my name and intimidate me.

St. Cloud diocese reaches agreement on sex abuse claims

News from the Diocese of St. Cloud. "The diocese said the agreement includes a $22.5 million trust to compensate abuse survivors, along with a commitment that the diocese will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection 'in the near future.'

Jeff Anderson, an attorney representing about 70 survivors who filed claims against the central Minnesota diocese, said it’s been an 'arduous journey' to reach an agreement."

Full statement from the diocese here.

Column: Even amid pandemic courage, abuse survivor's bravery stands out

"Two months after the sentencing, the diocese made an astonishing discovery. Buried in the back of an accounting file cabinet was a 1962 Sarnia police report in which three girls reported sexual assaults by Sylvestre. There were no charges, and the report was forwarded to Bishop John Cody, who died suddenly in 1963. Sylvestre was sent to Quebec on a leave."

Reporting abuse — the church’s blind spot

This is an interesting piece by two lawyers who provide sexual abuse expertise to Christian churches. Good general information about reporting obligations from a legal perspective.

"Circumstances giving rise to a need to report are rarely convenient, easy or unemotional. Child sexual abuse allegations commonly involve behavior that is difficult to believe about an individual who is difficult to suspect. In part, this is because preferential abusers groom the gatekeepers in ministry environments, working diligently to cause those around them to believe they are helpful, responsible and trustworthy individuals. Keep in mind: false allegations are rare. Studies indicate that only 2% to 3% of all sexual abuse allegations are false; the majority of outcries are truthful and factual.

In our current cultural context, two out of three children don’t tell about abuse they have experienced until adulthood, if ever. This is further compounded by the fact that most children don’t tell because “no one will believe me” (which, too often, is true). The church must become more skilled at preventing abuse, recognizing signs and symptoms of abuse, and recognizing predatory behavior and characteristics. A ministry’s willingness to recognize and report suspicions of abuse forms a key element in protecting the children it serves."


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.

Come Holy Spirit, open my ears, my mind, and my heart.

73 views0 comments