• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: June 30

Hello friends! There has been a lot of important news recently related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. Here are some pieces I found worth reading.

I know this issue is not top-of-the-headlines right now, but we have to keep paying attention.

(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!)


8 Tips for Talking with Your Kids About Sexual Abuse

Important information for parents - and anyone else who cares about children.

Investigation: sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Weldon 'credible'

Important news from the Diocese of Springfield. Unfortunately, the findings against (deceased) Bishop Weldon are barely surprising at this point. What is even more important to note is the horrible mishandling of this allegation as recently as 2018.

Don't let anyone tell you "we've got this fixed now." We don't.

From the independent(ish) investigator: "It was clear in my examination that the process included an inexplicable modification and manipulation of the reports received by and acted on by the Diocesan Review Board. Additionally, the complaint process was compromised in that mandatory reporters failed in their duties to report the allegations to prosecutorial authorities.”

"The investigation also reportedly found that there was a 'reluctance to fervently pursue an evaluation of allegations' because of Weldon’s 'prominence and revered legacy in the religious community.'

Based on his investigation and evidence into how the diocese responded to the complainant, Velis explained that the procedure from the complaint's inception through follow-up 'was greatly flawed.'"

A few more details can be found in this news article.

Annual audit shows more than 4,400 allegations of clergy abuse reported [in the United States in 2019]

I need to spend more time with this data (full report here), but I would note that allegations going up is, in my mind, actually a positive step. I don't think it means that abuse is necessarily increasing, but that more abuse - both present and past - is actually being reported.

"A breakdown of the allegations shows that 1,034 were substantiated,147 were unsubstantiated, 1,434 were unable to be proven and 956 remained under investigation. Another 863 allegations were classified as 'other,' meaning they were referred to a provincial superior when involving a cleric from a religious order or their status was 'unknown.'"

Also of note:

"Francesco Cesareo, chair of the all-lay National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, noted that questions remain about whether the 'audit is sufficiently adequate to determine if a culture of safety within dioceses has taken root.' In a letter to Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, USCCB president, that accompanied the report, Cesareo said revelations of episcopal wrongdoing, the establishment of compensation programs for abuse survivors, and a growing desire among laity for greater involvement in addressing clerical abuse led to questions arising about the audit process.

He said evidence in the audits also shows continuing 'signs of complacency and lack of diligence on the part of some dioceses.'". And: "When the time frame of an alleged incident could be determined, auditors found that 57% of new accusations occurred or began before 1975, 41% occurred from 1975 to 1999 and 2% have occurred since 2000."

Response by SNAP here.


Scandals, compensation programs lead Catholic clergy sex abuse complaints to quadruple in 2019

Another story about the new report from the USCCB's National Review Board:

"Cesareo wrote in a letter attached to the report that the Church needs to allow a more in-depth and truly independent audit. While the report uses the word “independent” six times, the nature and scope of the audit is determined by the bishops, as are the questions. The audit is done by StoneBridge Business Partners, using information given to it by dioceses. The dioceses also determine which allegations are credible.

A more independent process is needed 'if the bishops hope to regain the credibility that has been lost among the laity,' Cesareo wrote."

Survivor Story: My Husband Kept His Abuse Secret for 33 Years of Our Marriage

I'm so glad the Holy Spirit brought Wendy into my life this year, and I am grateful she was willing to tell her story on the Awake blog.

I'm learning more and more about how the ripple effects of abuse affect a whole community. Family members of victims need our love and care as well.

"Wendy began to think of herself and her children as 'secondary survivors' of Ken’s experiences. 'The unacknowledged pain that my husband was not able to resolve just permeated throughout our lives,' she says. 'I realize that I have inherited the pain he carried.' Ken’s mother and the abusive priest 'imposed cruel and unthinkable acts against my husband and also impacted our marriage and the lives of our children,' she says."

In Philippines, a child alleges abuse by Catholic priest — and tests Vatican promise for global reckoning

This story is just heartbreaking. (Trigger warning: Sexual assault of a child.)

"Bem asked her daughter again, reassuring her when she said she was too afraid to speak. The girl eventually spoke the name of the parish priest. 'I felt like I was going to faint,' Bem recalled in an interview with The Post, as her daughter sat at her feet playing with gemstone-shaped stickers. 'Like my heart was going to explode.'

'He would always tease her. I thought it was just teasing,' Bem said, remembering how frequently her daughter would cry around Buenacosa. 'It turned out, it was like he was telling her not to speak.'"

"The parents say they draw strength from their child, who has grown more resolute. They were especially moved when, on a trip to the city of Cebu, their daughter knelt before the Santo Niño, a statue of the child Jesus in one of the country’s most popular Catholic churches, and uttered a prayer out loud: 'Lord, please help us jail Father, so he won’t end up pricking other children.'

'As long as we have guidance from God, we’ll get justice for our daughter,' Bem said. 'It is God who gives justice.'"

Three women who accuse David Haas of sexual misconduct speak with NCR

This makes me so, so angry. These are the same patterns, repeated over and over. Whether it's a priest or some other spiritual leader using their power to abuse others - this has. to. stop.

"[Megan, one of Haas's victims] remembered him being 'a touchy person,' always hugging, making kids 'feel chosen' when he'd place his hands on their shoulder as they sat with their peers.

Haas would lead a big concert at this program once each year, with the students all eager to be front row 'so that maybe they could see and know you,' Megan recalled, particularly the power of him looking at you while he sang the words to his popular song 'You Are Mine.'

Now, whenever Megan is caught off guard and hears one of his songs at a church service, 'I have been wrecked, just knocked on the floor.'"

Argentine bishop resumes work as Vatican abuse probe wraps

"An Argentine bishop close to Pope Francis has gone back to work at the Holy See's financial administration office while under investigation in his native Argentina and at the Vatican for alleged sexual abuse.

The Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, confirmed Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta had resumed work at the APSA patrimony office but said it in no way interferes with the investigations. He said Zanchetta remains at the disposition of Argentine judicial authorities."

Statement from SNAP: Standing in Solidarity with People of Color Following Recent Events

It seems that anyone who is familiar with the dynamics of sexual abuse and institutional corruption in the Catholic Church can't help but notice the parallels with the current conversation about racial injustice in our country.

"The injustice visited upon Mr. Floyd, Ms. Taylor, and too many others to name, is not central to the mission of SNAP. Yet I believe there are more similarities than differences. Survivors of sexual abuse too have been targeted by powerful authority figures. Victims and advocates have also felt ignored and marginalized when fighting for justice and visibility. More directly, over the years we have seen how powerful church officials have used immigrant communities and communities of color as dumping grounds for abusive clergy. In this way, we can see the effects of racism clearly in our work.

Dr. King finishes his famous quote by saying “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” And so we in SNAP stand in solidarity with our black and brown brothers and sisters that have been victimized, ignored, and trodden upon. We recognize that the injustice they are fighting against is an abuse of power, something that our volunteers and leadership have been fighting for years. We stand in support of those seeking to create change that will make their communities safer and their children better able to live without fear."

Polish bishop lashes out at archbishop for reporting abuse cover-up to Vatican

This is so ugly - the worst parts of the Church's response to sexual abuse put into words. I know a lot of church leaders still think this way in the United States, but to see it in a public statement is unusual.

"[Bishop Edward Janiak] added [Bishop] Polak 'issued a verdict,' created 'great confusion' and 'harmed the image of the Church' by reporting the case.

Janiak also condemned the Polish primate for allegedly meeting with the filmmakers before the film’s release: 'I don’t have to add that they are the enemies of the Church and what low motives they are driven by.'"

Archdiocesan Priests Removed From Ministry

Just so we're clear: There are still priests who have abused children ministering in the Catholic Church. We discover more every year.

"Msgr. Edward Barry, 72, former pastor of Holy Rosary parish in Hawthorne, and Father Andrew Florez, 67, have had allegations of the sexual abuse of minors found to be credible and substantiated by the archdiocesan Lay Review Board. In each case, the priest retained the presumption of innocence and was allowed to participate in his defense. As is archdiocesan protocol, the allegations were shared with law enforcement, investigated by outside professionals and the entire matter carefully examined by the archdiocesan Lay Review Board, which concluded that the allegations had been substantiated. Both priests have been permanently removed from ministry, and may not publicly present themselves as priests."

Expert warns child protection took ‘severe blow’ during pandemic


“'It may be very difficult for society and the Church to focus on the safeguarding of minors, because there are such pressing needs, there are such heavy burdens on people that they think safeguarding minors is an extra and you cannot afford to think about that because we need to survive first,' [Father Hans Zollner] said.

'Yes, that is true, the need to survive is first, but there is also the need to respect and protect the dignity of all people, especially the most vulnerable,' he said, urging participants to 'stick together to bring safeguarding up the ladder of priorities.'

Zollner said he believes this will be a difficult task not only because of the current pandemic and its aftermath, but also because 'this is such a challenging and such a nasty topic, that people don’t want to engage or commit easily to it.'"

Our Opinion: Bishop made progress but didn't lead

This is just a brief opinion piece about Bishop Mitchell Rozanski's time in Springfield, as he has recently been appointed Archbishop of St. Louis. I'm sharing because of this key observation:

"At his introduction as the new Archbishop of the St. Louis diocese, Bishop Rozanski spoke of initiatives he had taken in Springfield as if they were entirely his own. But they came only after pressure was applied by activists like Olan Horne of Chester, an abuse survivor who advocates for other victims, and by The Berkshire Eagle.

The bishop signed an agreement with Western Mass. district attorneys to assure that they are informed of alleged clergy sexual abuses. The pattern within the Catholic Church and the diocese has been to cover up the allegations and shuffle the accused priest to another diocese. He also appointed a retired judge to hear allegations of abuse made against the late Bishop Christopher Weldon after a task force charged with doing so unraveled in dissension over the testimony they heard following the claim made by the head of the board that the bishop had been cleared. Judge Peter A. Velis was reportedly near the end of his investigation in May and we look forward to his report. Bishop Rozanski deserves credit for doing both but he was pushed into acting rather than taking the initiative and both actions were overdue."

There is a difference between eventually giving in to public pressure and taking a proactive approach. Progress can happen either way, but note that very few bishops seem to be taking action on their own initiative.

How Much Did the Saints Help the Catholic Church on Its Sex Abuse Crisis? More Than They Admitted

This whole thing is just so bizarre.

"There is one way the emails could be released: with the Saints’ approval. Survivors have also called for Benson to create a fund to ensure those who have been abused have access to counseling and treatment. Amid the scrutiny, though, Benson and the Saints have held fast. She has said, in hindsight, she would aid the archdiocese again. 'I am not going to be deterred in helping people in need,' she said in February. 'We will always find the best way to unify and heal. That is who we are.'

Those words sound almost ironic to survivors, who believe that Benson, and by extension their beloved football team, have done just the opposite. 'I felt betrayed,' Stonebreaker says. 'They’re not helping when they are helping to hide the truth. That’s not helping. That’s culpability.'"

(Trigger warning: A graphic description of child sex abuse comes out of the blue halfway through the article.)

At Least 3,000 Children Were Victims of Sex Abuse in French Catholic Church

All over the world.

"There have been at least 3,000 child sex abuse victims in the Catholic Church in France stretching back decades—and it's feared there may be many more, according to an investigation.

Last June, the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) was set up to look into abuse claims committed by the clergy in France since the 1950s. A hotline for victims to come forward has so far received more than 5,000 phone calls. The number of estimated victims represents an average of 40 cases per year over seven decades."

Police: Wyoming prosecutor says bishop abuse case still open

This is good news. Looks like Bishop Hart might still face prosecution after all.

"A victim advocate from the Natrona County district attorney’s office had told an alleged victim that retired Bishop Joseph Hart would not be charged, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

Asked why he wasn’t pursuing charges, District Attorney Dan Itzen told Cheyenne police Friday that he is still pursuing charges and the case has not been officially closed, police spokesman David Inman said. Police and Itzen realized the prosecutor misread or misunderstood details in a probable cause affidavit, Inman said."

38 more people sue Syracuse Catholic Diocese, claiming abuse by priests

"Nearly 40 new lawsuits have been filed against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse, alleging child sex abuse by priests and a teacher. The suits filed today alleged allegations of abuse that happened at the hands of priests in parishes across Central New York, spanning more than 50 years.

The lawsuits were filed under the New York State Child Victims Act, and join 40 suits already filed against the diocese under the act."

Syracuse Catholic Diocese files for bankruptcy

"The Roman Catholic Diocese has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, just days after 38 people filed Child Victims Act lawsuits against the church."

Note this concern:

"Jeff Anderson, who represents nearly 40 victims who have filed sexual assault lawsuits against the diocese, said he views the filing as a legal tactic to prevent victims from obtaining information about their cases. It effectively puts the ongoing Child Victims Act cases on hold, he said.

'It gives them the opportunity to stop us and the survivors from excavating their secrets, their history, their practices...' he said in an interview with 'Once they file, we can no longer uncover their files, their top officials who have concealed this, and all the offenders that are in their files.'"


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.

Jesus, I trust in You.

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