• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: March 2

Welcome to March, friends! I am not a fan of our long, cold Wisconsin winters, but once February is over, I start to feel like I just may survive until spring. Sure, we're bound to have a snowstorm or two this month, but there's more sunlight, occasional 50 degree days, and the end is in sight. So, I'm approaching today's News Roundup with a bit more hope - which is something I think we could all use these days.

I know that not everyone has the time to read the long list of articles I share in these posts, so this week I'm introducing a new feature: Your Top Three Reads. If you're not able to dive deep right now, try starting with just three articles to grow in your understanding of these complex issues. I will be focused not on highlighting the biggest news but on choosing pieces I find especially thought-provoking. Check them out below!

(In case you're new to this blog, please know that I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises of 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.)


1) How to share bad news of sexual abuse by someone you trusted

This is a beautiful reflection on how the news about Jean Vanier was handled in one L'Arche community. May we all be ready to face hard truths with such grace.

"There will have to be many more meetings, together and in small groups. We will need to look at the detail, understand it, absorb it. That takes time. I’ve read the report three times now, and each time I am even more deeply shocked, because the gravity of what has happened is sinking in. We will need to come to terms with a new version of our history, and for many of us, with memories of abuse.

But I do know that the best thing, the only thing, is to be utterly open and transparent. To look at painful dark things, examine them, expose them...When I first heard the news, I despaired. But I looked around at all these people yesterday, who had gathered at the drop of a hat, and I have real hope there is a future for our communities."

2) ‘The church we so believed in abandoned us,’ mom of assault victim says at sentencing of Allentown Diocese priest

I wish every Catholic could hear the words of this mother. We must do better.

“'Kevin Lonergan took our most precious gift from God, our daughter, and harmed her in the most sacred, safe place,' her mother said, adding that the family feels ostracized since coming forward. 'The church we so believed in abandoned us'...

Lonergan had a large crowd of supporters in the courtroom. [Judge] Dantos said parishioners who turned against the girl and her family for coming forward should be ashamed. “There is no churchgoing person who should be supporting your actions. Period," she told Lonergan.

3) An Open Apology to Fellow Victims and Fellow Catholics

An honest, heartfelt reflection from courageous victim-survivor Stephanie McIntyre. Please read her powerful story.

"One thing that has become abundantly clear to me over the past 17 months is that there is no right or wrong way to work through the trauma of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. As a matter of fact, there are as many ways as there are victims. Something that soothes one person can cause another to experience a setback severe enough to cause suicidal thinking. In the same way that each of us is on our own personal spiritual journey through life, the wounded need to be supported in their own individual ways. There’s no guide on how to heal from this...

And none of us can tell each other how we should heal or how we should feel. As a Catholic who has just spent the past nine years of my life talking others “off the ledge”, I know that this is not what I need now. Nobody can do this for me but me.

Right now I need to be thankful that I still believe in and trust in God."


Bishop accused of sex abuse test case for Church in Poland

"The first accusation of sexual abuse against a Polish bishop will serve as a testing ground for the Church’s new commitment to fighting sexual abuse, and how it manifests itself both locally and at the Vatican...

Monika didn’t use the diocesan path of investigation. In May 2019, she reported the case directly to the Vatican embassy, called the Apostolic Nunciature (she also reported to the state prosecutors in August, public officials started an investigation, but they had to close it because of the statute of limitations).

'The first letter in this matter arrived at the Nunciature on May 27, 2019 and was forwarded to the Holy See the same day,' the embassy said in a Feb. 12 statement. Nevertheless, it took eight months for church investigators to listen to the alleged victim: Monika was asked to testify only in January 2020. During that time, Szkodoń was performing his duties as an auxiliary bishop of Krakow.

Disgraced religious order tried to get abuse victim to lie

This is excellent investigative reporting into the Legion of Christ. Unfortunately, the deeper you dig, the worse it gets.

"Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis -- the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up -- to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.

The terms: Martínez’s family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.

The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation. Instead, he chuckled."

Victim says Legion lied to police about her abuse

Another new story about the Legion of Christ:

"Ashley said she throughout the course of the ordeal in reporting her abuse, she has actually met many good Legion priests. She’s also met many victims of Legion abuse, victims who are not willing or able to come forward.

'I know far too many people who have stories to tell, but they can’t tell them because they signed a non disclosure agreement because they desperately needed the money and the Legion paid them off,' she said. 'I’m free to speak' ...

Though there are Legion priests she respects, Ashley knows what a Legion priest did to her, even if the Legion continues to minimize the criminal abuse she survived by calling it a 'boundary violation.' Now that she has seen how the Legion seemingly covered up her abuse, she is ready to see the order die.'I would like to see the order suppressed,' she said."

Pope tells scandal-marred Legion they still haven’t reformed

And here's what Pope Francis has said about the Legion of Christ most recently.

"Pope Francis told the Legion of Christ religious order Saturday it still has a long road of reform ahead, making clear that 10 years of Vatican-mandated rehabilitation hadn’t purged it of the toxic influences of its pedophile founder.

In a prepared speech, Francis told the Legion’s new superiors a 'very vast field' of work was needed to correct the Legion’s problems and create a healthy order. He encouraged them to work energetically in substance, and softly in the means.'

'A change of mentality requires a lot of time to assimilate in individuals and in an institution, so it’s a continual conversion,' Francis said. 'A return to the past would be dangerous and senseless.'"

Survivor advocacy group accuses pope of cherry-picking abuse reforms

Thoughtful critique:

"As the one-year mark of Pope Francis’s landmark summit on child protection approaches, survivors of clerical abuse are arguing that the pope, while taking positive steps, is inconsistent in his response to the problem.

Survivors have also called for the publication of the report on the Vatican’s lengthy investigation into former cardinal Theodore McCarrick and criticized Francis for apparently backing out of a commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to the issue."

Boy Scouts of America files for bankruptcy. Hundreds of sexual abuse lawsuits are now on hold

It's interesting to watch the parallels between the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church as they respond to sexual abuse.

It's also disturbing to realize just how widespread sexual abuse is in our society. Until the last few years, I honestly had no idea.

5 Takeaways from the Restorative Justice and Reconciliation Conference in the Twin Cities

Thanks to my friends Jim and Brenda for their recent post on the Awake blog. I especially appreciate this point:

"The desire to 'move on' comes from a place of privilege. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi noted that many people express weariness with the continued media coverage of the abuse crisis and think it’s time to 'move on.' He said this is an understandable desire, but it comes from a position of privilege, from people who have not themselves experienced the trauma of abuse. For victims of sexual assault there is no going back to the way things were; the harm is too big. Choi emphasized that 'the work to protect [victims] is like a race without a finish line.' Instead of moving on from, we must move forward with victim-survivors of abuse.

In a presentation on restorative justice and healing, Janine Geske, retired justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, noted that “-ing” words are process words; therefore, forgiving and healing are not single events but ongoing processes. Choi and Geske’s comments confirmed our belief that rather than hindering the Church’s mission, reaching out to survivors is an essential part of the Church’s work. Forgetting and silence are not options."

Cardinal McCarrick secretly gave nearly $1 million to group led by cleric accused of sexual misconduct

The tentacles of the McCarrick scandal are so wide-reaching... I'm sure there are many more revelations to come.

"In the years before his removal from ministry, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick secretly gave nearly $1 million to a controversial group of Catholic missionaries and supported leniency for its founder after the Vatican punished him for sexual wrongdoing, internal church documents show...

Six current and former members of Incarnate Word said that McCarrick was celebrated internally for using his influence to protect the group. They said that multiple members had warned church officials about alleged sexual encounters between Buela and seminarians."

Seminarians were McCarrick aides amid abuse investigation

Here's a little more information about the connection between McCarrick and the IVE order that was mentioned in the story above. Note that this CNA story is from August 2018.

"The Archdiocese of Washington has confirmed that seminarians were permitted to serve as assistants to Archbishop Theodore McCarrick while the archbishop was being investigated for the alleged sexual abuse of a teenager.

In 2011, McCarrick moved from a parish rectory to a house adjacent to the seminary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word (IVE), a religious order, in Chillum, Md., within the Washington archdiocese...

Local formators and superiors of the IVE were, according to CNA’s sources within the order, unhappy with the arrangement, but recognized that the liberal-minded McCarrick functioned as a sort of informal patron for the order, despite its more traditional leanings. McCarrick frequently ordained the order’s priests, in Washington and abroad, and helped them to navigate criticisms from South American bishops, including Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, who became Pope Francis."

‘Credible’ allegations, but no charges for California priest

Another example of why statute of limitations reform is so important. The Diocese even deems these allegations credible, but he cannot be prosecuted under current SOL law.

"Despite 'credible' allegations of sexual abuse against a central California priest, prosecutors said Friday that they are unable to file charges against him because the statute of limitations has expired.

Monsignor Craig Harrison was placed on administrative leave from the Diocese of Fresno last April after an alleged victim, now an adult, claimed the priest molested him when he was a teenage altar boy.

'While the allegations made against Monsignor Harrison appear credible to investigators, they reportedly occurred in the 1990’s. These allegations were not reported to law enforcement until April of 2019,' the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement."

Statement by Stephanie McIntyre, Victim-Survivor of Clergy Abuse

This is victim-survivor Stephanie McIntyre's moving statement, given at a powerful (although rain-soaked) press conference hosted by survivors and advocates in South Carolina. They were calling on a local priest to apologize for hurtful comments he made in a public statement.

"My name is Stephanie McIntyre. I am a victim-survivor of clergy abuse in the Diocese of Buffalo. I have lived in the upstate of South Carolina for 20 yrs. For more than 30 years, I thought that my abuse was just an isolated, bizarre situation. My silence was guaranteed through threats and shame. Along with holding me on the ground and choking me into silence, I was warned that if I ever told anyone they would not believe me, that if I ever told a future husband about it, he would think I was dirty, damaged goods. He said priests are the closest thing to God. "Nobody will ever believe you over me."

Although I am far from strong enough to be an advocate and have only just begun my journey towards healing, this can't wait.

I am appearing publicly for the first time today because what I was told by the priest who abused me is true. People still tend to believe priests over victims, despite the enormity of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church today. So when a priest like Fr. Jay Scott Newman uses his power and authority to publicly victim-shame and silence clergy abuse victims, his listeners readily adopt a negative opinion of the victims. Having no other information to go on, listeners repeat his character assassination of victims as if it is the end of the story."

Internal report finds that L’Arche founder Jean Vanier engaged in decades of sexual misconduct

I honestly thought that no new revelations could surprise me, but this felt like a punch in the gut, to me and to so many people all over the world who admired Vanier. You can read more of my thoughts on this case in my blog post, On Jean Vanier and Being Abused by a 'Hero.'

Lord, have mercy. Lord, save your people.

"In a report that will soon be released conducted by L’Arche, Mr. Vanier is accused of sexual misconduct with six adult, non-disabled women who sought spiritual direction from the late activist, author and philosopher. According to a press release from L’Arche USA, the investigation “reveals that Jean Vanier himself has been accused of manipulative sexual relationships and emotional abuse between 1970 and 2005, usually within a relational context where he exercised significant power and a psychological hold over the alleged victims.”

We are gathering to support one another: Coming to grips with news of Jean Vanier’s sexual abuse

This is a heart-breakingly beautiful account of one L'Arche community struggling with the news about Jean Vanier. There is so much to learn from here.

"What exactly is the bad news here? All breaking-bad-news conversations should be based on that question. What is it, precisely, that makes this bad news for anyone? What is it about this long and terrible story that people most need to know?

For us in London, it was this: Jean Vanier, a man we admired and loved and trusted, has sexually abused women.

That is really, really bad and wrong. It is shocking and upsetting. This affects us in all sorts of different ways. The triggering of people’s own stories of abuse. The breaking of trust. Our own self-image: something we have believed so strongly to be true, something we may have based our lives on, turns out to be wrong and false. Or we may simply be concerned about the future of the L’Arche community, or the tarnishing of spirituality and many people’s connection with their church.

It was also important to make it very clear that L’Arche believed the women and wanted to support them. Underlying message: It doesn’t matter how important or powerful people are; if they do bad things, we need to stop them."

How a committee report offered comfort to sex abuse survivors

This is an interesting first-hand account of how one list of credibly accused priests was put together, in the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont.

"There were seven of us on the committee, including one survivor of abuse by a priest. At the first meeting, [Bishop] Coyne announced that this report was ours and only ours to write and that he would not attend future meetings unless we invited him. He vowed not to change one name, one comma. He also promised us total and complete access to any file of any priest: living, deceased, retired, active — it did not matter, we could see them all, at any time."

Where things stand a year after pope’s historic sexual abuse summit

I'm not quite as optimistic as the author about the progress that has been made so far, but this is a helpful summary of some of the major events and issues in play since last year's abuse summit.

"It’s also become clear over the past year which types of reforms Pope Francis seems prepared to embrace to combat clerical abuse, and which he’s not.

During a Rome news conference Feb. 17, Anne Barrett Doyle of the U.S.-based group Bishop Accountability, observed that the phrase “zero tolerance” has disappeared from Pope Francis’ vocabulary with regard to the abuse crisis, and there’s been no movement toward making the American understanding of “zero tolerance” — meaning permanent removal from ministry for one substantiated charge of abuse of a minor, and ordinarily laicization — the global policy of the Catholic Church.

That reality is probably the No. 1 complaint of survivors’ groups on the summit anniversary, and there will be rallies and protests this week calling on the pope to embrace the idea that any cleric who abuses, or any bishop or superior who covers it up, ought to be out of work. On the other hand, Pope Francis has embraced other planks of the program put forward by many reformers, including ending pontifical secrecy and creating a mechanism for dealing with allegations of mishandling complaints by bishops."

Survivors stunned after Bishop Scharfenberger celebrates Mass with abusive priests

I heard this news from the survivors involved, who are understandably reeling from these events. You can't imagine what a blow this is to them, the effect this has on their healing and any hope they had for change. My heart is heavy.

"Survivors of sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese of Buffalo reacted with outrage and despair Tuesday to news that interim Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger celebrated Mass the day before with multiple priests the diocese admits are credibly accused of child sexual abuse.

Scharfenberger invited priests of the diocese to Mass and lunch at St. Leo the Great in Amherst on Monday. At the Mass, dozens of priests dressed in robes and concelebrated, or shared the Mass and Eucharist with, the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski.

'I'm so very sad and confused today,' said Stephanie McIntyre, who said she was abused by Maryanski starting when she was 15 years old. 'This is an all time low moment that hit me just when I thought I was ready to begin healing.'"

Facing 250 sex abuse lawsuits, Diocese of Buffalo declares bankruptcy

Major news from the Diocese of Buffalo. Not unexpected, but still momentous. This article also contains a helpful summary of events over the past few years in Buffalo.

"The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, which is facing nearly 250 lawsuits involving clergy sexual abuse, has declared bankruptcy.

Aside from the obvious financial implications, the diocese's formal Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing means that many of the victims of clergy sexual abuse may not anytime soon get the answers that have long been hidden in secret diocesan archives regarding pedophile priests. But there is still a chance that those hidden files could be forced as part of a bankruptcy settlement, as has happened in other dioceses."

Update: The Archdiocese of Milwaukee Responds to Awake’s Questions (Part 2)

Here's the second part of my blog post for Awake Milwaukee, highlighting our questions about how the Archdiocese responds to grooming behavior and to sexual abuse of adults. I also spend a little time explaining why these question matter.

"As we explained in our previous blog post, Awake submitted a list of questions to the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in December 2019 and received responses to a shorter list of priority questions in January 2020.

For six of the nine priority questions, we found the answers clear, if not completely satisfactory; we shared those responses in Part 1 of this post. For the remaining three topics, we do not believe the archdiocesan responses adequately answer our questions, so we are still seeking further information. Jerry Topczewski, the Archbishop’s Chief of Staff, has agreed to meet with us again on April 1, and we hope to come to a better understanding of these issues at that meeting. In the meantime, we are sharing the responses we received, as well as a few comments about the clarifications we seek."

Feds charge Strongsville priest, say he sexually exploited 15-year-old boy he met online

This story is quite disturbing.

Note: McWilliams was ordained in 2017. The information on the Diocese of Cleveland website includes this information: "Every seminarian undergoes an extensive battery of screenings throughout formation – including background checks with fingerprints, credit checks and numerous psychological screenings from outside professionals. Additional input is received from seminary staff, clergy mentors and lay people throughout each seminarian’s formation. A seminarian can be discharged at any point if there is any question that he is not suitable for ministry."

Another Catholic diocese seeks bankruptcy after abuse deals

Another bankruptcy - this time, the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

"The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, six months after disclosing it had paid millions of dollars to people sexually abused as children by its clerics.

The diocese joins at least 20 others across the United States in seeking protection from creditors through the federal bankruptcy system, but it is the first diocese in Pennsylvania to take such a step."

South Dakota kills bill from survivors of Catholic school abuse

"As victims of childhood sexual abuse have come forward across the country, 15 states have moved to extend or suspend the time frames for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits to allow claims that stretch back decades. South Dakota has done the opposite.

The Legislature in 2010 passed a law that does not allow childhood sexual abuse survivors over age 40 to sue organizations. Marci Hamilton, a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania who runs an organization advocating for removing the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse, told lawmakers that South Dakota is the only state since 2002 to put restrictions on the statute of limitations."

Attorney General’s inquiry leads to sex abuse charges against retired Missouri priest

Attorney General investigations do matter. Yes, many offenders are deceased and many cases are beyond the statute of limitations, but there are still cases that can be prosecuted. There are abusers that are still a risk to children today.

"A retired southeast Missouri priest charged with sexually abusing a teen 20 years ago is the first to be prosecuted in connection with a yearlong investigation by the Missouri Attorney General’s office into sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

At least 11 other cases have been referred to county prosecutors, said Chris Nuelle, with the attorney general’s office."

After abuse scandals, seminarians pledge to ‘get it right’

"Like many who came before them, the men of St. Charles speak with conviction of their calling. Eyes widen as they foresee being beside congregants in defining moments, of baptizing babies and burying the dead. They speak of their classmates as 'brothers' but acknowledge they must look beyond the fraternity to ensure the future of the church and its people.

'You don’t just assume that everyone is a holy man,' says Deacon Alec Sasse, 26, a seminarian from Lincoln, Nebraska, who took it upon himself to read the 887-page Pennsylvania grand jury report and who is due to be ordained a priest in May. 'We have our eyes open for that stuff.'"

Piecemeal Protections: The Canadian Church Struggles to Confront Sex Abuse

This is an interesting overview of the history of the abuse crisis in Canada.

"Many church leaders in Canada now seem determined to be proactive rather than defensive. Undoubtedly, the bishops recognize that they no longer control the narrative: survivors are emboldened by their American peers and are pushing not just for remedial action but also for radical reform, while provincial and federal attorneys-general and politicians seem compelled to take action."


As you know, I like to close every blog post with an invitation to prayer. For these news roundups, 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.

In particular, I invite you to remember the names, faces, and stories of all the abuse victims who were mentioned in these stories and keep those people in your daily prayers.

Saint Agnes of Bohemia,

called to leadership but always exercising your authority with deep humility,

pray for us.

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