• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: March 23

Wow. It's a strange world we're living in these days. As I explained last week, I decided to take a brief pause on sharing news related to the twin crises in our Church while everyone was focused on figuring out how to stay safe, healthy, and sane during these times.

Our family is getting into a routine now, with everyone working and schooling from home. It looks like it will be a long time before the public health situation stabilizes, but I think it's important that we continue reading and staying informed about the twin crises during this time. So, today I'm sharing a News Roundup for the last three weeks, and you'll start seeing me share articles on the Facebook page again as well.

Note: If you're really struggling with the coronavirus pandemic - physically, economically, or mentally - please give yourself permission to take a break from this stuff for a while. It's ok to focus on taking care of yourself and your loved ones right now. I'll be here whenever you're ready.

(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. The top three reads below are a great place to start!)


Dozens of Catholic Priests Credibly Accused of Abuse Found Work Abroad, Some With the Church’s Blessing

This is an excellent investigative report from ProPublica. I have seen the phrase "fled to Mexico" (or some other foreign country) used many times in describing a priest's departure from the United States after credible allegations of abuse. This article reveals that this phrase might not be quite accurate. Please take some time and read the whole thing.

I shudder to think of the children put in harms way by these decisions.

"One of the most notorious cases of an accused priest moving across international borders was the Rev. Nicolas Aguilar Rivera. After abuse allegations first surfaced in 1987 in the southern Mexican city of Tehuácan, he was attacked by parishioners and then sent by church leaders to Los Angeles. Less than a year after arriving in California, he faced similar allegations, which eventually led to charges that he molested 10 boys. Church leaders confronted Aguilar before notifying police and he returned to Mexico, where he continued to abuse minors, according to lawsuits and criminal complaints filed in Mexico."

Survivor Story: Six Things I Wish Catholics Knew About the Abuse Crisis

A valuable post from the Awake Milwaukee blog. Please consider sharing with other Catholics who might need to hear this message!

"When people ask Marchant what they can do about sexual abuse in the Church, she asks them to 'show their outrage, to speak out on behalf of victims and the injustices they suffered.' After all, these victims were innocent children. 'It’s normal and healthy to be angry about an injustice,' she says. 'Until it impacts your family or your heart space, it usually doesn’t spark outrage. That’s the human condition. But I think anyone leading Catholics right now needs to create discussion groups and other opportunities to allow difficult feelings to be heard. The pain some within the Church have created is real and needs to be processed as a community in an up-front and honest fashion for real healing to occur.'"

An oft-accused priest, one victim's story, and the true meaning of bankruptcy

I have heard a few Catholics wonder about why some survivors choose to sue the Church, when money won't give them back what they lost through their abuse. This article is a thoughtful exploration of one man's decision to pursue a civil case. (Trigger warning: description of sexual assault by a priest.)

"Eames received treatment for depression from therapists and psychiatrists, provided by the diocese. He became a regular at Buffalo-area meetings of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He soon met others who had their own stories about Becker, only intensifying the questions Eames still asks today. When did the diocese first hear these allegations, and why was the priest for so long allowed easy access to youths?...

While Eames is appreciative of counseling obtained through the diocese, he said he had no options within that arrangement. His life was turned upside down by a priest whose predatory actions, he contends, were tolerated for too long. Eames is going to court to seek a reckoning for what he calls '45 years of being lost.'"


Is Vatican anti-abuse task force ‘Tale of Two Cities’ or ‘Remembrance of Things Past’?

I appreciate this balanced analysis of the newest step in the Vatican response to clerical sexual abuse. As with most reforms, you can argue why it's a positive step and will be helpful in protecting children, and you can also argue that these bureaucratic responses are too little, too late and don't address the root issues.

I find that some combination of humbly skeptical and cautiously hopeful works best for me.

Priests on sex offender registry find a home in alternative ministry

This is a complicated issue. Something to be aware of at least.

"Father Jamie Forsythe has always felt his purpose was to be a priest. He pursued that calling even after he pleaded guilty in 1989 to a charge of attempting to take indecent liberties with a 15-year-old boy in Kansas, serving time in prison, and being laicized — officially removed from the priesthood — by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City.

Forsythe, then in his 30s, was released from prison after less than four months of his one-to-five-year sentence, and eventually found work at Metropolitan Community Church of the Black Hills, a progressive Christian church in South Dakota that primarily serves LGBTQ worshippers. Forsythe was ordained within the Metropolitan Community Church denomination in 1996, according to the Rapid City Journal, and began working at the Black Hills church in January 2000. But when the congregation discovered in 2002 he had failed to register as a sex offender in the state, he resigned from his post and made his way to Wilton Manors, Florida.

That's where Forsythe found a job at Holy Angels, nestled in a strip mall between a tapas bar and a Peruvian restaurant. It is part of a church system called The National Catholic Church of North America, but it is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. Forsythe was hired as a priest there in 2005, according to the church."

Survivor Story: How I Found Healing Through Scripture

Here's a blog post from my friend Deacon Larry of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He's a good man and is passionate about sharing his path to healing with other survivors.

Please note: Larry's story is meant to be descriptive, not prescriptive. I recognize that each survivor's journey is different.

A Victim's Account Fuels a Reckoning Over Abuse of Children in France

This is a really interesting development in France, tangentially related to the issue of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

"The French writer Gabriel Matzneff never hid the fact that he engaged in sex with girls and boys in their early teens or even younger. He wrote countless books detailing his insatiable pursuits and appeared on television boasting about them. “Under 16 Years Old,” was the title of an early book that left no ambiguity. Still, he never spent a day in jail for his actions or suffered any repercussion. Instead, he won acclaim again and again...

But the publication, last Thursday, of an account by one of his victims, Vanessa Springora, has suddenly fueled an intense debate in France over its historically lax attitude toward sex with minors."

'Cloud' hangs over Vatican regarding Vanier

These are hard but important questions.

"Former president of Ireland, Professor Mary McAleese, has written to Pope Francis about Jean Vanier saying the recent findings of L’Arche’s investigation, which revealed him as 'a spiritual and sexual abuser,' implicates the Vatican 'in a way that demands explanation'... She asks the Pope in her letter to clarify the Vatican’s role or roles in 'this appalling affair' and says the Holy See needs to set out clearly its relationship since the 1950s with Vanier and Philippe and the organisations they set up.

'Now that both Philippe and Vanier have been unmasked the spotlight moves to the Holy See. What did it know and when and what did it do to prevent Vanier and Philippe living their grand lie? What did it do or not do which allowed Vanier to grow into the uncontested legend of folk saint and icon, a reputation which must have made it so very difficult for victims to come forward?'"

West Virginia Catholics turn to ‘restorative justice’ in wake of bishop revelations

Lots of interesting things to chew on here: "[Presenter Father Daniel Griffith identified 'three critical challenges for greater healing in the diocese.' These included 'the inclusion of all people at the table, including victim survivors, a sincere acknowledgment of harm and apology by current diocesan leadership, and greater accountability for those who may have been morally complicit in the past harm and injustice.' 'In order for significant healing to occur,' Griffith concluded, 'restorative justice requires accountability.'

Also, this: "Jesuit Father Hadi Sasmita, a campus minister at Wheeling University, told Crux that the conference taught him that 'many people are not ready to move on.' 'Restorative justice recognizes people are healing at different paces,' he said. 'As a pastoral minister, if I were to tell them to move on, it would be as if I’m saying, let’s skip the Lenten season, the passion, suffering and death of Jesus Christ, and move on to celebrate the resurrection,' the Jesuit continued."

Survey of sex abuse victims hopes to dispel myths about survivors

I encourage all survivors to fill out this simple survey, whatever your experience or perspective. Obviously there are limitations to this form of data collection, but more information would be helpful. I look forward to seeing the results.

"A survivor of sexual abuse is conducting what she believes is the first broad survey of victims of sexual abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church, with the hopes that the information will clarify and counteract common misperceptions about the survivor community. Among those myths: that all the victims are male and were abused by priests. The survey, which was launched Sunday, already is finding 'a lot more women are survivors than generally thought,' said Joelle Casteix, an author and advocate for survivors of child sexual assault and institutional cover-up.

'Knowledge and data are vitally important,' said Casteix. 'The more we understand about the makeup of the survivor community, the more we can reach out and help them. And the more we talk about abuse, the more we can make sure our children today are safe.'"

Top Vatican anti-abuse officials to visit Mexico later this month

This headline might not sound like much, but there was quite a big shake-up when these guys went to Chile and helped uncover the horrors there. I hope they can do the same in Mexico.

"Despite the visit being presented as an 'assistance' for the local church, it will also serve as a fact-finding mission: The Vatican’s embassy in Mexico City, headed by Italian Archbishop Franco Coppola, has asked victims to come forward to speak with Scicluna and Bertomeu, stressing that they would be at the 'disposition of all those who want to share their experiences or to receive direction or assistance.'

While in Mexico, the two envoys will meet with Mexican bishops, superiors of religious orders, and survivors who want to come forward. According to a statement released late on Monday, the Mexican bishops said they had requested that Scicluna and Bertomeu visit the country."

Four Mexican bishops referred to superiors in sex abuse cases

More details from Mexico: "The Vatican’s representative in Mexico said Tuesday that four Catholic bishops had been referred to their superiors for alleged connections to cases of sexual abuse as part of the church’s efforts to gather information about the possible cover up of abuse. Nuncio Franco Coppola did not provide details on the bishops’ possible roles, but noted that in January and December an email address opened to receive abuse allegations took in dozens of allegations, mostly accounts of cover ups."

Also of note: "Jesús Romero Colín, a psychologist and director of Inscide, a nongovernmental organization that supports victims of sexual abuse, said there could be thousands. Romero Colín himself was abused by a priest in his church when he was 11 years old. 'In my case, there were 20 victims and I was the only one who came forward,' he said. 'Of 50 victims that have come to our organization, only two filed formal complaints and there are priests who abused 100 or 130 victims.'"

The more I learn about the rates of reporting for child sex abuse, the more I believe that the numbers the Church uses are often grossly understating the problem.

Justice for survivors of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Latin America

This is an excellent, in-depth investigation into abuse in the Church in Latin America.

Vatican halts Mexico abuse prevention mission, cites virus

Disappointing news from Mexico (from March 6). For what it's worth, I think cancelling the mission was probably a good decision, but we should pay close attention to whether it is rescheduled in the future.

"Mexico’s bishops said Friday the Vatican had suspended a clerical sex abuse fact-finding and assistance mission to Mexico due to the spreading coronavirus in Italy and now the Vatican...

The mission to Mexico, which was announced Monday, was known to have alarmed some in the Mexican hierarchy, and abuse survivors said they doubted the virus was the real reason it was scuttled."

Peruvian cardinal says Sodalitium should be 'dissolved'

This would be a positive step. (And before anyone jumps in to point out the obvious - Yes, I see the irony of any Catholic stating that religious movements mired in abuse should be dissolved.)

"Peruvian Cardinal Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo said he believes Sodalitium Christianae Vitae and any other religious movement mired in sexual abuse should be dissolved. In an interview with Peruvian radio station Radio Santa Rosa March 9, Cardinal Barreto said that while 'there are good people in Sodalitium,' the cases of sexual and physical abuse, as well as financial irregularities, cannot be ignored."

States use Catholic clergy abuse lists to screen applicants

Here's another reason that published lists of credibly accused priests is so important - so abusers can't go on to put other children at risk in future employment.

"An Associated Press investigation last fall found nearly 200 accused clergy members had been granted teaching, mental health or social work licenses, with roughly six dozen still holding valid licenses to work in those fields in 2019.

Since then, at least 20 states have started using church-released lists of priests and employees who faced credible allegations to screen applicants or check for current state teaching, foster care and therapy licenses -- and, in some cases, have revoked credentials."

Prominent Catholics together call for review of Seattle Archdiocese’s secret clergy abuse files

It's so encouraging for me to see my fellow Catholics around the country stepping up and speaking out! You can find out more about this new group at

"A group of prominent Roman Catholics announced Tuesday that it’s pursuing a 'lay-led' independent review of the Seattle Archdiocese’s secret clergy files to fully expose the breadth and depth of the church’s sexual abuses in Western Washington and to find a path forward for healing the damage caused to generations of the religion’s followers.

Calling itself “Heal Our Church,” the group, which includes former judges and law-enforcement officials, abuse survivors, retired clergy and others, last week signed and delivered a letter and statement of key objectives to new Seattle Archbishop Paul Etienne, requesting his support of the endeavor."

Who's missing on the Vatican's new abuse task force?

"At first glance, there’s little to object to about the group.

Not one of the members of the task force is just ballast in what seems an honest attempt to answer a real request from around the world to provide advice, guidance, help, particularly in countries where the clerical abuse crisis hasn’t yet really exploded. The fact that virtually all are clerics may be a help in many parts of the world where clergy still enjoy strong respect.

Even in countries such as Iraq, where just being a Christian can be dangerous, on better days priests still can roam almost freely with no need of a visa or passport; their clerical clothing, in itself, is all the authorization they need.

Yet there are also questions worth asking about the composition of the task force..."

Ex-Fort priest acquitted of sex abuse cleared by Madison Diocese

I've been following this case unfolding since it's so close to home for me. (You can read the diocese's full statement here.)

Pope lets French cardinal embroiled in abuse cover-up resign

Finally. I honestly don't understand why Pope Francis did not accept Barbarin's resignation right away when it was first offered.

"Pope Francis on Friday accepted the resignation of a French cardinal who was convicted and then acquitted of covering up for a pedophile priest in a case that fueled a reckoning over clergy sexual abuse in France.

Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, 69, had offered to resign when the Lyon court in March 2019 first convicted him and gave him a six-month suspended sentence for failing to report the predator priest to police. Francis declined to accept it then, saying he wanted to wait for the outcome of the appeal. He allowed Barbarin to step aside and turn the day-to-day running of the archdiocese over to his deputy.

In January, after an appeals court acquitted Barbarin, the cardinal said he would again ask Francis to accept his resignation. He said he hoped his departure would allow for the church in Lyon to 'open a new chapter' with new leadership."

Study identifies 16 child sex abuse rings in Victorian Catholic Church

News from Australia (thanks to Elizabeth for passing this along). I'm not familiar with social network analysis, but it sounds like a helpful tool for investigating these connections.

"A three-year research project into paedophile Catholic clerics in Victoria has identified 16 child sex abuse networks operating over six decades involving 99 priests and Christian Brothers.

In her thesis, Muytjens used a research method called social network analysis, which can reveal hidden patterns and ties between members of groups and provide insights into how they operate. Using SNA enabled her to identify connections between clergy perpetrators and specific locations in Victoria from 1939 until 2000, unearthing what she described as a pervasive 'sexual underworld' that had the potential to destroy Victorian dioceses."

Former Steubenville pastor sentenced on child sex charges

Read this heart-wrenching victim statement from a young woman sexually abused by her pastor beginning when she was age 12. It's so sad to realize this victim-blaming and protecting of perpetrators happens everywhere - not just in the Catholic Church.

"I have heard lots of anger, read words of aggression, and seen faces full of tears and much prayer being given, not for me and what I've been through, but for my perpetrator – the man who silenced me, abused me, and had gotten sexual gratification from a child. Videos were posted and comments made not to listen to the victim because it threatened to ruin the reputation and image of Pastor Everett Mitchell.

Can you even begin to fathom how painful it is for people to blame me for tearing Everett's family apart instead of holding him accountable for his own terrible actions? It feels pretty awful to be devalued, degraded, re-victimized, victim blamed and shamed to make this man appear upstanding, disciplined, and above reproach. I had to live with the shame, guilt, and humiliation caused by Everett's actions while he was constantly supported, lauded, and esteemed in and out of the public eye."

Expert: No system ‘will ever be perfect’ but Church abuse prevention is improving

I'm not quite as optimistic as this woman about the current state of attentiveness and culture change in the Church, but I do think this is a realistic statement about the reality of sexual abuse - Sadly, no system can create 100% prevention, in the Church or anywhere else.

"According to one of the lay members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, it would be 'naïve' to think that every case of abuse can be prevented, though much can be done to greatly reduce the number of cases and stop repeat offenders.

'If we would expect that with all the guidelines we have in place we can prevent abuse 100 percent, we would be naïve,' said Dr. Myriam Wijlens of the Netherlands. 'We cannot prevent it in the Church in as much as we cannot prevent it in the Scouts or sports. No system will ever be perfect.'

However, she told Crux in an interview, 'we can, and I believe we do, learn to be more attentive, listen and see the signals better and thus improve our reaction. This goes for those in leadership as well as parents and other faithful in the church: we are indeed all more attentive. There is also a better culture that encourages victims to speak and report. The preventive measures will hopefully mean that abusers are not moved and that thus repetitive abuse may be prevented.'"

This statement also feels significant, and true to my own conversations with survivors: "I observed that in the different countries where I’ve lived, each one moves more or less along the same path, but with a different pace. At times I wish that one country could learn from another, but that seem to be very difficult. The pace is not only determined by Church leadership, but also by the other faithful, who are not always willing to talk about abuse and acknowledge it. This can be frustrating for victims because they are, therefore, not always able to speak about their experience: For victims to be able to speak they need to have the intuition that they will be believed by the community and its leadership."


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.

For those who are not able to attend Mass right now because of the coronavirus, I ask you to consider my invitation to offer this challenging time to God in solidarity with abuse survivors, particularly those who are no longer able to go to Mass because of their trauma.

My Jesus, I long to receive you in the Eucharist.

I offer this longing to you, praying for all who have experienced abuse in my Church.

May we all someday be one, as You and the Father are one.


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