• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: March 24

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. Please read, watch, and stay informed.

(As always: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises in the Catholic Church. However, sharing a link does not mean I fully endorse 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 reads below are a great place to start!)


Prevost and Cupich: Can the bishops judge themselves?

Thoughtful analysis, important points.

"The Chicago examples point to a question about how effectively bishops can judge each other against new laws that criminalize the kind of decision-making once common among their ranks.

As the McCarrick Report made clear, bishops giving each other the benefit of the doubt has been a problem in the Church for decades. While the rules have definitely changed in recent years, personnel can, and sometimes does, equate to policy; it certainly can weigh heavily on how a policy is implemented. Building a culture of zero-tolerance and mutual accountability among bishops may need a generational shift, and require a new cohort of bishops who have only ever known, and only ever held themselves to, the new standards."

Courageous Conversation: Panelists Describe Pain, Loneliness, and Healing After Clergy Sexual Abuse in Adulthood

This topic is really, really important. We need to stop ignoring and dismissing victims who were abused as adults. Their pain is real. Their stories matter. We. must. do. better.

"Awake Milwaukee’s latest Courageous Conversation was an emotionally intense discussion of the wounds suffered by people sexually abused as adults in the Catholic Church. The March 18 event began with Esther Harber, a 38-year-old wife, mother, and committed Catholic, recounting her rape by a priest in October 2010 while she was serving as a lay missionary in New York City. She said that when she summoned the courage to tell her pastor what happened to her, he helped her contact archdiocesan officials, 'and from there the reporting process was hell,' she said. 'It was more traumatic in some ways than the rape itself.'"

Harber and the two other speakers revealed ways that Catholic dioceses and parishes often overlook and even exacerbate the pain suffered by adult victims of sexual abuse in the Church."

My Interview with Heather King: "Lay ministry helps abuse survivors find healing in a different way"

It was a pleasure speaking to writer Heather King for this piece for Angelus News. As with any interview, it doesn't quite capture everything on my mind and heart, but I appreciate the opportunity to talk a little bit about what I do and why.

"Larson has been a Catholic her whole life, active and working in parish life, but hadn’t paid much attention to the abuse until the revelations in 2018. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the McCarrick scandal hit her 'like a ton of bricks.'

'Reading the stories of survivors and realizing it was my Church that had done this was profoundly painful. The Church that I love, that I have served. I felt personally responsible. That was me; that was us.'


It's Not Only Children: Addressing the Abuse of Adults in the Catholic Church

I am so honored to have been part of this conversation with these beautiful, strong truth-tellers. Please, take some time to listen to their voices.

The Complexity of Resilience: Talk by Julie Lalonde

This talk was part of SNAP's March mini-conference, and I found the ideas really intriguing. It's an hour long, but worth the watch for survivors and those who care about them.

"Survivors of sexual violence, in particular, have a tricky relationship to resilience. If survivors appear too resilient, then our pain is erased with comments like 'you seem fine!' or 'but look at you now!'. On the other hand, if survivors are open about their pain and struggles, people can react negatively and survivors can lose credibility."


Victim speaks out after abusive priest sentenced

"In an exclusive interview after Quigley was sentenced, the victim described how he and his mother approached the archdiocese and spoke to its then safeguarding officer, Jane Jones. Prior to this, the diocese had learnt of a previous assault by Quigley on another teenage boy and in 2008 had sent him for assessment in the UK and then to the US for treatment.

The victim recalled that he and his mother saw Jones together who told them the archdiocese would ensure Quigley would not be around children. But, said the victim: 'She said he had been told not to go into our local shopping centre and not to wear his dog collar – but twice I saw him wearing it. When we met the safeguarding officer for the third time, she told me: ‘I would strongly recommend you don’t go to the police. You won’t win.’"

How is this still happening?

Colonialism and the Crisis Inside the Crisis of Catholic Sexual Abuse

I still have a lot to learn.

"New Mexico was arguably the epicenter of 20th century priestly sexual violence; several of the clergy named in the [Pennsylvania] grand jury report made their way eventually from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. They came because, for much of the century, bishops from across the nation disposed of their worst offenders by sending them for 'treatment' here. The priests came to the Via Coeli Monastery, run by the Servants of the Paracletes in the mountains near Jemez Springs. The monastery opened in 1947, and over the years more and more of its residents were men who, according to the congregation’s founder, were 'addicted to abnormal practices' including 'sins with the young.' Many of the priests who moved to Via Coeli were eventually released into work with children and adults in New Mexico.

Race and colonialism are—at this juncture and at every juncture—essential to thinking about clerical sexual abuse in the United States. While the East Coast geography and white-ethnic demographic explored in the recent grand jury report are plenty revealing, the continual emphasis on this geography and demographic in recent coverage of Catholic clerical sexual abuse in the United States not only overlooks the severity of the crisis in other places and among other populations, but it also—importantly—obscures the ways race and colonialism have structured the crisis in communities that are not the white-ethnic Catholic enclaves of the East Coast."

German archbishop resigns after independent abuse report

Please note that Hesse has only "offered his resignation" so far. It is up to Pope Francis whether to accept it. In the case of Cardinal Barbarin of France, Pope Francis declined to accept his resignation for a year before finally allowing him to step down.

"The Archbishop of Hamburg has offered his resignation to Pope Francis after being named in an 800 page independent report into clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Cologne. Archbishop Stefan Hesse served for years as vicar general of the Cologne archdiocese, before being made Archbishop of Hamburg in 2015.

The report, published Thursday, is the largest and most thorough of its kind to be undertaken by a German diocese. It examines the handling of abuse cases in Cologne dating back to the 1940s. It identified 11 instances where it found Archbishop Hesse to have failed to take appropriate action."

The Anniversary of Nate Lindstrom’s Suicide Strengthened My Resolve to Aid Survivors

This piece on the Awake blog offers a reflection from my friend Mary Gentile writing about our experience attending a rally in Green Bay to mark the one-year anniversary of clergy sexual abuse victim Nate Lindstrom’s death by suicide. I was honored to be invited to speak at this press conference on behalf of Awake Milwaukee.

"After the event, Patty and I talked about something particularly moving that Nate’s brother Aaron said. He explained that they had been very deliberate in choosing the phrase 'We Believe Nate' for their signs. They even requested that those words be added to the school’s marquee that day. Aaron knew that Nate’s suffering in the months leading up to his death centered on the fact that his allegations were viewed by the Norbertines as 'not credible,' and he was not believed."

Sex abuse in the Church: majority of victims don’t report cases, says expert

This is a small study out of Malta, but the insight is valuable none the less. Note that out of 80 victims of childhood abuse, not a single one had reported their abuse.

"Victims of child and adolescent abuse rarely report their abuse, meaning many perpetrators are still within the community, a 2000 study by psychologist Mariella Dimech of 80 people with drug problems had found at the time.

‘Numbing The Pain’ focused on the link between child and adolescent abuse and drug addiction by following 80 people who had drug problems over time – 90% of these vicims had been abused during childhood and adolescence. 'The abuse was sexual, physical, and emotional and or neglect,' Dimech said, who was asked to comment on the recent arraignment of two Gozitan priests for the alleged rape of an altar boy. '100% of the victims never reported their abuse. This means that no help was given, offered or perceived as being available. This also means that all the perpetrators are still out there,' Dimech said."

‘I exploited them’: Ex-priest and ALP official ‘ashamed’ of child sexual abuse

This is not a unique story - a pedophile exploiting poor, vulnerable children, eventually caught and convicted. What struck me is his statement to the court. It's a very rare thing to hear a sex offender accept responsibility for his actions. I know nothing about his heart, or the state of his soul, but these words are at least appropriate.

"He said he feels guilt and shame not only for breaking the law but for 'contravening my own standards of morality' in his exploitation of the boys he abused.

'The record of my life says I did work for people who were in difficult circumstances and yet here with these victims, these boys, I exploited them. I didn’t only exploit their age, I exploited the fact they came from a poor Asian country,' he told the court. 'I not only contravened society’s standards... I also used and manipulated to my own advantage, a power imbalance between me and them. 'I never doubted the criminality of my action and I understand that exacerbates my culpability,' he said."

Knowing the unknowns of clerical sexual misconduct

I've just been diving into the work of Stephen de Weger on clerical sexual abuse of adults. Important stuff.

"Academics such as Indiana University's professor of sociology Anson Shupe and Loyola Marymount University's professor of law Rabbi Arthur Gross Schaeffer point out that, as in all other 'professional' situations, the responsibility to stop any misconduct from happening lies with the 'professional', the cleric. This is true even in cases where a cleric may be presented with the possibility of a sexual encounter. Because of the enormous power imbalance inherent in cleric/lay-person encounters, as well as an unconscious, psychological transference often accompanying such encounters, authentically free consent cannot be present.

Does this power imbalance always exist in the many varied activities of church life? Does a fiduciary (in good faith) responsibility, expected of other professionals, apply to clerics as well? Does a priest not also have an even greater and permanent positional authority? After all, the church teaches that a man, upon ordination, is ontologically changed. He is given 'sacred' powers via the sacraments, bestowed on him from above through apostolic succession, by Jesus/God Himself. And the laity are dependent upon these priestly 'powers'.

Authors such as Tom Doyle, Richard Sipe and Patrick Wall have no doubt that with this level of personal and institutionalised sacred power, abuse of that power is prone to occur. Also, accompanying the abuses of sacred powers, a collective 'cover-up' culture often results. And for many lay people, at least on a psychological level, these sacred powers of the priesthood permeate, by association, all forms of the consecrated life.

Ayala: Archdiocese of San Antonio plans to update its clergy abuse list

I'm not sure what to make of this move from the Archdiocese of San Antonio, but the last sentence of this article took my breath away:

"When [survivor Steve Bartley], a retired law enforcement investigator, was getting compensated by the Oblates, he was told assistant treasurer Father Rocky Grimard would process payment.

Bartley googled him. He found that in 2015, Grimard was arrested and charged for indecent exposure and soliciting sex from two undercover officers. He got six months’ probation."

California bishop banned priest, but that didn’t keep him from ministry around Chicago

Cases like this are messy. We need better communication between dioceses and religious orders.

"While ministering in San Bernardino, California, in 2014, a Chicago-area priest named Joseph Jablonski told a boy something that prompted the bishop’s office there, when it found out, to notify the authorities and bar him from ever again ministering in that diocese.

The bishop’s office decided that Jablonski’s words — deemed to be an attempt at “grooming” for a possible sexual encounter — amounted to “sexual abuse,” according to records and interviews. But that didn’t prevent Jablonski from continuing over the next several years to serve as a priest in other places — including Chicago, Aurora and Joliet.

That’s because, although the Diocese of San Bernardino immediately notified Jablonski’s religious order — the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, whose Chicago-area headquarters is in Aurora — the order, which describes what happened as “an inappropriate conversation,” kept things quiet."


As always, I 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.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

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