In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: May 18
Happy Monday friends! Things are busy here, as my family is less than two weeks away from our big move (downsizing from our house to an apartment in a different part of Milwaukee). Even with that going on, and a global pandemic to boot, I still have plenty of interesting news to share today. I hope you'll take some time to review the stories below and reflect on what you learn.
PS: If you value the time that I put into reading, researching, and collecting this information for you, would you consider supporting my work through Patreon? Any contribution makes a difference. Thank you!
(Dislaimer: 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!)
** YOUR TOP THREE READS **
This a thoughtful piece about the under-reported reality of sexual abuse of adults in the Catholic Church.
"For years, the clergy sex scandal has focused on abused children. Now, the #MeToo movement and a growing recognition of the pervasiveness of sexual power plays is encouraging victimized adults to come out of the shadows.
'Finally,' said Esther Miller, who led an adult victims workshop at last month's national convention of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), 'women are coming together and saying no more.'
Going public, though, can mean facing skeptical questioning. Women and men endure many of the same pressures that discourage children -- shame, confusion, the unwillingness to confront a spiritual leaders who are admired and even revered."
These are some thoughtful reflections and words of advice for all Catholics about setting boundaries and staying safe in a fallen world. Thank you to the author for sharing what she unfortunately learned the hard way.
"As a survivor of clerical sexual abuse, perpetrated on me when I was a young adult, I believe that we need to have an honest conversation about what a healthy relationship between a priest and those under his care looks like, even those that don't fall under the commonly understood definitions of vulnerable.
I don't want to think that any priest I know would seek to use or abuse me. I don't want to entertain the thought that I would be taken advantage of for his emotional or sexual gain, or that he'd break his vows and betray what is, in many respects, a deeply personal and intimate relationship.
But the truth is that priest are people too; they're fallen mortals like the rest of us, and sometimes they break their vows. Sometimes, they become wolves that ravage the flock rather than shepherds that guard it."
This is really important to pay attention to - what has actually happened when applying Pope Francis's new rules about investigating bishops. Spoiler: It hasn't been good. (Click here for my blog post with a few more thoughts on this topic.)
"Last Thursday, on May 7, one year to the day since Vos Estis Lux Mundi was promulgated, we learned of what appears to be its first removal of a complicit bishop. A two-line announcement in the Vatican's daily bulletin noted that the Pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Jseph R. Binzer from the office of the auxiliary of the Cincinnati archdiocese. Lay Catholic media are reporting that Bishop Binzer was found guilty under Vos Estis, meaning that he was found guilty of intentionally interfering with or avoiding an investigation of an abusive cleric. We don't know this for sure, however; neither the Pope nor his proxies have made any comment.
Some might point to Binzer's resignation as a sign that Vos Estis is working. Seen differently, it reveals serious flaws in the Pope's plan.
Despite repeatedly concealing allegations against a priest now slated to be tried for child rape, Binzer remains not only an archdiocesan priest, but a bishop, with the prestige and financial benefits that status entails.
Is this what passes for 'accountability' under the Pope's new law? An opaque process, Vatican control, papal silence, and the softest of landings for an official who twice ignored allegations against a priest?"
** THE REST OF THE NEWS **
This is a long, ugly story, but a worthwhile read.
Unfortunately, sexual abuse in the Catholic Church spans all theological positions and liturgical preferences. It's not a liberal issue or a conservative issue; it's a power issue.
"On Dec. 18, 2001, a desperate North Carolina dad wrote a letter to the Vatican asking the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to discipline a group of priests at a Pennsylvania boys’ boarding school who he said took turns sexually abusing his teenage son.
The priests were members of an organization called the Society of Saint John, the father wrote, and Bishop James Timlin, then the head of the Diocese of Scranton, had allowed them to take up residence at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania."
Positive news, although I would prefer to see direct removals of bishops who mishandle cases, with clear reasons stated publicly.
"The archdiocese said it had received reports in 2013 and again in 2015 that the priest engaged in inappropriate behavior with teenage boys. "Those reports were held by Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Binzer, who upon receiving the information, spoke with Father Drew on two occasions and received assurances that the behavior would cease."
For more details on the original story, see this article.
(Note that Binzer was previously a member of the USCCB's Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.)
"Conflicting claims have emerged over the way an investigation into a former auxiliary bishop in the US Archdiocese of Cincinnati was handled, casting further doubt over Church leaders’ commitment to the “responsibility, accountability, and transparency” supposed to be the watchwords of ecclesiastical efforts to combat abuse and coverup in the Francis era.
Pope Francis accepted Bishop Joseph Binzer’s resignation on Thursday, more than nine months after an investigation was opened into claims Binzer negligently handled allegations against a Cincinnati priest, of inappropriate behaviour with teenaged boys.
There are, in short, at least two different versions of how Church authorities handled the investigation. One version is from the Archbishop of Cincinnati, the other is from Rome. The two stories do not match."
This is really frustrating. The different stories diverge on a technical distinction, but it points right back to a lack of transparency and clarity in communication. One obvious solution would be for the Vatican to make a clear public statement about the reasons any bishop leaves office prematurely - and to commit to publicly announcing any Vos Estis investigation when it commences.
"The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans announced Friday that it is seeking federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid growing legal costs related to sexual abuse by priests. The filing for reorganization could free the archdiocese from the threat of creditors’ lawsuits while it reorganizes its finances. The New Orleans archdiocese is the latest of more than 20 dioceses nationwide to take such action.
Friday’s statement said costs associated with preventing the spread of coronavirus also have contributed to financial pressures."
More on the Archdiocese of New Orleans' bankruptcy. This is from the official archdiocesan newspaper, so it's a one-sided perspective, but useful to read none the less. (The next post is the statements from the victims' attorneys and from SNAP, for a different side of the story.)
Attorneys for alleged victims of church sex abuse respond to Archdiocese of New Orleans bankruptcy filing
Another perspective on the New Orleans bankruptcy:
"Bankruptcy proceedings often lead to increased secrecy as church officials typically use the bankruptcy process to freeze discovery, which freezes the discovery of exactly who enabled abuse, and how. This decision is not good for survivors nor today's Catholics because living predators can remain hidden, their enabler still in power. The only people this decision helps are the church officials who have enabled and hidden abuse.
In short, bankruptcy will shield [Archbishop] Aymond from being forced to testify what he and his predecessors did to empower, enable, and cover up the abuse of innocents."
This case is so ugly, and it sadly demonstrates the frequent overlap of clergy sexual abuse with abuse in other contexts. Unfortunately, many people are victimized by more than one predator during their lifetime.
"A former New Orleans Police Department detective who led the NOPD’s pedophile investigations unit for years before he was unmasked as a child molester himself admitted in federal court last month that he abused a boy who had turned to him for protection after the boy was preyed upon by his Boy Scout leader...
Windmann said Tuesday that he regards Burkhardt’s admission as 'a step in the right direction,' but he was incredulous over testimony that Burkhardt recently called Windmann 'a professional victim' in an interview with a psychiatrist.
'It wasn’t my fault I got involved with the Boy Scouts. … It wasn’t my fault I was handed over to him, a serial pedophile,' said Windmann, now 55. 'I will not allow Burkhardt to victim-blame and shame me. I am a survivor now.'"
More news on Cardinal Pell - although note that this information is coming from a 2017 report that had been redacted until Pell's abuse trial was complete.
"Pell was a Melbourne auxiliary bishop when he met with a staff delegation from a Catholic primary school to discuss complaints about [Father] Searson, whom the inquiry described as an 'unstable and disturbed individual.' Complaints included that Searson harassed staff and parents, killed and tortured animals in front of children, threatened children with a pistol and a knife, showed children a body in a coffin and used the children’s toilets.
The inquiry found Pell should have advised Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little to remove Searson."
Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield agrees to report all clergy sexual abuse allegations to law enforcement
Yes, it's ridiculous that a diocese would need to have a formal agreement in place to make sure they report these crimes. But yes, it's progress, especially because it specifies a clear process and timeline for reporting and includes vulnerable adults, not just children, and those abused by any church employee or volunteer, not just clergy.
"Under the memo, which goes into effect immediately, the diocese agrees that upon learning of any actual or attempted sexual abuse or misconduct involving a “vulnerable person” — defined as or a child under age 18, someone over age 60, or any disabled adult — to notify the appropriate authorities immediately.
The document covers misconduct by priests and clergy, but also any employee of the diocese, any subcontractor, or any volunteers at diocesan programs or services. It also stipulates the diocese will provide the name of the accused, the name and contact information of any victims and witnesses, and a summary of the allegations...
Trant said the agreement establishes a standardized process by which the diocese takes responsibility for notifying law enforcement in order to launch an investigation. He called it a significant agreement."
This is an interesting (and sad) story to read closely.
"The leader of the board of directors for one of the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ various ministries resigned his post recently after claiming in a lawsuit against the church that he was molested by one of its priests decades ago...
He said he felt the institution to which he has dedicated years of his life left him with no option but to leave his post, especially as it became clear to him that his identity — which he shielded in his suit — had been revealed to his board colleagues."
Note this detail: "In 2019, the plaintiff asked the archdiocese to mediate a settlement rather than needing to return for payments each time he needed counseling, visits he found humiliating."
Unfortunately, this doesn't surprise me in the least. I've come to understand that any Catholic speaking up about sexual abuse in the Church is risking retaliation, whether subtle or more direct. This is one of the many things that has to change if we want a safer Church. In the meantime, I am grateful to all who step up and tell the truth, regardless of the consequences.
"A man who says his job with the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw was impacted after he reported a sex-abuse complaint against a priest has filed a lawsuit against the diocese.
In the suit, Gabriel Villarreal alleges he was retaliated against by the diocese and its agents for reporting a relative had been assaulted by the Rev. Robert J. DeLand. A jury acquitted DeLand of charges related to the relative, but DeLand was convicted of sexual assaulting a different person in a separate case."
Note that different dioceses have different policies about naming priests who have been accused only after their death. Here's how one diocese has chosen to handle this now:
"'Bishop Daniel Thomas determined that it was critical to be completely transparent in our dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors, and to assist victims who are searching for their abuser by providing the most complete information available,' Kelly Donaghy, senior communications director for the diocese, said in an email.
'We needed to deal with these cases as fairly and objectively as possible by allowing the independent Review Board to examine all available evidence in order to make the best possible recommendation as to whether or not a case involving an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against a cleric after his death is substantiated or unsubstantiated.'
The Diocesan Review Board considered 14 cases in 2019 and 2020, according to the diocese. The board substantiated allegations against seven, whom it recommended that the diocese add to its Clergy Status Report. It determined there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations against the remaining seven, whose names it recommended not be included in the Clergy Status Report."
As always, actions matter more than words, but this is a hopeful start for Archbishop Perez as he begins his time in Philadelphia, especially if he had positive meeting with the local SNAP leader.
"'I found the archbishop to be compassionate. I found him to be concerning, and he expressed his own personal anger and disgust of what has happened,' said [SNAP leader] Mike McDonnell."
But again, we'll have to wait and see how this plays out when these promises of care and compassion have to be put into 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.
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.