• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: May 4

Welcome to another pandemic edition of my biweekly news roundup! There wasn't a lot of news on this topic in the last few weeks, but I found some interesting reflections and stories to share none the less.

(Note: 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!)

PS: Thank you to everyone who offered kind words and encouragement in response to the more personal blog post I shared yesterday. (If you missed it, you can find the post here: This Is Not The Time To Give Up.) I am grateful for all of your support and engagement with this work!


Church closures should not give West Virginia Catholics a break from fighting the virus of abusive clericalism

This puts into words something I have been thinking about a lot in the last few weeks. We can't let attention to this issue just fade away, even during this pandemic.

"With all due respect for the severity of the present health crisis, the coronavirus pandemic is something of a blessing in disguise for Roman Catholic leaders. Although some U.S. Catholic commentators have made waves calling for churches to remain open during the pandemic lest the faithful succumb to ;secularism,' the bishops no doubt know that the pandemic gives them a breather from constant media focus on the church’s unacceptable response to clergy sex abuse...

But even as we focus on the pandemic, many of us refuse to forget our church’s complete inadequacy in dealing with Bransfield or enacting any real reform, and we intend to continue to put pressure on our leaders even during these difficult times."

'He groped us during confession': Austin women speak out after accusing Catholic priest of sexual abuse

A reader recently reminded me about this awful case in Austin, Texas. Six different women reported sexual assault by this priest, including in the confessional, and he was simply given therapy and reassigned. Only when the women took legal action was he finally removed from ministry. The civil case has since been settled.

We have to do better with addressing abuse of adults in our Church. It's real, and probably much more common than most of us realize.

Announcing the New Mission Statement of Awake Milwaukee

I am so proud, honored, and grateful to be on the Leadership Team for Awake Milwaukee.

If you haven't looked into Awake, I hope you will do so - and consider sharing with others.

(One great step: Please sign our Open Letter to Survivors here.)


Archdiocese of Chicago reaches $2.1 million settlement in lawsuit claiming 7-year-old girl abused at church camp

This is a disturbing story from Chicago, including the alleged response by Church leaders (the article does not specify them by name):

“'When the father confronted the priest and church leaders, they discouraged the father from calling police, saying the allegations would ruin the girl’s reputation and negatively impact attendance at the church,' [victim's attorney Antonio] Romanucci said."

Abuse victim advocates, laity suffer from ‘vicarious trauma’

This piece comes from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Catholic newspaper, and it definitely has a more institutional perspective. But there is something true in here that's worth noting.

While always acknowledging, first and foremost, the trauma of those who have been abused, it's important to also pay attention to the ripple effects throughout the Church - including on those who listen to survivors' stories and are impacted by them in powerful ways. I can certainly testify to this impact in my own life and heart.

"[Leslie] Davila, who has been a victim advocate for 20 years, said support professionals can suffer from 'not eating right, not sleeping well and worrying constantly about clients.'

'You’re walking around with this emotional residue, hearing their stories and being a witness to that pain, that fear and the trauma they’ve experienced,' she said."

Note: Readers from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia reached out to me to share negative experiences they have had with some of the leaders interviewed in this piece. I respect their observations, but I have decided to leave the post up, because I think the point of the article remains valuable.

I Was Sexually Assaulted At Church: How the #ChurchToo Movement Saved Me

This is a moving story from a survivor of sexual abuse in her evangelical megachurch. The #Churchtoo movement is making a difference in many Christian contexts.

Also of note: This article is from Woman's Day magazine, which means it will reach a whole different audience than something written in the New York Times. That's valuable.

"#ChurchToo isn’t just an online phenomenon—ripples have been felt in the real lives of high-profile pastors and church leaders. In March 2018, Andy Savage, a rising star pastor in Memphis, resigned after admitting to a “sexual incident” with a teenage girl when he was her youth pastor. The following month, Bill Hybels, the influential founder of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, stepped down over sexual misconduct allegations. That May, Paige Patterson, the prominent president of a Southern Baptist seminary, was fired over allegations that he mishandled a report of rape.

By November 22, 2017, Katie had worked up the courage to share her story. She logged in to Twitter and typed out her own account: 'Groomed at 15 by church employee, sexually abused for four years…lifelong megachurch turned [its] back on me.'"

Cardinal Pell’s Acquittal Was as Opaque as His Sexual Abuse Trial

I have been reading a lot about the Cardinal Pell case, including many articles that feel incredibly one-sided and biased and are not worth sharing. However, this piece from the New York Times adds something important to the conversation, especially for those of us who don't have a clear understanding of the Australian judicial system:

"The case has been a model of opaque operations, starting with judges who dismissed related allegations early on, followed by gag orders preventing media coverage and a refusal to release evidence — even when a jury verdict is dismissed as unreasonable.

Legal experts said that the case made clear just how much power judges in Australia have to suppress public oversight and overrule jury verdicts, raising questions about whether the system adequately values citizen participation. At every stage, critics argue, Australia’s courts exhibited a penchant for secrecy and insular decision-making that resembled the Catholic Church’s flawed and damaging response to sexual abuse within its ranks."

Clergy sex abuse victim: 'My name is Barbara Erlandson and I am sharing my story'

Another brave survivor telling her story after many years of silence.

"[Barbara] Erlandson met [Barry] McGrory when her father brought the parish priest to their home so he could offer counsel on her drug and alcohol use.

McGrory began to work with Erlandson, then a 15- or 16-year-old student at Brookfield High School, and gained her trust. Two months later, according to Erlandson, he took her to his rectory bedroom and sexually assaulted her for the first time. The abuse only stopped, she says, when she told McGrory she was pregnant."

Priest accused of sexual assault

This is a brief local story, but I noticed it because I rarely see reports about priests removed from ministry for abuse of adults. I expect there will many more cases to come as more adults find the courage to come forward.

"In addition to notifying authorities, the diocese’s outside counsel retained a professional investigator. During their investigation, the diocese received another allegation involving inappropriate behavior by Walsh with an adult, according to the diocese. The investigator also reviewed two prior reports of possible misconduct involving Walsh.

Walsh denied all allegations. However, the diocese determined the allegations were credible. When the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, bishop of the diocese, told Walsh he intended to remove him as pastor, Walsh resigned, the diocese said."

Financial support, health benefits to end for priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse

"The Diocese of Buffalo announced Tuesday it will cease all financial support and health benefits for priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse beginning May 1 as part of the bankruptcy process."

Accused priests cannot be left 'destitute', Buffalo diocese clarifies

This is an update and more details about the story above.

"The decision to cut benefits was made as part of the diocese’s bankruptcy proceedings. The diocese had filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in February after it was named in hundreds of clergy sex abuse lawsuits in recent months; a New York law came into effect in August. 2019, waving the statute of limitations on old abuse cases for one year, allowing for lawsuits on decades-old cases to move forward in court.

On Friday, Tucker told CNA that the diocese was aware of its 'canonical obligations' to provide for the sustenance of its priests. Canon law requires that clerics incardinated in a diocese receive 'decent support,' and that bishops provide for the sustenance of priests, including those not in active ministry."

Child Sexual Abuse Reports Are On The Rise Amid Lockdown Orders

While the focus of In Spirit and Truth is sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, this work has certainly made me more aware of the abuse that happens in other areas of society as well.

Knowing the long-term effects of sexual abuse, I can't help but worry about all those who are trapped at home with their abusers at this time. May the Lord give them strength and help them to find safety, and may we all pay attention to those in our life who might be at risk.


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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