• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: May 7

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. This is a long one, since I'm a bit behind in my routine, but I hope you will take the time to read, watch, and stay informed.

Teaser: Big changes are coming for the In Spirit and Truth blog! I'm not ready to share quite yet, but I'm excited about what's ahead. Stay tuned for more in the next month or so. :)

(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!)


Bishop Stika accepted deacon accused of misconduct; Knoxville priests criticize 'pattern' of leadership

There are SO many red flags here - about this deacon but also about Bishop Stika. I'm grateful to the anonymous priests who were willing to bring this to light, and to JD and Ed at The Pillar who are doing really important investigative journalism in service of our Church.

"When the [psychological testing] results came back [on this deacon] and were evaluated by the personnel of the Diocese of Knoxville — the vocations director and the leadership of the Diocese of Knoxville — they 100% said he should not be admitted [as a candidate for] our diocese under any circumstances. And the bishop pushed back. He wanted to give him more chances and he kept raising objections. And that was the first time my eyes were raised... Why was he so strongly in favor of this man?”

"Several Knoxville priests told The Pillar that Stika’s apparent intention to ordain the aspiring priest is part of a pattern of questionable judgment, failure to listen to advice from both priests and experts, and, in some cases, failure to appreciate the significance of allegations of sexual misconduct. 'And that’s a pattern,' one priest said."

Panel: Racism compounds the clergy sex abuse crisis for Black Catholics

This was a powerful conversation. The article offers a few highlights, but consider watching the event recording if you have the time.

"Black victims and survivors are also erased from the narrative about clergy sexual abuse, Massingale said. The typical portrait of a victim is a white male, he said — Catholics don't typically think of Black faces when they think of abuse victims.

'If I'm an African American victim of clergy sexual abuse … I don't even see my place in that discussion,' Massingale said. 'And so I'm even less likely to come forward and to identify myself.'

‘Ripe for abuse’: How Catholic sex scandal convinced one seminarian to go public

An old story, but still important.

"Stephen Szutenbach had never kissed anyone when, he says, a priest he had befriended in the late 1990s started making sexual advances. Szutenbach was 18, a devout Catholic teenager interested in the seminary; the Rev. Kent Drotar was a 39-year-old ranking administrator at St. John Vianney Seminary. 'I was so sheltered and I was very uncomfortable because … he's in charge,' Szutenbach said. 'He's the person who could say, 'I don't think he's fit to be in the seminary.''...

"'From a legal standpoint, people often think a 19-year-old should be able to say no and walk away. It's not that easy,' said Kathleen McChesney, former executive director of the bishops' Office of Child Protection. 'Because of the power differential between clerics and seminarians, these people, in essence, should be treated as vulnerable adults.'"

'A fair outcome?' - What an abuse allegation and its fallout can teach the Church

This is a long read, but it's worth your time. JD Flynn at The Pillar is doing a really good job of diving into the complexities of these issues. Also, if you read to the end, you may find some quotes from a familiar friend.

"Sara Larson is the executive director of Awake Milwaukee, a Wisconsin organization that aims to address the 'full reality of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church' and to promote healing in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, where the group is based.

Larson told The Pillar that it’s a mistake to frame difficult cases like Friis’ as a 'balance' between due process, on the one hand, and caring for victims on the other. 'I would instead say that we have a call from our Lord to love every human being as a beloved daughter or son of God. A victim’s right to be heard and believed and a priest’s right to due process when accused, both flow from our Catholic belief in the dignity of the human person - every human person. These rights are not mutually exclusive. I believe we need to stop thinking about victims and priests as opposing forces,' Larson said."


Radical Accompaniment: A Conversation with Victim Assistance Coordinators

This was a really valuable conversation and gave me hope about the potential of Victim Assistance Coordinators to really make a difference in the culture of our Church.

I'm sorry to say that some VACs do not demonstrate the same compassion and trauma-awareness as these presenters do, but I hope that more and more dioceses will find the right people for these roles - and then empower them to offer genuine accompaniment to survivors and to affect real change in the Church's approach to sexual abuse.

Personal Stories From Those Abused By Nuns

A hard conversation, but worth watching.

It's not only priests.


As most of you know, I live in Milwaukee and serve as the executive director of a grassroots Catholic nonprofit organization called Awake Milwaukee. In Spirit and Truth has a national focus, but there's been a lot of important news from my home state recently. If you live in the state of Wisconsin, I highly encourage you to follow Awake on social media (Facebook, Instagram, or LinkedIn) and/or subscribe to our email newsletter here.

Attorney General Starts Statewide Investigation of Clergy Sexual Abuse in Wisconsin

The basics on what's happening:

"This morning Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced the start of a statewide investigation of sexual abuse by religious leaders in the Catholic Church and other faith communities. The announcement came after Kaul met Monday with representatives of all five Catholic dioceses and several religious orders in Wisconsin.

'I know there are survivors, friends and family members of survivors, and supporters of survivors who have waited for years for a fair and independent review of clergy and faith leader abuse in Wisconsin, and that’s what we are announcing today,' Kaul said during a press conference. 'We are conducting this review to get greater accountability and to promote healing for victims. And we’re conducting this review to improve the response to abuse and hopefully to prevent future cases of abuse.'"

My Remarks at the Attorney General's Press Conference in Madison

I was truly honored (and terrified!) to have this opportunity to bring a compassionate Catholic voice to the public conversation. One excerpt of my statement:

"I am here today to speak for Awake and for the many, many Catholics throughout the state of Wisconsin who are heartbroken and outraged about the crimes that have been committed in our Church, Catholics who welcome the Attorney General investigation and the opportunity we have to make our Church better. I am here today because I recognize that healing can only come when we face the whole truth of what has happened in the past – and what is happening today...

The reality is that abuse in our Church is not simply a problem of the past. Through Awake’s ministry, I have had the privilege of walking with many women and men who have been abused by Catholic leaders, during childhood or as adults. Their trauma is real and life-altering, whether the abuse happened fifty years ago or just last year. Many of these survivors are still seeking accountability and justice – for those who abused them and for those who enabled that abuse. Others have never reported their abuse, because they have never felt safe enough to do so. There is so much that has not yet been revealed.

The truth is that the only way forward for our Church is through transparency, accountability, and justice. We cannot even begin to heal until we face the full truth of the crimes that have been committed in our Church. Our Catholic faith calls us to stand up in the face of injustice and act in solidarity with those who are suffering, so I ask my fellow Catholics to join me in welcoming this investigation and in facing whatever might be revealed, with both courage and compassion."

As Wisconsin Clergy Abuse Investigation Begins, Survivors Respond with Hope—and Reservations

I've gotten so much better at not thinking of survivors as a monolith. I'm glad Awake could feature a variety of voices in this piece.

"[Survivor Peter] Isley noted that fellow survivors may be hesitant. 'I know many of you have gone through this before,' he said. 'You’ve gone to the Church, you’ve gone to the police, you’ve gone to therapists. I know how difficult it’s going to be for many of you to come forward again. I want you to know this time is different.' He and Marchant both stated that they trust that the reporting process is set up to be safe, confidential, and supportive to survivors. At the press conference, the attorney general described the reporting system as 'victim-centric,' and said that his team aims to connect people who report with resources such as counseling.

In the days following the announcement, Awake spoke with several victim-survivors of clergy abuse in Wisconsin to get their takes on the statewide review of cases. We heard a range of reactions, reminding us that survivors have a variety of experiences and perspectives, and will not all approach this investigation in the same way."


Cincinnati bishop who quit in fallout over priest charged with raping altar boy will be pastor over 2 churches

No. No, no, no.

"The second-highest ranking bishop at the Archdiocese of Cincinnati who resigned in the fallout over a West Side priest charged with raping an altar boy three decades ago will be the pastor of two Hamilton County churches starting July 1..."

Response from SNAP: "In a tone-deaf move from Catholic officials in Cincinnati, a former auxiliary bishop who resigned his position after it was discovered he ignored allegations against an abusive priest for six years has now been reassigned to a local parish. We are outraged that a man who so failed in his duty to protect children from abuse has been put in charge of a parish and we hope parents and parishioners will stand up against this appointment.”

‘We are outraged’: Parents object to new assignment for Cincinnati bishop who failed to report Father Drew allegation

I would be outraged too. Let's hope an outcry of informed Catholic parents shows the Archdiocese of Cincinnati that this kind of thing won't fly anymore.

"Who is going to put an end to this and allow us a safe place for our kids to have an education and practice our faith?” [one school parent] rhetorically asked. “It’s been very frustrating and very concerning that no one will listen to us. We are paying our hard-earned money to send our kids to this school yet we have no say. It makes no sense.”

Bishop Binzer’s new assignment comes nearly a year after the archdiocese announced Binzer offered to resign but would remain a priest, and Pope Francis had accepted his resignation. The archdiocese removed Bishop Binzer from overseeing priest personnel matters in Cincinnati in 2019, saying he failed to report a 2013 accusation that Father Geoff Drew behaved improperly with children to Archbishop Dennis Schnurr and the Priests’ Personnel Board.

Guarding faith: St. Louis archdiocese adds another priest’s name to its list of abusers, but won’t talk about it

A well-researched article about another popular priest credibly accused of abuse - and the significant differences among lists published by each diocese.

"[Archbishop] Rozanski, through spokesman Peter Frangie, declined to be interviewed by the Post-Dispatch on the Duggan case, the list or anything else about his first nine months at the helm here. When pressed, Frangie said by email: 'On the website you will find that the archdiocese is transparent with information regarding those on the list of Clergy with Substantiated Allegations of Sexual Abuse, but also takes into consideration the wishes of victims, families and the faithful in regards to what the archdiocese shares publicly.'

That statement sounded untrue to a man in his 50s, who told the Post-Dispatch that he was the victim whose allegations landed Duggan on the list. 'They never asked me anything about what they can share,' he said. 'I don’t know what in the hell they are talking about. Who are the ‘faithful’? These guys are crazy. They never asked my family what they can share.'"

Do you love the church but sometimes hate it? There’s a word for that feeling (and it can be beneficial)

Really interesting reflections here...

"With regard to our hatred for the church, we most certainly should not suppress it. That will serve none of us well. In fact, those who have left the church will scarcely be open to returning if we do not first provide them an opportunity to speak of their hatred openly and freely. Once we have done that, what do we do with the energy occasioned by our hatred? Here is where wise spiritual directors and therapists alike counsel the necessity of channeling our hatred, directing it or—to use a psychoanalytic term—sublimating it.

The act of sublimation is familiar to us: the manic cleaning of the fridge, organizing of the garage or kneading of the bread after a major frustration or fight with a family member or bad review from the boss. In these ways, we may turn our anger and frustration to good ends, and they may include helping within the church, where the need for energetic volunteers to cleanse the Lord’s temple has always been a perennial one."

Rape allegations surface for Jesuit priest accused of inappropriate conduct at Loyola, Boston College

The amount of harm one man can do, especially when people refuse to listen to concerns about him early on...

"In a vocation that’s been haunted by countless molestation allegations, Dziak’s case is different. No one has accused him of harming a child, but he’s been accused several times of abusing his position of trust to emotionally manipulate young men, possibly grooming them for relationships...

Several join Ballard in saying Dziak’s pattern of behavior — recruiting attractive young men to perform community service through a competitive program, setting himself up as a mentor, and isolating them in remote locations where they’d be co-dependent — was as manipulative as that of any abusive priest."

For true healing, abuse survivors urge church to hear their stories

I recognize that there are many survivors who would never want to play the "inside" role that these three men are taking, but I'm glad there are those who are willing to do this important internal work within Church structures. I am honored to consider two of these survivors friends.

"A trio of survivors of sexual abuse are inviting the Catholic Church — from parishioners in the pews to the bishops who lead dioceses — to join them on their journey toward healing and reconciliation... It’s their belief that by hearing those stories, Catholics will be touched and begin to realize that churchwide healing from the wounds of abuse is a long process, as their own yearslong recovery attests. They also believe that actions to prevent future abuse must encompass more than the 'checklist' of requirements outlined in the U.S. bishops’ 2002 'Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.'

'Nobody knows what a survivor needs than a survivor him(self) or herself,' said [Mike] Hoffman."

Dominicans in Poland launch investigation of abusive priest

I'm guessing the flow of allegations and investigation in Poland will not slow down for years, now that the floodgates have been opened. Let's pray for the Polish people and the Polish Church. Lord, have mercy.

One victim, on the process of reporting her abuse to a prosecutor: "I felt like Judas going there,” Sister Małgorzata told Więź. “It even has a name – Stockholm syndrome.”

He Told Me He'd "Wanted Me Since the Day We Met." When We Met, I Was 12.

This article is about a woman's abuse by a teacher, not connected to the Catholic Church, but there's something very familiar about the way she describes the process of grooming and manipulation. It's a hard read, but helpful to understanding the dynamics of abuse in the Church as well, particularly of older teens and young adults.

"'You’re not a monster; I wouldn’t stay in touch if I believed that,” I wrote, trying to console him. 'And I know you were not yourself, and I know you’ve apologized. … But it definitely f***** me up for a long time and certainly shatters my well-being when I recall it, as well.'

I really believed that then. I believed he wasn’t a monster.

Then I learned about the others. It started on a private Facebook group of New Orleans women, prompted by the absolute inescapability of his Roth biography. One by one, women from many different years of his class started sharing our stories. There were so many of us. We were ready to talk."

Jersey City priest arrested in sexual contact with woman in church rectory

I just came across this article from last year and while it may not sound like good news, I think it is. Because what I read here is that the woman felt able to come forward, her allegations were taken seriously, it was reported to police, and the priest has been removed from public ministry. Of course, what happens next is important, but still - it's good to see a strong reaction to the kind of behavior that might have just gotten a pass in previous decades.

"A priest belonging to St. Paul of the Cross Church, in Jersey City's Heights neighborhood, was arrested on charges of sexually molesting and harassing a woman in the church's rectory on two occasions, authorities said. Donato Cabardo, 56, of Jersey City surrendered to prosecutors at their offices on Friday, after being accused of touching the victim's breast and rear end in January and again in July.the church's rectory."


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.

Can I also ask your prayers for a survivor who is a close friend of mine and is going through a really difficult time right now? Please pray that God will see her safely through this time of crisis.

God, please give all victims of sexual abuse your healing, justice, and peace.

Come Lord Jesus, come.

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