• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: November 2

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I am discerning the future direction of In Spirit and Truth. If you have not already responded, I would really appreciate hearing from you this week on the In Spirit and Truth Feedback Survey. Thank you!

(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 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!)


Vatican broadens seminary abuse trial amid negligence claims

It's good to see that the Vatican court is willing to look at the larger entities that may have been complicit in this abuse.

"The Vatican criminal tribunal agreed Tuesday to broaden a sex abuse trial involving the Holy See’s youth seminary beyond two priests already charged to include the religious organization responsible for running the residence. The lawyer for the alleged victim argued in court that there was evidence of 'gross negligence' and 'lack of vigilance' in running the St. Pius X seminary that resulted in his client being abused when he was a young altar boy."

Michigan’s clergy abuse probe identifies 454 accused priests, 811 victims

Here's the latest update from the Michigan Attorney General Investigation, which is far from over. Note that 11 clergymen have been referred for prosecution so far, 2 of whom have already been convicted. As has been the case in every other state that has conducted a major statewide investigation, new survivors have come forward and new predators have been uncovered.

Attorney General investigations are messy, expensive, and painful - but extremely valuable in uncovering the truth. As Catholics, I believe we should be asking for investigations like this in every state. The truth will set us free.

The full update can be found here.

Reviled by Catholic leaders, this NJ activist has helped many victims of clergy sex abuse

An interesting profile of survivor and advocate Robert Hoatson.

"Hoatson estimates that since its establishment, Road to Recovery has helped some 5,000 people. Much of the assistance involves financial, legal and psychological support for those grappling with a painful past.

Many clergy abuse survivors say Hoatson helped them through their darkest moments. 'He played a huge role in helping me get through my experience of coming forward about my abuse,' said Joe Capozzi, a clergy abuse survivor from Ridgefield. 'Dealing with the Archdiocese of Newark was at times worse than the abuse I experienced. But Bob guided and protected me from their questionable tactics. He was a big part in restoring my faith and trust in people.'"


Archbishop Aymond asking all diocesan priests credibly accused of child sex abuse to leave the clergy entirely

This is interesting, something I don't think I've seen from a bishop before. There have recently been two highly-publicized cases in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, but this is a unique step pertaining to ALL priests on the credibly accused list. In most dioceses, elderly priests with abuse cases that are decades in the past are often removed from ministry but not laicized unless they request it themselves.

"Since 2018, Aymond has been privately asking credibly accused clergy to voluntarily leave the priesthood and return to the laity through a process called 'laicization,' according to archdiocesan officials. The late Dino Cinel, who was acquitted of child pornography-related charges in the 1990s, voluntarily underwent that process in 2010, Aymond’s second year as New Orleans’ archbishop.

Other local clergymen who were accused before Aymond became archbishop in 2009, such as the alleged child rapist George Brignac, were asked to give up their clerical state and refused. But now, Aymond is not only asking Wattigny and Clark to voluntarily leave the priesthood, he’s reserving the right to force them out if they don’t agree to be laicized, the archdiocese said."

Survivor group demands Vatican investigation of New Orleans archdiocese

Last week I shared on Facebook the previous article about Archbishop Aymond's inititative in the New Orleans archdiocese to laicize all credibly accused priests. I did not intend sharing that article to be a broader statement on Aymond's leadership (in fact, one survivor and advocate pointed out that laicizing abusive priests is not always in the interest of public safety). However, I am grateful to New Orleans SNAP leader Kevin Bourgeois for commenting and sharing this article for another perspective.

"On Oct. 9, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, wrote a letter to Pope Francis calling for the removal of New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. The letter, which SNAP also sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, D.C., said Aymond has refused to be honest with parishioners, has not pursued accountability for abuse and has "lost control of his priests"...

Bourgeois said for him, Aymond's handling of the abuse crisis is especially painful because Aymond was raised and educated in New Orleans and has spent most of his career in the archdiocese, including a stint at Bourgeois' own pre-seminary high school while Bourgeois was a student there. Many New Orleans Catholics looked up to Aymond as a local rising star in the church, Bourgeois said. 'We followed his rise up the hierarchy, and we were proud of him,' he said. 'We thought, 'He's one of our own.' … Yet we're disheartened and angry with how he has treated abuse survivors.'"

Adults Sexually Abused by Priests Blog: Monthly Meeting

This post comes from the personal blog of a woman who experienced sexual manipulation and abuse at the hands of the priest who was her supervisor in a church office. Her regular posts are an honest, unvarnished look at what many survivors experience, especially if their abuse happened when they were adults.

"When I first joined SNAP, I felt like a fraud. Here were people who were raped when they were children trying to heal from horrific acts and bravely facing the church in a one-step forward, two-steps back struggle for justice and prevention. There's not much worse than taking advantage and hurting the innocent and the helpless. Here I was, an adult who had been duped by a crazy priest who I thought had used his position to control his love life out of what I believed to be guilt and fear.

And I had cared for him. I had cared about his feelings. I had liked the positive attention when he was happy and I had said nothing when he was unhappy or in a rage. I had enabled his behavior. I was just as much at fault, I believed. It was a personal, isolated incident. How could I even compare myself to anyone who had no choice or was so small and innocent?"

Adults Sexually Abused by Priest Blog: This Song Is Over

In this blog post, the author writes about her experience of finally meeting with her biship to speak about her abuse.

"If ever I felt vulnerable, it was at the moment that I began to tell my story to the bishop. By vulnerable....I mean, wanting that comfort and acknowledgment from someone. I didn't realize that until after the meeting was over, but that is important for everyone to know because we are put back into a very vulnerable state with a person in front of us who may or may not be sincere. It is a moment of having to allow vulnerability and the unknown. And entrusting a very personal story to someone who looks very similar to the person who caused us harm.

The bishop was extremely kind and concerned, but he kind of threw me with a couple of his questions. He said to me... 'What do you think it was about you that made him choose you?' and 'Certainly you have had such things happen to you at work before, haven't you? Was this any different?'"

Fr Frank’s Homily – 25 October 2020

This is the text of a homily given on Australia's "National Day of Sorrow and Promise" for clergy sexual abuse. The message is pretty good, but I'm passing this along specifically for the poetry written by an abuse survivor shared within.

"It broke my soul

I’ve lived with the pain most of my life It does not scare me anymore Because now I know this Monster God grew out of the sins of man"

Diocese of Rockford Quietly Adds Names to its List of Accused Clergy

I grew up in the Catholic Church in Rockford, Illinois and my parents and in-laws still live there, so I pay close attention to any news from the Diocese of Rockford.

This adding of names and assignment lists is positive progress, but I agree with SNAP's assesment that changes like this should be announced in a more public way. I would also like to see more information (like dates of assignments for each priest) in all published lists. However, I am glad to see that Rockford has added religious order priests to their list, something my own Archdiocese of Milwaukee has failed to do thus far.


As always, I will 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.

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