• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: November 30

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. My most recent News Roundup focused exclusively on articles and analysis about the McCarrick Report, which was released on November 10. After that post, I transitioned to covering the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' General Assembly, and you can find my summaries of that meeting here and here. Now, today's post returns to the regular, broader scope of these News Roundups and includes some older articles which were bypassed in the immediate aftermath of the McCarrick Report.

As I mentioned in a blog post last month, I am discerning the future direction of In Spirit and Truth. If you have not already responded, I would really appreciate hearing from you 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 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!)


An open letter to the bishops, from a young Catholic who’s only known a church in scandal

This reflection from a young Catholic was particularly poignant for me. As I'm nearing 40, it's interesting to reflect on the generation of Catholics coming behind me, who have always known the brokenness of our Church.

"Over the years, I have heard adults share similar feelings about the sex abuse crisis. While all their stories are different, the undercurrent is the same: They once believed in the church’s authority. They trusted it. They were raised to believe that priests were good and selfless. When the crisis broke, that trust was compromised. In some cases, it was completely broken.

I have always found this fascinating because, while the sex abuse crisis is deeply personal to my family and my community, I have never known a church without it. I do not remember being Catholic before my own parish was part of a public scandal, which started a domino effect that has not slowed down to this day. Young people did not lose a trust we once had in the clergy; many of us never had that trust in the first place. And that, in its own way, feels pretty terrible and disheartening."

Bishops shouldn’t investigate one another. Their U.S. conference must enact reforms.

You can file this headline under "stating the obvious," but the analysis is good.

"One of the main takeaways from the report, therefore, is the manifest inadequacy of the system now in place that counts on archbishops to police abuse by bishops. Yet proposals from within the American church’s U.S. hierarchy to give laypeople a prominent, formal role in investigating allegations involving bishops, floated two years in Baltimore, were controversial within the U.S. bishops conference — and do not appear to have been seriously considered by the Holy See.

That’s a problem. The report on Mr. McCarrick is itself the product of a lawyer, not a cleric, who was tasked by the Vatican. That’s just the latest confirmation that greater transparency and accountability, critical to surmounting the church’s problems, are unlikely to be achieved when the hierarchy polices ­itself."

I was educated by abusive priests. What should I do with the gifts they gave me?

This is a really thought-provoking reflection from a man who has discovered that many of the Jesuit priests that he knew and loved in high school have been credibly accused of sexually abusing students.

"What does it mean to teach Catholic adolescents how to be a man for others when you live among men who view the students as potential sexual conquests? What does it mean for those of us who tried to internalize those values? What value does community have when leaders exploit vulnerable members and the others do nothing?

I loved my school while I was there. I trusted its people to keep me safe, and they did. But was I just lucky? What was Tom Hidding? A friend, a predator or both?"


The McCarrick Report: Odds and ends

This is a helpful analysis of what the McCarrick report does NOT do, what information it does NOT provide, and what questions are NOT answered. The author has an anti-Francis leaning, but I think his evaluation here is fair.

"There is a popular misconception – one to which even old Vatican hands are frequently tempted – according to which the architects of the McCarrick Report intended it to be an exhaustive account of the McCarrick Affair. It is not. The McCarrick Report was never meant to be any such thing...

The McCarrick Report is little more than 400+ pages of frequently gruesome fluff, with a soupçon of blame avoidance and scapegoating. It does not at all serve as an analysis of the actual culture that allowed McCarrick to happen, or how that culture permeates the Church to this day; much less, what we might do even to begin to address the issue. In fact, it doesn’t seem to admit that there is a real, systemic problem at all. That is precisely the attitude evoked with the expression 'Mistakes were made' – which more than one commentator has used to sum up the report."

Alleged victims still waiting for justice in case of Argentine bishop working at Vatican

In the wake of the McCarrick Report, one of the most important questions is this: Will things be any different moving forward? The Zanchetta case might give us some clues.

"Those who made the allegations against Zanchetta are equally frustrated by how long the process is taking. The bishop is accused of sitting in the beds of seminarians at night and pressuring them into giving him massages and other overtly sexual ministrations. Although Zanchetta is not accused of abusing minors, the alleged victims are men as young as 18.

Crux reached out to one of the priests who made the allegations against Zanchetta. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, because 'we’re not being well treated when a news is published,' he said that when it comes to transparency on the case of the former bishop of Oran 'those making things more transparent are you, the media.' 'The Zanchetta case is a very delicate one,' he said. 'This character made too much damage to our diocesan church, that cannot recover from it all, that was cut in half after it happened. I don’t believe that the case should be left unresolved.'"

Leading abuse expert hopes McCarrick report ‘will have consequences’

I'm sure Fr. Zollner is not perfect, but I do believe he's one of the Catholic "insiders" pushing hardest for change from within.

The main point I noticed in this article is his reference the possibility of future investigations and reports like the one on Theodore McCarrick: "“It is a probe into Church procedure which hopefully will have consequences, for example in regard to the process of appointing bishops. Think it's an important step, and I’m sure this will not be the last one of its kind... Now that we have this unprecedented step taken by the Holy See at the decision of the pope, you have a door open, so to say, and I’m pretty sure that for similar cases, a similar procedure will be chosen."

It sounds like Fr. Zollner doesn't have any specific knowledge of possible future reports, but I do think the NEXT report (if there is one) will be an important step in setting a new trajectory for the Church.

After McCarrick report, Chile wants full accounting of its abuse crisis

Following up on the comments from Fr. Hans Zollner, here's an example of one place that a thorough Vatican investigation and report would certainly be warranted:

"Upon the release of the Vatican’s long-awaited report on the rise to power of former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, abuse survivors from Chile wonder where’s the report on the rise to power and fall of several members of the local hierarchy, included two influential cardinals accused of cover-up. Chile’s abuse crisis is staggering: Over a quarter of the country’s bishops have been subpoenaed by prosecutors over allegations of either abuse or its cover up...

In early 2018, Pope Francis dispatched Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, the Vatican’s point man on abuse, to Chile, and he produced a 2,300-page confidential report on the crisis in the country. The file led the pope to summon the Chilean bishops to Rome, where they handed in their resignation en masse. Yet, after this seemingly impressive start, change in the Chilean Church is at a stand-still...

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of — a website that documents the abuse crisis — told Crux the Church’s ongoing refusal to publish the Chilean report 'makes a mockery of its repeated vows of transparency.' Barret Doyle also noted other bishops who’ve been sanctioned 'are enjoying relatively soft landings.' Furthermore, 'the pope hasn’t uttered one public word of criticism against them. He should order a full public accounting of every bishop who is an enabler or an abuser or both... But I’m not optimistic that this will occur — I fear that the McCarrick report will be a one and done,' Barret Doyle said."

Vatican OKs probe of sex abuse coverup by Polish bishop

This is a small but significant step in Poland, where the Catholic Church is just beginning to grapple with the reality of past and present sexual abuse and cover up.

"The Vatican has ordered an investigation into allegations that a now-retired archbishop in Poland was negligent in investigating reports of sex abuse of minors by priests in his Gdansk archdiocese. The Vatican Embassy in predominantly Roman Catholic Poland said the archbishop of Warsaw had been assigned to conduct the probe and that the preliminary investigation into Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz has been completed."

Enablers and Bystanders: Are They Key to Addressing the Sex Abuse Crisis?

This definitely rings true from my conversations with survivors:

"In his interviews with survivors, Guiora was surprised to learn that their anger is less often directed at the perpetrator or abuser, 'but they are outraged by the enabler,' he says. Guiora began to ask survivors what they had expected of the enablers. 'The answer that they all gave me was that they wanted to be protected,' Guiora explains. Yet the enablers in the McCarrick case and other incidents are so focused on protecting their institution that 'they don’t care for a second about the victims.'"

Cardinal apologizes for abuse as English bishops overhaul safeguarding structures

The headline and intro to this article are unremarkable, but the second half outlines some proposed changes in the safeguarding structures in the Catholic Church in England that are actually quite interesting:

"One eyebrow-raising recommendation was a proposal to suppress the Survivors Advisory Panel, which was established to ensure that the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission in England and Wales receives appropriate and timely information and advice from the perspective of survivors, so it can inform safeguarding policies, procedures and practices...

The safeguarding review noted that 'it is imperative that the voice of those that have been harmed through their involvement with the Church, is heard and learnt from', but added that 'working within a formal committee is often challenging'...

'The suggestion of not placing reliance on a committee approach or a panel approach solely – where people are coming together and talking on good basis – it actually comes from what the individual survivors themselves have said to me: They don’t feel comfortable,' Elliot continued."

Who's At Fault? New Reports on Clergy Sex Abuse Offer Different Views

This is a thoughtful analysis of the similarities and differences between the McCarrick Report and the recently-released recommendations from an independent investigative commission in the U.K.

"The Vatican’s investigation into its own systemic failure was intended to organize the facts of McCarrick’s ecclesial rise amid credible allegations of abuse. It was not intended to lay out recommendations for reform — and it does not. However, the layer of culpability in the McCarrick report is spread so thin that no one need take actual responsibility except McCarrick himself. And McCarrick — now dismissed from the clerical state — is no longer the Church’s responsibility.

What do we make of these new reports, two more in the long line of 30 years of such reports? When things go wrong in high-profile cases, like McCarrick’s, individuals are often assumed to be at fault. But these reports reiterate the problem is not a 'few bad apples' nor organizational bungling; the system itself is actually the problem."

2 accused predator priests may be deposed despite New Orleans church's bankruptcy case

This is significant, as bankruptcy proceedings often block testimony that could implicate church leaders in covering up abuse.

"Grabill's ruling could set up explosive and damaging testimony under oath from two of about eight surviving diocesan priests whom Archbishop Gregory Aymond has named as suspected child molesters. Court filings suggest that the plaintiffs’ legal team would seek to use the questioning in part to determine how church officials — including Aymond and his predecessors — managed Calamari and Hecker after learning of the allegations against them."

Taking a broader view of Vatican ‘anti-corruption’ reforms

This piece is focused primarily on Vatican financial reform, but John Allen is a very knowledgeable commentator on the inner workings of the Catholic Church and I find his observations here quite telling in terms of the Church response to sexual abuse as well.

In brief: Changes in policy and personnel matter, but it's culture change that is most essential.

"A recent study by the intergovernmental Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that a large share of companies currently under investigation for various forms of fraud and abuse already have hugely expensive, state-of-the-art compliance programs with international anti-corruption standards. Likewise, a recent study in the International Journal of Economics and Business Research found little relationship between formal company policies and corruption, but a direct and enduring correlation between weak institutional culture and corruption.

In other words, it’s a consistent finding of organizational studies that changing laws and individual personnel may be necessary conditions to prevent corruption, but they’re hardly sufficient. The real trick is changing the organization’s culture."

Charlotte priest remaining on administrative leave after reports of 'boundary violations'

I don't know much about the specifics of this case (from several months ago), but I find it encouraging that this priest was removed from ministry based on allegations of boundary violations with youth. These are the kinds of behaviors we need to take seriously if we want to keep children safe.

"The diocese's investigation concluded, 'while some of the allegations appeared credible, no specific incident of sexual abuse of a minor was identified based on the evidence presented and recollections of ages and event decades earlier.'

The Diocese of Charlotte has not received any allegations from Father Hoare's time in the diocese but considered three complaints against him alleging 'several instances of inappropriate physical contact with minors' observed by others. These instances took place in group settings at St. Matthews and St. John Neumann. Bishop Jugis said these reports did not constitute sexual abuse but were considered inappropriate — including a hug, rubbing the shoulders or abdomen of a minor, and being 'very touchy.'"

New York state sues Buffalo diocese over priest misconduct

The Diocese of Buffalo has been quite a mess for a while. I hope this suit forces them towards greater accountability.

"New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo and two former church leaders, alleging they covered up allegations of sexual misconduct and misused charitable assets by supporting predatory priests who were allowed to retire or go on leave. The lawsuit against the diocese, former Bishop Richard Malone and former Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz follows a two-year investigation. It found church leaders sheltered accused priests by letting them step away from ministry rather than follow mandated procedures that would subject them to possible removal from the priesthood by the Vatican...

The 218-page complaint filed Monday takes the novel approach of applying New York’s charities statutes to address clergy sexual misconduct. It asks a judge to require the diocese’s interim leader, Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, to comply with mandatory policies and procedures and seeks the appointment of an independent compliance auditor."

VIDEO: The 50-Year Secret: An ABC7 News exclusive documentary

I don't think I shared this when it first came out, but meeting Becky Ianni at the SNAP conference in September reminded me of this excellent documentary of her story.

It's 23 minutes long, and definitely worth your time.

Complaints of Sex Abuse by Nuns Begin to Emerge

I recently connected with a survivor who was abused by a nun. She speaks powerfully of the need to recognize and face this type of abuse in the Catholic Church, which she believes is much more common than people might think.

The best article I could find on the subject is quite old (2006), but sadly, still relevant today. You can also find the issue discussed on the "Abused by Nuns" blog.

"Sexual abuse by nuns has gone largely unaddressed and unreported until now in part because of cultural biases about gender roles and sex, say those knowledgeable about the cases. Women often abuse in seductive ways that silence and confuse victims, Anderson said. And when abuse is alleged, it can be difficult for victims to assign accountability in the maze of 450 women's religious orders. The Catholic Church says it has no jurisdiction over the orders. But slowly, more victims are telling their stories."

Saints who survived abuse

A beautiful little piece from my friend Meg, highlighting some saints who experienced abuse during their earthly lives.

"At our most painful, vulnerable moments, it’s easy to feel abandoned by God. Many survivors of physical and sexual abuse struggle to see where God was in their terrible suffering or how they can feel close to him again. At times like these, the help of a good therapist is invaluable. But God offers us healing and companionship not just through counseling and medication and a supportive church community, but also through the lives of the saints who similarly experienced abuse, even at the hands of clerics. As we pray for survivors and fight for justice, let’s look also to holy men and women who were abused, finding in them inspiration, intercession, and solidarity."


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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