• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: October 22

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 are a regular reader (or skimmer!) of this blog and/or the ISAT Facebook page, 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 trial for sex abuse in pope’s youth seminary opens

Sometimes, it's hard not to despair about the state of my Church. But Jesus, I trust in you.

"The key whistleblower in the case, Kamil Jarzembowski, said he wrote Francis and other church authorities several letters over the years detailing what he had seen as the roommate of the alleged victim, but never received a reply: He reported seeing his roommate repeatedly molested by Martinelli at night when Martinelli would enter their dorm room. He has said the molestation began when both were minors and continued after Martinelli turned 18.

'It was terrifying seeing these things because at the time I was 15. I had never even seen two people having sex and yet I was forced to watch these things inside the Vatican,' Jarzembowski told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The Polish-born Jarzembowski, once a devout altar boy, was kicked out of the seminary after he reported the misconduct to the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, and said he has since lost his faith entirely in the church and God. 'Psychologically it was pretty tough to take because I came to the Vatican to serve the church. I was a believer,' he said. 'And yet at night I was forced to look at these scenes, with the blackmail that if I talked I would suffer consequences.'"

News About Composer David Haas Grows Worse, and Victim-Survivors Ask for a Ban on His Music

If you are a practicing Catholic, please consider sending this article to the music minister in your parish and ask them to make a public statement that they will no longer be using David Haas's music. If you're in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, contact me at Awake ( to talk about responses in our local Church.

"Kate Williams, senior managing editor at GIA Publications, the main publisher of Haas’s music, wrote in a recent column that music minsters should stop using Haas’s music, suggesting that they ask themselves the following questions:

  • What if a survivor is in your community and hears his music in liturgy?

  • How can you justify contributing to the royalties that financially sustain someone who has caused harm such as this?

  • Why not take this opportunity to learn a new piece of music?

  • What does it say to victims of abuse if your desire to sing 'your favorite song' outweighs their pain?

Williams also expressed gratitude for the rapid, compassionate response of the Diocese of San Jose, which she suggested might serve as a model for others. The statement from that diocese reads, in part: 'The Diocese of San Jose takes these allegations very seriously. We are resolute in our solidarity with all victims and survivors of sexual abuse. In response to these allegations, we have suspended the use of David Haas’s music in the Diocese of San Jose until further notice, effective immediately.'"

Survivor Story: After My Experience with David Haas, I Can’t Sing His Music

We are so grateful to Margaret Hillman for sharing her story with Awake. Please consider sharing this post, especially with anyone you know in music ministry in the Catholic Church.

"'It was surreal,' Hillman explains to Awake. 'Everything happened so fast, before you had a chance to react. I was 18, alone in a strange city, a thousand miles away from home, and things didn’t feel optional.'

When she returned home, Hillman didn’t feel that she could tell anyone. She thought her mother, who was recovering from a painful divorce, was too emotionally vulnerable to hear about it, and music friends were so proud of her connection to David Haas. Hillman worked to put the experience out of her mind.

Now 53, Hillman says that looking back, she sees how much it affected her. She grew anxious, began having panic attacks, and had trouble trusting men. 'I actually spent several months trying to chase my husband away when we were dating because I figured something was going to go horribly wrong at some point,' Hillman remembers. She did attend St. Catherine’s for two years, but was never alone with Haas again, though she encountered him regularly at music ministry conferences over the years. At one point she tried telling a music ministry friend what happened. 'She brushed it off with, ‘Oh, you’re one of David’s girls.’ And I kind of shut down.'"


New report details 44 accounts of alleged abuse by David Haas

More on the David Haas situation, including a story from one of his victims, who had a panic attack when she was asked to sing his music as a cantor at Mass. If we as a Church want to say we care about survivors, we need to stop using his music, NOW.

"This July, Hillman, fellow survivor Susan Bruhl and former Haas colleague Laurie Delgatto-Whitten sent letters to all dioceses requesting to publicly ban Haas' music from liturgies, to ban him from working in the dioceses, and to reach out to other potential survivors of abuse.

Delgatto-Whitten signed the first letter, which was emailed to all dioceses on July 4. On July 26, due to the lack of response (only five bishops responded, Delgatto-Whitten said), Bruhl and Hillman co-authored another letter speaking on behalf of more than 40 survivors who have alleged abuse by Haas. At press time, of the 174 dioceses contacted, 35 responded that they will ban Haas and his music, 37 responded to the letters but did not make a firm commitment to fully ban his music, and 102 have not responded to the women, according to documentation that Delgatto-Whitten shared with NCR."

In a first, Vatican puts priests on trial in sex-abuse case within its walls

This is significant because the priests are being tried in the Vatican *criminal* court (rather than being prosecuted under canon law) because the alleged crimes took place in the Vatican city state. I'll be following this one.

"The scandal is particularly grave because the allegations of abuse were known since at least 2012 but were covered up for years by the Vatican and the Como diocese until they were exposed by two Italian journalists, Gaetano Pecoraro and Gianluigi Nuzzi, in 2017.

The pair relied on the eyewitness testimony of the victim’s roommate, Kamil Jarzembowski, who was kicked out of the seminary after first reporting the abuse privately to church authorities in 2012."

Pope accepts resignation of bishop accused of failing to act on abuse

I'm sorry that it took a documentary to expose these situations, but I'm grateful for all truth-tellers who are pushing the Church to change. I'm glad to see Pope Francis respond, although I would prefer to see complicit bishops removed from their positions (with explicit public statements about WHY), rather than just allowed to resign. Small steps.

"In May, the online documentary “Playing Hide and Seek” exposed two cases of pedophile priests that Janiak handled, first as an auxiliary bishop of Wroclaw and then as bishop of Kalisz, which he had headed since 2012.

It featured court testimony about Janiak’s role in helping transfer one priest, subsequently convicted and defrocked, from Wroclaw to another diocese even after a criminal investigation had begun. The film also documented an alleged cover-up relating to another priest during Janiak’s time as Kalisz bishop."

Colorado’s Catholic Dioceses Pay Out $6.6 Million To Settle Abuse Claims

This is an update from the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program of the three Catholic dioceses of Colorado, set up after the Attorney General investigation last year.

After listening to survivors and advocates discuss these type of reparations programs over the past few years, I think that programs like this have both strengths and serious limitations, but can be a good option for some people who have been harmed. I hope some of these survivors receive at least a small measure of peace - and the financial support they may need - through these payments.

"Colorado’s three Catholic dioceses said on Friday they had paid out $6.6 million in settlements to 73 survivors of priest abuse after a state probe led by Attorney General Phil Weiser last year found more than 160 children were victimized in the state over the course of 70 years. The concept of paying compensation to victims was part of an agreement reached by Weiser and the three dioceses, in Denver, Pueblo and Colorado Springs, last year."

Survivor Feels Some Hope After Meeting Philly Bishop

Here's a bit of positive news for a change:

"I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the Archbishop’s demeanor and his openness to discuss sensitive matters like the abuse. He listened to me, but more importantly, he asked questions. He seemed to have a real genuine interest in my story. He made it a point to give me his condolences on the passing of my mom a few months back. He was open to discussions of how to heal the victims and how he and his administration can try to bridge the gap between victims and a church that abandoned them."

New Orleans priest removed for abuse sent messages to high school student

Responding appropriately to grooming behavior like this is a key part of keeping children and teens safe from abuse. Note that the archdiocese downplays the content of these texts, but it turns out that this priest had already abused a minor in 2013 and is now removed from ministry. We need to take grooming seriously!

"An attorney for the student says the priest's texts were grooming in nature, and, among other things, asked the student repeatedly when he would turn 18. The priest texted the boy late at night, the attorney said, and his texts contained suggestive remarks.

The archdiocese, however, offers a different account of the texts. According to a letter written by Aymond to parents of the school, reported by the Advocate, the texts did not contain 'sexual references or innuendo' but still violated the archdiocesan policies about communication with youth."

Church sex abuse lawsuit targets diocese in Arizona, Indiana

I think there are probably many more stories yet to be told, of poor and marginalized communities being used as a dumping ground for abusive priests.

"'Too often the Catholic Church uses Native American communities to hide pedophile priests,' Robert Pastor, the victim’s attorney who has also represented other child sex abuse survivors, said in a statement. 'In this case the Diocese of Phoenix and the Diocese of Lafayette worked together to assign Father Grear to Native communities and hide his previous sexual abuse of children.'"

Priest in NJ, former prep school chaplain, charged with endangering students

Anyone who knows about the telltale signs of grooming for sexual abuse can see plenty of red flags in this case. I hope this investigation caught him before it went any further. I would like to see more proactive investigation and prosecution of crimes like this to protect children around the country.

"Fr. DiStefano's 'conduct as the leader of an official school club of about 30 hand-picked Oratory Prep students, known as the 'Knights of Malta,'' had been investigated by the Special Victims Unit, according to the prosecutor's office statement. 'For instance, the investigation revealed that DiStefano would frequently attempt to speak with the students about sex and instructed a student to masturbate in order to relieve stress. He also allegedly made repeated attempts to entice a student to accompany him away from the school alone and took steps to conceal that activity, for instance telling the student to leave his cell phone at school so that his true location would be hidden from his parents when he met with him off-campus.'...

The investigation was part of the effort of the New Jersey Clergy Abuse Task Force, which was announced in September 2018 to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clerics in New Jersey. The Union County prosecutor's office said Fr. DiStefano is the fourth priest to have been charged in a criminal case filed by the task force."

Lawsuit: Georgia Diocese covered up sex abuse allegations

Honestly, there's nothing surprising in this lawsuit - The pattern of bishops covering up sexual abuse is well established. I share only as a reminder that there are still many, many cases of cover-up that we still know nothing about.

"The lawsuit alleges the then-bishop learned of abuse allegations and failed to surrender Brown to authorities, protecting him from investigation. A 1987 internal memo from the diocese included in the lawsuit shows that despite his record, Brown was later placed at the school in Savannah where he would go on to molest the plaintiff."

Church of England forgave paedophiles and allowed them to continue working with children, inquiry finds

This report is not about the Catholic Church, but it is striking how similar the problems are:

"'The culture of the Church of England facilitated it becoming a place where abusers could hide,' said a report released on Tuesday. 'Deference to the authority of the Church and to individual priests, taboos surrounding discussion of sexuality and an environment where alleged perpetrators were treated more supportively than victims presented barriers to disclosure that many victims could not overcome.'"


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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