• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: October 5

Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. This week's Top Three Reads are especially significant, so I hope you will take the time to read those in full.

(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!)


Report finds flaws in Catholic Church abuse-prevention plans

This is really, really important. I haven't dug into the details yet, but ChildUSA is an excellent authority and everything they're saying rings true from my own research and experience.

"Child-protection policies adopted by Roman Catholic leaders to curb clergy sex abuse in the United States are inconsistent and often worryingly incomplete, according to a think tank’s two-year investigation encompassing all 32 of the country’s archdioceses. The analysis by Philadelphia-based CHILD USA said the inconsistencies and gaps suggest a need for more detailed mandatory standards for addressing sexual abuse of children by priests and other church personnel, a problem that has beset the church for decades and resulted in many criminal investigations, thousands of lawsuits and bankruptcy filings by numerous dioceses...

CHILD USA founder and CEO Marci Hamilton said the prevention effort will remain flawed as long as individual bishops remain in charge of implementation without more forceful independent oversight. 'They have a long way to go,' she said. 'Whatever the numbers of cases are, the policies are still not adequate.'"

Into Account Report: David Haas

Last week, Into Account released their full report of decades of sexual abuse by David Haas, and it's so much worse than what I had imagined.

I just... I don't even know what to say. This man raped a 13 year old in 1979, and he abused a long string of girls and women for over 40 years, while we continued singing his songs in church. I'm so angry and disgusted. Somehow, he got away with it over and over and over, and we need to be asking how and why.

(Strong trigger warning on even clicking this link. It's so ugly.)

Recognizing the Red Flags of Clerical Abuse (of Adults)

This is a really important post written by my dear friend Emily. Catholics, please consider sharing. And if you are a victim of abuse as an adult, please know that what happened to you is not your fault and that your trauma is real. Feel free to reach out to me any time if you want to connect.

"In the past couple of years, the possibility of sexual abuse of minors in the Catholic Church has become front and center. As mothers, we have learned that we need to hold people in our Churches accountable, and that we can’t blindly trust them with our children. Guidelines have been put in place, parents have educated themselves about what the grooming for this sort of abuse looks like, and we’ve learned to be vigilant. What hasn’t been talked about as openly, but may be just as prevalent, are cases of priests sexually and spiritually abusing adult women...

To put it bluntly, we have a hidden epidemic of abuse of women by the clergy, and we need to have an honest conversation about what a healthy relationship between a priest and a lay woman looks like. We don’t need to fear to approach our priests for help or the sacraments, or even to have a friendship with a priest, but just as we have learned that we need to be aware of grooming behaviors towards our children, we also need to be aware of grooming behavior aimed towards ourselves."


5 Ways the Catholic Church Can Build More “Institutional Courage”

I love this approach to addressing sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. And I love that Dr. Freyd says there are two common routes to change. I have seen hopeful examples of transformation coming from a leader committed to change (Bishop Hebda in St. Paul-Minneapolis, for example), but I also believe that we as lay people have an opportunity to push for institutional courage - and create it ourselves as well.

Let's be courageous together!

"How can we encourage more Church leaders to respond with institutional courage? Freyd says more research is needed, but she’s seen two common routes to making this happen. 'One path is that a group of members come together in solidarity and through their numbers and their solidarity put pressure on the leaders of the organization,' she says. 'That pressure usually involves a little bit of public exposure for the organization.' Another path to institutional courage starts near the top, with one leader making a commitment to act courageously. 'I’ve seen that happen where you’ve got somebody with sufficient power in the organization and they really lead a charge and change things,' she says."

Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church (Podcast)

I just listened to the second episode of the new podcast "Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church," and it was really good. I can't speak to the rest of the series, but this episode was very thoughtful and informative. I have read a lot about the history of the abuse crisis in the United States, but I still learned some new things while listening. Highly recommended so far.

"A series about the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church: its origins, characters, causes, and reforms. Host Karna Lozoya interviews bishops, survivors, reporters, lawyers, social workers, and many more, to help navigate a systemic problem that has plagued the modern church for at least 70 years."

How to Support a Friend or Loved One Who Has Been Sexually Abused

This is an old article, but the advice is timeless: Listen, support, honor.

Some suggested responses, if someone choose to share their story with you:

  • “Thank you for sharing.”

  • "You are not to blame for what happened to you.”

  • “You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”

  • “I’m sorry this happened to you.”

  • “You are not what was done to you.”

  • “That was abuse, not healthy sexuality.”

  • “I support you in your healing process.”

  • “I respect you for addressing this.”

  • “I love you.”

From one survivor to others, wishes of healing for David Haas' accusers

The stories about David Hass might feel like old news to some, but the effects of abuse can last a lifetime.

"Long after my abuser went on to mess with other girls, some of them my friends, I questioned my own behavior: Had I been complicit in my shame? Had I been too inviting, too welcoming, too compliant? Had I been naive, overly trusting, ridiculous? Certainly, I had been pathetic to believe in my specialness. Certainly, I should have been able to predict how it would go. A small part of my being still cringes at the memory.

For the women who accuse Haas and others like him, these self-reflections will never quite go away, even with the help of therapy, prayer, successes in life, true love. Five decades later, a newspaper report about someone else's longtime predatory behavior may make them feel just as terrible. That is what has been taken from them."

Sexual Abuse in the Church: Map of Justice Worldwide

This is a really informative piece on the global response to abuse in the Church. The interactive map and timeline are particularly helpful for a broad overview of the crisis.

Results from the Survivors Insight Survey: Gender, Stereotypes, and Reporting

This is a small, non-scientific survey of survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church (only 171 participants), so I don't think we can draw firm conclusions from the results. But it raises interesting questions about what we think we know about this issue.

A few things I noticed:

  • 40% of respondents said their abuser is not included on any church lists. (Think about what this means.)

  • The term "survivor" was viewed much more favorably than the term "victim."

  • About half of respondents were women, and they identified many gender-specific obstacles that got in the way of them reporting. The author concludes that our assumptions about the gender ratio among those who have been abused (which seems to be based mostly on the John Jay Report, which is based on disclosures by bishops) may be incorrect.

Amid pandemic, support group for clergy abuse survivors holds meetings online

I'm honored to both learn from Paula and consider her a friend, and I'm so glad her Spirit-led work is being recognized.

Also, so much of this article rings true for me, in my own little experience of bringing together survivors for online support. God is moving.

"Paul said he has been through a lot of therapy and is surprised at the growth he is experiencing from the online group. 'When I’m with these people, there’s some sort of soul recognition … that has opened me up even more to feeling,' he said. 'I feel more whole and more comfortable in a new way being around these people, and it’s surprising. 'I say this with some caution, but to me it is a ministry in the broadest sense of the word,' he added. 'When we are able to … fully be present to each other there, there’s an existential love that shows up. And that’s the power of the Spirit showing up and healing together.'"

Maybe Talk About It

An interesting reflection connecting Elie Wiesel, the story he tells in his acclaimed book "Night," and the need for survivors to share their stories.

"The impact of the story any one person tells does not have to reach the globe in 30 translations or millions of copies. What it needs to do, above all, is release the survivor gripping it close in silence, unheard and isolated. What it can then do, once heard, is free the victim and, beyond, help heal people in unexpected places and unexpected ways–one at a time, person to person, heart to heart."

These 3 Catholic Leaders Are Refreshingly Honest About Sexual Abuse in the Church

I wrote this little post for the Awake blog, reflecting on a conference put on by the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. It really is good for my soul to see what is possible if a diocese and its leaders really are committed to honesty and change.

"Father Daniel Griffith, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes and Liaison for Restorative Justice and Healing for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, followed Justice Geske with the most honest reflection I have ever heard from a priest on the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. I took notes as fast I could during his talk, but I would highly recommend watching his entire presentation online. Fr. Griffith directly addressed the systemic problems that led to both abuse and cover up, asking, 'What type of culture produces this behavior?' He suggested that if our response to the abuse crisis does not transform that insular clerical culture, that culture will continue to cause harm. Griffith highlighted three key issues that need to be centered in any response to the twin crises: the accountability of bishops, the role of the laity, and care for victim-survivors. While placing his talk firmly in the context of restorative justice, Griffith also asserted that 'restorative justice can provide a stepping stone, a bridge to transformative justice. Allowing people to tell their stories of harm can change hearts and…transform those social structures that are sinful and producing harm.'"

Accuser and excommunicated priest both wait as sexual violation case drags on

I haven't shared about this case before because, honestly, it's such a mess. But I suppose the situation bears mentioning, because it unveils the ongoing problems with a system that can quickly remove a priest for certain canonical offenses, but can't seem to address serious accusations of spiritual and sexual abuse by an adult victim.

(Also - We're not here to talk about the conservative or liberal leanings of any priest. Sexual abuse is evil and destructive, regardless of someone's political or theological perspective.)

"The charges were brought forth by the accuser to church authorities in early 2016. The accuser told NCR that Leatherby used the priesthood to manipulate and control, all under the guise of spiritual direction and counseling. The accuser told NCR that she was forced to leave Sacramento, and wished to remain anonymous because of the nature of the charges she lodged. 'He destroyed my reputation there,' she told NCR. She said she was not the only woman involved with Leatherby. 'She is the tip of the iceberg,' Becky Jennings, also a former member of the parish, who now lives in Virginia, told NCR. A number of women in the parish, she said, were being groomed by the pastor."

More details on the charges against Leatherby here (strong trigger warning on this article though).

Many victims fall through the cracks of New York's Child Victims Act

I believe that institutions, like the Catholic Church, should be held accountable for their complicity in sexual abuse - But it's also painful to hear that many abuse survivors still cannot pursue justice because there isn't an institution involved and they can't afford the legal fees.

"The look-back window was extended this summer for another year due to COVID-19, but activists, politicians and alleged survivors of childhood sexual abuse say the law didn’t go far enough and that many who suffered abuse as children are still unable to seek justice.

'Every single attorney on Google that we called in New York — downstate and upstate — told us that they are not interested in taking on a case like this because they will only take on cases from big organizations,' said one woman, 34, in a phone interview with the Times Union. 'It feels like abandonment all over again. Over and over again.'


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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