In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: September 8
Welcome to the latest summary of important news related to the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. Please read and be informed!
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(As always: I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful in understanding the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures 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!)
** YOUR TOP THREE READS **
These are important things to consider for all church leaders. I'm just beginning to be more aware and sensitive to the impacts of trauma, and I wish I had known more when I worked in church ministry.
"When trauma survivors reach out to the Church for support but are not met with compassion, 'people leave the Church,' Saunders says. 'We can’t go back in time and change their traumatic experiences, but we can give them understanding. We can give them the message: ‘You are lovable, and you are loved by God.’ If the Church doesn’t offer this, then people will leave the Church under the assumption that God is cruel, God doesn’t care, and somehow they don’t deserve God’s love.'
Traumatic experiences shape how survivors look at the world, Scarsella says. When clergy don’t consider how victim-survivors might experience aspects of a liturgy, such as a homily or certain songs, 'you’re just about guaranteed to re-traumatize people who are already struggling to survive deep injustices,' she says. 'Survivors tend to say that the trauma of betrayal and abandonment by their communities of faith is more severe and longer lasting than the initial trauma of the assault itself.'"
This statement was sent to me by the victim who is speaking out. Any Catholics who think the problem of sexual abuse and accountability in the Catholic Church is "solved" would do well to listen to this faithful man sharing his story.
"I have said, and I maintain, that I would not be seeking legal recourse if justice would be done by my church. I went to the metropolitan investigator, asked to meet, and was turned away. But even if not for me there may still have been hope as the Metropolitan investigation found credible financial abuse, found credible sexual abuse, substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with minors. But then knowing this his fellow bishops choose to protect Bransfield as a bishop? Instead of punishment, they have us pay him?
What am I supposed to do? I can only do my part, like so many have done before me. And I will try to do it — seek justice, seek accountability, seek healing, seek to help end abuse, seek to help repair the church I love. Even as repeatedly, the bishops in charge, the conference of bishops, delay, draw out, and stay my case, file on procedure, appeal to the supreme court — while at the same time telling us to 'move on.' That is the language of perpetuating abuse, it is the language of cover-up."
I am sharing this article because it is a useful, succinct summary of the steps that have been taken in the last few years. But I also recognize that this is an incomplete picture. I would prefer an article that lists these steps, explains criticisms and limitations of each, and highlights all the opportunities missed, ongoing problems unveiled, and work yet to be done.
Most importantly, we need to pay attention to what happens next, now that the spotlight is not shining quite as strongly on this issue. In 2020 and beyond, are Catholic leaders listening to survivors, actively looking for ongoing problems, seeking best practices, and implementing needed changes?
** THE REST OF THE NEWS **
This article gives a little peek at all the things that can (and do) go wrong in our current system.
"The woman told Aymond and an archdiocesan official who works with clergy abuse claimants that she first reported Highfill to the archdiocese in 2002, after a Boston Globe investigation showed that the worldwide church had covered up numerous cases of clerical child sex abuse. Aymond and the other official told her time and again that they had no record of that. Aymond repeated that in Tuesday’s interview and emphasized that he had gone over Highfill’s file 'many, many, many times.'
On Wednesday, archdiocesan officials said a record of the woman's complaint did exist after all. But that record asserted that the woman had refused to name her alleged abuser and didn’t want to be contacted again. A spokesman said the archdiocese hadn’t been able to find the record because, without a name attached, it wasn’t in Highfill’s file. The woman said she specifically remembers saying Highfill’s name and describing him as a Las Vegas resident."
West Virginia bishop says despite repayment, Bransfield ‘not accepting responsibility for his actions’
As I said before, Bransfield's "apology" was not a real apology in any way. I wish Bishop Brennan's response was stronger and had come sooner, but I am glad that he is actually addressing this.
"'It’s not a true apology. He’s not accepting responsibility for his actions. All you can say is that it’s a non-apology in the form of an apology, and I’ll make that known to Rome,' said Bishop Brennan, who was installed as bishop of Wheeling-Charleston in August 2019.
Bishop Brennan said his predecessor rarely communicated with him and never proposed his own plan to make amends to the flock. Bishop Brennan added that the 'non-apology' will not help heal the local Church’s wounds.
'I think people expected him to come forth and say, ‘I’m genuinely sorry for the scandal I caused the diocese and for the people I’ve hurt,'' Bishop Brennan said. 'He really didn’t assume responsibility for his own actions, but that’s how I found him all the way through this process. He maintains his complete innocence, and that he’s the victim of other people’s machinations against him. Well, that doesn’t fly with people. They can see through that.'"
This case has been sickening to me from the very beginning. I'm glad that there is some hope of justice for this abuser, but what was done to these boys - and again to them as men - is just horrible. (If you didn't read their story the first time around, you can read the excellent AP story here.)
"A former Catholic brother has been extradited from his home state of Wisconsin to Mississippi, where he faces sexual battery charges in a case involving two impoverished Black boys who say they were pressured as men into accepting paltry payouts to settle their abuse claims.
The men have accused Paul A. West, once a Franciscan Friar and fourth-grade teacher, of molesting them in Mississippi, Wisconsin and New York while they were elementary school students."
I just discovered this excellent resource collecting primary sources and scholarly work on the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. I am familiar with some of the recommended resources, but I definitely have many new things to add to my reading list now!
If you want to do a deep dive into some of these issues, check it out. (And then let me know if you find anything really excellent that I should read too!)
Let's be clear: "Accepting the resignation" of a bishop who protected and praised sexual predators is not enough. A "subtle rebuke" is not enough.
If Pope Francis wants to send a clear message that a particular bishop's behavior is unacceptable, he needs to publicly state what the bishop did and then remove him from office.
“'It was an insufficient move,' said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of BishopAccountability.org, a group that tracks abuse in the church. 'The Pope has promised accountability for bishops who cover up. He has also talked about proportionality of punishment for accused priests, but this is the mildest of sanctions... Sure, it probably embarrassed the archbishop, but a complicit bishop does such enormous harm, the penalty should be much more severe.'"
Another tragic story.
"Authorities on Wednesday arrested a Roman Catholic priest from the Diocese of Greensburg on charges that he sexually assaulted an altar boy on multiple occasions from 2004 to 2007, beginning when the alleged victim was 11."
"A clergy abuse victim who participated in the Philadelphia Archdiocese's independent compensation program for survivors is alleging that the confidentiality of nearly 50 other victims was compromised when the program administrator mistakenly sent the individual an email in 2019 with the names of participants from another diocese's program...
Upon receiving the email from Biros, the participant — who has requested anonymity due to the promised confidential nature of the program — informed the Feinberg Law Group of the error but was unsatisfied with the response. The person told NCR they were not guaranteed that the victims whose identities had been disclosed would be informed of the error."
This story is very telling. The first formal complaint of sexual abuse came in 1992. Cox was eventually removed from ministry in 2002, and he died in 2020 without ever facing a civil trial.
"The archbishop’s resignation from La Serena was discreetly accepted by the Vatican in 1997. It came five years after a priest made a formal complaint to the bishops’ conference claiming he had discovered Cox having sex with a young man.
Yet until 2002, when he began living a life of 'penance and prayer' at the request of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops – first in Switzerland and then in Germany under the care of the Schoenstatt Fathers – Cox remained semi-active, with positions in the Conference of Latin American Bishops as well as at the Vatican."
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.