• Sara Larson

In Spirit and Truth News Roundup: December 2

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

Merry Advent everyone!

Welcome to a new feature of In Spirit and Truth - a regular "news roundup" collecting important news articles I've been reading recently. Most of these pieces have already been posted on the In Spirit and Truth Facebook page. However, I know that many readers don't use Facebook and even those who do are not likely to see everything I post there. So, I thought I'd bring the most significant articles together in one place, to make it easier for all my readers to stay informed.

I strive to share only articles I find both thoughtful and helpful, but please note that sharing a link doesn't 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 prudence.

Let me know what you think! Is this type of post helpful for you? Does a news roundup every two weeks or so sound about right? Your feedback is always welcome!

Here's the roundup for the last few weeks:

They were accused of sexually abusing children, now they're the priest next door

This is a really important piece of investigative reporting. It's not a perfect analysis, but I think it's worth your time (including the short video embedded in the article).

The issue of how to handle abusive priests in the long term is complicated, and laicization doesn't necessarily make our communities safer.

"Marci Hamilton, who runs the Philadelphia-based think tank CHILD USA, a nonprofit working to end child abuse, said she wasn’t surprised that in many cases, former priests accused of child sexual abuse are living openly next to schools and day care centers.

Hamilton said the church clearly knew the consequences of letting former priests move on quietly after abuses were reported but did so to shield the church and protect its image.

'They cover it up, they run the statute of limitations and then they wash their hands of them,' Hamilton said of the Catholic Church. 'It’s never been enough to say, ‘Well, we laicized him,’ or ‘we expelled him.’ It’s like they had a firecracker and they threw it into the public square.'"

Three more altar boys say they were abused by priests in Vatican

"Three more former altar boys have claimed they were sexually abused by two priests in the Vatican, as the child abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church zeroed in for a second time on its headquarters.

The allegations of abuse in the Vatican’s youth seminary, to be set out in an Italian TV show on Sunday, date back to the 1980s and 90s when the boys were aged between 10 and 14."

Nearly 400 children rescued and 348 adults arrested in Canadian child pornography bust

It's all connected.

"What was most alarming, Inspector Beaven-Desjardins said, was that many of the arrests were of people who worked with or closely interacted with children. Among those arrested were 40 school teachers, nine doctors and nurses, six law enforcement personnel, nine pastors and priests and three foster parents, she said."

‘I was such a little kid’: As Wisconsin Catholic clergy accused of sexual abuse grows, the trauma lingers

Thank you to reporter Erica Jones and Wisconsin Watch for this thoughtful article exploring the issues surrounding clergy sexual abuse in my own state.

Be sure to listen to the audio interviews embedded within the story. They are particularly poignant.

Home for a visit, a year after leaving the church

As a Catholic who is committed to staying in this Church and working for change from within, it's also important to me to really listen to the voices of those who have left - for various reasons of course, but particularly those who have been pushed away by the twin crises of abuse and leadership failures in our Church.

I am grateful to anyone who is willing to offer honest, thoughtful reflection about why they are still here - or why they have walked away.

I found this piece gave me a lot to chew on.

Catholic boards hailed as fix for sex abuse often fail

This is a really important article that is worth your time.

I think a crucial take-away from this story is that just because a policy or procedure looks good on paper doesn't mean it's actually operating in a fair, effective, or compassionate way.

(Remember my story about Jessica's experience with her Diocesan Review Board?)

I don't believe every review board - and certainly not every review board member - is as bad as some of those highlighted in this story, but some definitely are. We all need to keep asking questions and pushing for improvement where it's needed.

"When a victim in Florida went before a board, a church defense attorney there grilled him about his abuse until he wept. When another man in Ohio braced to tell a panel of strangers how a priest had raped him, one of them, to his disbelief, was knitting a pink sweater. And when a terrified woman in Iowa told her story of abuse, one member was asleep; the board’s finding against her was later thrown into doubt by a court ruling in her favor.

The AP checked all the roughly 180 dioceses in the U.S. for information, reviewed thousands of pages of church and court records and interviewed more than 75 abuse survivors, board members and others to uncover a tainted process where the church hierarchy holds the reins of power at every stage.

Bishops have appointed church defense attorneys and top aides to boards. Bishops choose which cases go to the board, what evidence members see and what criteria is used to decide if an allegation is “substantiated” or “credible.” And sometimes, the AP found, even where boards did find cases credible, bishops still sided with the priest and ignored the findings.

'It’s a fraud. It’s a sham. It’s a cover-up,' said David Lasher, 56, the owner of a furniture design company who told the review board in St. Petersburg, Florida, in April about his sexual abuse by a priest. 'There’s no one on the board that cares for the victim... it’s all about protecting the church.'"

Children’s rights group says ‘third wave’ of abuse scandals hitting Latin America

Sad, but true. It's the same pattern everywhere.

"The report says the Catholic Church in Latin America has systematically tried to suppress abuse complaints and scandals in a number of ways that will seem familiar to many U.S. Catholics who lived through the clerical abuse crisis of the past 20 years.

These include transferring abusive priests from one parish or country to another - a practice that CRIN says continues to this day; offering secret payments to victims and their families in exchange for their silence; blaming victims and their families for the abuse and undermining the credibility of victims; manipulating victims psychologically so that they do not take legal action; and pressuring the media not to report on the issue."

Archdiocese releases report on Vancouver sexual abuse cases

Thank you to a reader from Canada who shared this news from the Archdiocese of Vancouver! I haven't followed events in Canada closely, but this looks like positive progress.

"A dramatic exposé of clergy abuse has not engulfed Vancouver on the same scale as Pennsylvania and other dioceses. But after urging from abuse survivors and justice activists, Archbishop Miller announced in 2018 he would investigate his archdiocese’s history of dealing with abuse.

The process took 13 months, beginning in October 2018 with his launch of a 13-member archdiocesan Case Review Committee whose task was to study clerical sexual abuse cases from 1950 onward.

The seven-woman, six-man committee included five lawyers, two clergy, one religious sister, a psychologist, two prison chaplains, a hospital chaplain, an elementary school teacher, and a ministry coordinator. Four members were victims of clergy abuse.

In a series of lengthy, confidential gatherings, the committee discussed 36 cases of abuse by clergy – 26 involving abuse of a minor, seven dealing with abuse of an adult, and three concerning priests who had fathered children."

Vatican charity knew in 2017 of Africa sex abuse concerns

"The Vatican’s Caritas Internationalis charity says it learned in 2017 of pedophilia concerns involving its Central African Republic director, but left it for his superiors to investigate and he remained in place and in ministry until this year.

CNN revealed the scandal over the Rev. Luk Delft this week, reporting that the Belgian Salesian priest was appointed to lead the Vatican’s main charity in the poverty-stricken country despite a 2012 criminal conviction in Belgium for child sexual abuse and possession of child pornography.

CNN identified two new alleged victims in Central African Republic since he was posted there."

Police say no plans to look into 2002 investigation into bishop, despite criticism from victim's family

Believe it or not, this article actually contains some really hopeful news about a church leader.

The case of Bishop Hart is in the headlines because of the action of Bishop Steven Biegler, who has been actively pursuing the investigation of his predecessor, even when civil authorities had let it drop.

Words from a family member of one of the survivors: "Without Bishop (Steven) Biegler pushing this case, it never would’ve seen the light of day.”

From the article: "Hart’s alleged abuse is indeed again in the spotlight, in large part because of Biegler. The current bishop in Cheyenne opened an independent investigation into Hart in December 2017. Eight months later, Biegler said in a statement that the diocese had identified two victims of Hart who were credible. One of those was the 2002 accuser, who [District Attorney] Meenan had determined was not credible."

Thank God for the courage and persistent of Bishop Biegler - a true leader.

Argentine court finds two Catholic priests guilty of sexually assaulting deaf children; first convictions in long-alleged abuse

This is a really important step in the global fight for truth and accountability.

"An Argentine court on Monday found two priests and a lay worker guilty of the sexual abuse of 10 former students of a Catholic school for the deaf, the first legal victory for a community of victims stretching from Italy to the Andes whose complaints about one of the clerics to church officials, including Pope Francis, went unheeded for years."

Also of note: "Corradi appeared on a list of alleged sexual-predator priests accused by former students of a Provolo Institute in Italy that was sent to Francis in 2014. Francis was handed another copy of the list a year later by one of the victims. But the church didn’t begin an investigation until 2017, after Argentine authorities had arrested Corradi and shut down the school."

(For more history on this, see this story from February 2019. Warning: it's pretty awful.)

W.Va. bishop orders predecessor to repay nearly $800,000

Important news on Michael Bransfield. Not perfect, but an important step nonetheless. (You can read the whole letter from Bishop Brennan here.)

"The former spiritual leader of West Virginia’s Catholics must make restitution for nearly $800,000 for misspent funds and must apologize to those he targeted for sexual harassment and workplace intimidation, his successor announced Tuesday.

Retired Bishop Michael Bransfield must also apologize to his former flock of West Virginia Catholics for the damage he caused to them and the local church’s reputation through the scandals that broke into public view upon his abrupt resignation in September 2018.

Pope Francis had already imposed a series of sanctions on Bishop Bransfield in the wake of a church investigative task force’s report on his conduct over 13 years in office. Those sanctions included prohibitions on presiding at Mass publicly or residing in West Virginia, where he had planned to retire. The pope left it up to his successor to determine how he would make restitution.

That successor, Bishop Mark Brennan, who was installed in August, announced the plan Tuesday."

"Bishop Brennan said he took the actions 'not as punishment but as acts of restorative justice to individuals and to the faithful of this diocese. This is a moral and spiritual matter, not primarily a legal one.'"

Survey Reveals Employees of Catholic Church Divided on Clergy Abuse and Reforms

This is a fascinating survey. Lots of interesting things to consider, especially in the responses to the open-ended question at the end, which you can find collected here. Scroll through that a bit and you'll get a decent sense of the diversity of opinions even among those who work for the Church!

"A vast survey of the Roman Catholic Church workforce in America shows the people who know best how the church is run – the employees themselves – are deeply split on key issues facing parishes across nation. The survey reveals diocesan priests are far more likely to view clergy abuse as a problem of the past, while nuns and other religious employees often consider sex abuse and misconduct to be major problems even today."

Of note: "While national headlines often involve clergy abuse dating back decades, about 39% of the church employees who responded to the survey said they believe abuse or misconduct “is still a major problem” in today’s parishes and Catholic organizations. That compares with just under 14% who said abuse or misconduct “is no longer a major problem.” About 46% percent of respondents said abuse or misconduct was never more of a problem in the Catholic Church than it is in other fields that involve the care of minors."

Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness.

This final piece is not a news article, but I thought it was worth including nonetheless, perhaps as a little dose of hope after a long list of difficult news.

This spiritual reflection captures something so important for those who enter this time with a heaviness in our hearts. This year, I am grateful for the solemn longing of the Advent season - just what my heart needs.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

"To practice Advent is to lean into an almost cosmic ache: our deep, wordless desire for things to be made right and the incompleteness we find in the meantime. We dwell in a world still racked with conflict, violence, suffering, darkness. Advent holds space for our grief, and it reminds us that all of us, in one way or another, are not only wounded by the evil in the world but are also wielders of it, contributing our own moments of unkindness or impatience or selfishness...

We need communal rhythms that make deliberate space for both grief and joy. For me, the old saying rings true: Hunger is the best condiment. Abstaining, for a moment, from the clamor of compulsive jollification, and instead leaning into the reality of human tragedy and of my own need and brokenness, allows my experience of glory at Christmastime to feel not only more emotionally sustainable but also more vivid, vital and cherished.

Our response to the wrongness of the world (and of ourselves) can often be an unhealthy escapism, and we can turn to the holidays as anesthesia from pain as much as anything else. We need collective space, as a society, to grieve — to look long and hard at what is cracked and fractured in our world and in our lives. Only then can celebration become deep, rich and resonant, not as a saccharine act of delusion but as a defiant act of hope."


As you know, I like to close every blog post with an invitation to prayer. For these news roundups, I will simply 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, 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.

In particular, I invite you to remember the names, faces, and stories of all the abuse victims who were mentioned and keep those people in your daily prayers.

In this season of Advent, we pray with hearts full of both longing and hope:

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

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