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  • Sara Larson

The "Crisis" Podcast from the Catholic Project: An Honest Review

I have spent the last two and half years of my life reading, listening, and learning everything I can about the twin crises of sexual abuse and leadership failures in the Catholic Church. I have grown a lot, but I still have a long way to go, and I am grateful for any opportunity I have to understand a bit more or think about these issues in a new way.


I just finished listening to the podcast Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church, produced by The Catholic Project out of the Catholic University of America. While it’s not a perfect series (more on that later), I am glad it exists as a vehicle to help Catholics be better informed about these issues. It’s well-researched, well-designed, and well-produced, with a wide variety of knowledgeable guests. All of those things matter. I do recommend listening - although with a few caveats. Here are a few thoughts:


1) For me, the most informative portion of the whole series was Episode 2: How Did We Get Here?. I was barely paying attention to the abuse crisis before 2018, so I have a lot to learn about the history, particularly in the United States. The names of prominent abusers (Gilbert Gauthe, John Geoghan) and persistent truth-tellers (Jason Berry, Ray Mouton, Tom Doyle) are familiar, but this episode did a great job of laying out the details. It’s simply devastating to hear about the warnings Mouton and Doyle offered to the USCCB back in 1985 and to realize that things could have been so much different for our Church if only the bishops had listened. In addition, the urgent warnings from Fr. Gerald Fitzgerald of the Servants of the Paraclete treatment center, beginning as far back as the 1950s, give the lie to the claim that the common understanding at the time was that pedophiles could be effectively rehabilitated and sent back to ministry. It’s clear that opinion was divided, and church leaders chose to listen to the wrong people, which caused devastating harm.


2) Like most Catholics speaking about the twin crises in our Church, Crisis is trying to find the right balance between recognizing the breadth and depth of these problems while also acknowledging progress and offering hope. It’s a balance I struggle with myself, and there’s no easy answer. My impression is that this particular resource leans a little bit too far in the direction of focusing on progress, while perhaps understating the significant issue that remain to this day. However, both sides of the picture are presented throughout the series, including by guests who have very little optimism about change within the institutional church. The result is a series that usually feels balanced, but maintains a hopeful tone.


3) Here’s the one significant exception to my impression of balance - and my biggest objection to this series: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is interviewed for several episodes, and honestly, every time he spoke, I ended up wanting to scream. I understand the desire, and even the need, to interview Church leaders who can speak from an institutional perspective. But Dolan comes across as callous and disingenuous, and including his statements without question or objection feels inappropriately deferential - and potentially harmful. His casual comment about the Dallas Charter - “What about the mandate of mercy?” - is dangerously misguided. Treating him as an authority about the proper implementation of Vos Estis, after the statements he made while investigating Bishop DiMarzio (“I love the guy. He's a good friend.”) is just... wrong. I I know one survivor that dealt with Dolan directly about her case, and hearing his voice featured in this podcast felt like a slap in the face for her. I could say more about this, but I think I’ll leave it there.


4) The final episode, focused on The McCarrick Report, is very informative, thanks to the expert commentary provided by Catholic journalist Ed Condon and the Catholic Project’s leader, Stephen White. These two thinkers come from different perspectives, but both are extremely knowledgeable about how the report was created, the information it contains, and the limitations of its particular approach (which they describe as both ground-breaking and fundamentally “uncurious” about many important details). In response to a question about whether the Church has changed and become better able to prevent “another McCarrick,” we hear both the honest assessment of Condon (I see “no evidence that US bishops are committed to holding each other accountable”) and the hopeful tone of White (“It’s not where it needs to be, but it’s moving in the right direction”). I would recommend this episode to anyone who wants to develop a deeper understanding and a balanced perspective about the McCarrick Report - and where we are as a Church in the aftermath.


5) Another episode that I highly recommend is the supplemental episode on “The Survivors’ Movement” which offers helpful background about early survivor-activists, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and their relationship with the Catholic Church. I think this is history and context all Catholics should know when trying to understand the perspective of SNAP and others who have been involved in advocacy for decades, while many Catholics refused to listen. This content provides a helpful balance to the “Survivors’ Voices” episode which only features survivors who have remained Catholic and focus less on institutional change. However, one might wonder why the people featured in the survivors’ movement episode weren’t included in “Survivors’ Voices” - and why this content was relegated to a “bonus” episode, not even linked on the homepage for the podcast.


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I could go on with further details about specific episodes, but instead, I'll simply encourage you to listen yourself and perhaps learn something new.


The Catholic Project also recently announced that they are planning a second season of the podcast, and I look forward to seeing what questions they explore next.


In Summary: Although it has limitations, I found the Crisis podcast a good introduction to many aspects of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. It would also be a great resource to recommend to committed Catholics who might be a little uneasy about engaging with this issue but are more likely to be open to information coming from a respected Catholic university. I believe that anyone who listens to the whole series would learn something new and be encouraged to think more complexly about these issues.


I think it’s worth a listen.


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God, guide us always to your Truth.


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