Put Victims First: Transparency Needed on Sexual Abuse by Church
I am not a theologian, lawyer, or therapist, but as other Catholics, I have accepted the duty of reflecting on the victims of clerical sexual abuse and my church’s woefully inadequate protection of them. Pope Francis has called for continued development of the role of lay people in the Catholic church, saying they cannot be considered “‘second class’ members” after priests and religious but instead participate in Christ’s priestly role through their own work in the world.
Heal Our Church hopes to effect change and accountability in the Catholic Church, our Church. We seek truth and reconciliation for those victimized by clergy. When we contacted Archbishop Etienne, he delayed meeting with HOC for months, citing his busy schedule. Covid-19 hit and he canceled. While we understood the need to adjust for the sake of safety, we were willing to meet through Zoom, or in person in a socially distanced environment. He declined. With all these options on hold, we sent a letter asking the Archbishop to join us in establishing a set of mutual goals toward revealing the full truth about ecclesiastical abuse of the innocent. He declined again. While he offered reasons, to us they seemed thin and easily addressed within the framework we have proposed. (See our response https://www.healourchurch.org/post/straight-forward-answers-to-archbishop-etienne-s-concerns-about-a-truth-reconciliation-commission.) While we by no means wish to ascribe motive to the Archbishop, the arc of his actions will be interpreted by others. And to the extent that it can be construed as paralleling the widespread, decades-long effort by Church leaders to dismiss, obscure and bury these many shameful incidents, the implication will not reflect well on his stated desire to promote healing in our church.
The Archbishop seems to say that the problems are behind us and that redress has been made, but thousands of new allegations emerging nationally within just the last year say otherwise. The Archbishop seems to say that structures already in place, all under his purview, are adequate to manage ongoing concerns, prevent future abuses and restore trust in a deeply damaged institution. Unfortunately, the sad long history of broken promises, shattered trust, and unholy acts by other members of the church hierarchy says otherwise. These betrayals have utterly destroyed the credibility of any member of that hierarchy, no matter how blameless, honorable, and well intentioned, to be sole shepherd of the reconciliation process. It needs deep and independent involvement of the laity.
Heal Our Church had every faith that the new leader of the Archdiocese of Seattle would meet with us. We continue to hope that this can be arranged in the near future. We wish to meet with him to discuss the need to serve abuse victims by establishing a group of lay Catholics volunteering to identify patterns of sexual abuse allegations against clerics, relocation of abusing clerics and cases that had reached the legal statute of limitations before being addressed. We need to discuss systemic changes to prevent future abuse. We believe now is the time to take bold steps toward full disclosure and dialogue leading to healing for all of the people of the church. Maybe even that will not be sufficient, but in my opinion, nothing else has a hope of removing this stain on the heart of our beloved Catholic Church.
Member, HOC Steering Committee
With special thanks to other members of the HOC Steering Committee, esp. Michael Sullivan and Tim Law