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Straight-forward answers to Archbishop Etienne’s concerns about a Truth & Reconciliation Commission

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

Heartwarming, and in some cases heartbreaking, characterizes the outpouring of emails, phone calls and text messages we’ve received from Catholics, lapsed Catholics, survivors of clergy abuse and many others since delivering a letter last week to Archbishop Paul Etinenne asking him to join our group of lay Catholics in creating a lay- led Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This independent group, through unfettered access to documents related to the clergy abuse scandal, would be charged with explaining the how and why of the church’s decades-long abuse and cover up in Western Washington. This Commission would later conduct assemblies throughout the archdiocese to provide a medium for Catholics to express concerns about their faith along with recommendations for change.

We believe three profound achievements will come from this process:

  • Learning from the past, we can develop policies and procedures to better ensure protection of children and vulnerable adults.

  • Full, independent lay review and analysis can help bring healing to survivors of the abuse.

  • The church, through this new-found transparency, can restore its credibility and regain our faith’s prominence in the lives of current, lapsed and prospective members and give voice to members’ genuine concern for their faith.

As we wrote to Archbishop Etienne, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) represents a unique and creative opportunity to put the church in Western Washington on a more open and trustworthy path. The many good works, community resources, traditions and liturgy of our church deserve no less and need to be preserved.

We acknowledge the good work of the Archdiocese’s safe environment program but, for us, it is a matter of legal and moral transparency as well. Without all the facts, including the ways church governance failed, healing is not possible and church credibility remains forever suspect.

The Archdiocese has indicated it doesn’t believe a TRC is needed. The argument, presented by Archbishop Etienne in a letter sent to parish priests and another posted on the Archdiocese website, appears to hinge on three primary points that, with all due respect, bear little weight:

  • “We must protect the privacy of survivors, which is at the heart of the issue.”

Redacting sensitive information is a cornerstone of any forensic review of documents and that absolutely would be true of a TRC.

  • “We already have a highly qualified independent Review Board composed primarily of lay experts.” “We already completed an independent review of our clergy files in 2015.

Again, appointed by the Archdiocese, that review, which considered credible accusations, was not a forensic investigation aimed at the how and why of this tragic story of abuse that goes to the heart of clericalism and the right of the faithful to know.

  • A comprehensive study of the causes for the sexual abuse crisis was already conducted (nationally) and published in 2011 by John Jay College.”

To dismiss what happened in every city in Western Washington by suggesting a generalized national study -- commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in New York City -- gets to the heart of what happened in Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Tacoma, Longview and elsewhere is very misguided. This study, now nearly a decade old, only underscores the need for what we are recommending in the creation of a lay-led Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

A genuinely independent commission of responsible lay Catholics is needed right now. A complete record of this horrible episode in Archdiocesan history can be the launching pad for a renewed spirit of reconciliation in our Catholic community. After a year and a half of serious review and consideration by our founding committee, we invite in good faith that the Archbishop join us in this critical search for the whole truth and needed discussion with those faithful wishing to have a voice.

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