Catholics express despair, disbelief, anger at new abuse revelations

Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection, are pictured during the 2017 Catholic convocation in Orlando, Fla.  (CNS photo/Bob Roller)Boston Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley and Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection, are pictured during the 2017 Catholic convocation in Orlando, Fla.  (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — After the first allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick were publicized in mid-June, employees at the U.S. bishops’ conference headquarters in Washington were bracing for calls from Catholics confused, outraged or anything in between regarding the emerging scandal.

The big surprise: More Catholics were calling in—and kept calling—to ask how they could be foster parents to immigrant children who had been separated from their parents by the U.S. government at the U.S.-Mexico border.

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That didn’t last long, though.

The foster-parent calls receded and the abuse-related phone calls picked up in volume and intensity, according to Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Our first job is to listen, to be empathetic,” said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, the executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People. 

Deacon Nojadera said he doesn’t know exactly why people call his office. He suggested it may be that callers expect that the office can issue reprimands to any suspected cleric: “What are you going to do about it?”

But that’s not the case, he told Catholic News Service in an Aug. 13 interview. Priests accused of abuse are subject to the discipline of their diocesan bishop or religious superior; if found guilty of misconduct, priests may be laicized by the Vatican. Accused bishops, though, are subject first to the Vatican.

Parents who call sound worried, the deacon added: “How do I know my child’s going to be safe if he’s in formation or if he’s in seminary?”

The three most notable cases this summer involve Archbishop McCarrick, who is facing a credible allegation of abusing a minor and is believed to have harassed and abused seminarians even after they were ordained to the priesthood; the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, where a vocations director who died in 2008 has recently been accused of harassment; and the Archdiocese of Boston, where Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley ordered an investigation of the archdiocesan seminary after abuse reports surfaced in early August.

[Explore America's in-depth coverage of Sexual Abuse and the Catholic Church.]

“Our first job is to listen, to be empathetic,” Deacon Nojadera said. Some of the callers, he acknowledged, are angry. “Well, I’m angry, too,” he told CNS. Without prayer, he added, “I can’t do what I’m doing.”

Both the National Review Board and the bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People are scheduled to meet in September. Deacon Nojadera said his office hopes to be able to give each body guidance on strengthening the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” approved by the bishops in 2002.

“In 2002, we were responding to a very specific situation: the abuse of children by priests,” Deacon Nojadera said. “I still hold it’s a very good document. It’s better than nothing. It has its strengths, it has its weaknesses.” He added, “We need to have a very serious discussion on what we can do to improve what’s mandated by the charter.”

The charter, amended in 2011 and again earlier this year, did not take into account the possibility that bishops could be abusers, or that abuse victims could be adults, much less seminarians and priests whose path to—and following—ordination could be stymied by bishop-abusers.

The increased call volume experienced by Deacon Nojadera and his staff has not been experienced in two dioceses contacted by CNS.

“We’ve all spent time processing among staff and clergy, because this is another level of concern and another level of distress for all Catholics,” said Beth Heidt Kozisek, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Grand Island, Nebraska, in a phone interview with CNS. “But we really haven’t had an increase in the number of calls from parishioners or general members of the community.”

The allegations against Archbishop McCarrick, a former cardinal, weren't published in either the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska's largest newspaper, or the local daily, The Grand Island Independent, Kozisek said. "I found it online but I didn't see any comments online," she added. "Is that a sign of our rural culture -- nobody's reading the news? They're busy farming and other activities?"

"Baton Rouge has not experienced an increase in allegations or calls in the last month due to the Cardinal McCarrick story," said an email to CNS from Amy Cordon, victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"My colleagues and I do not see our ministry to victims of clergy abuse as a job. We are ministers," Cordon said of herself and her fellow victim assistance coordinators. "And our boss, Jesus Christ, never disappoints.

"This is why you are not seeing a mass exodus of victim assistance coordinators when these stories continue to break 10-plus years after the charter was written," she added. "Most of us work under truly holy men of God and are very fortunate to have good bishops who care for those who have been harmed. I can certainly say that is the case in Baton Rouge."

Deacon Nojadera recalled the instance of one caller, who had worked with the resigned cardinal, first weeping with anguish over the phone and then voicing anger over the situation. “First, I have to listen,” he said.

But the moment, he said, may signify the need for “a spiritual cleansing in the church.”

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J Cosgrove
1 year ago

When did all this happen?

If several years ago then emphasize this and changes made. If recent then what has happened?

Tim O'Leary
1 year ago

J - I went through the very long PA grand Jury report. It says the abuse was practically all before the 2002 John Jay report and after the new reforms (the few since then were actually brought to the grand jury's attention by the dioceses, according to the report). While the individual stories in PA are horrendous, the report lacks statistical tables, and several of the abuses have been public for years. It goes back over 70 years, so the justice system will be useless at addressing anything. The Church needs to clean house and separate the wheat from the chaff. So, here are my recommendations: Any sexually active Cardinal, bishop or priest should immediately resign. No more excuses. No more trendy priests. Only strong holy men will do. Any bishop or cardinal who knew of clergy in active sexual relationships or abusers should resign. Anyone who recommended a promotion or otherwise protected such a person should resign. The whole Church needs a deep cleansing. We need holy strong men in our clergy, all the way up the hierarchy, not clerics who are looking for a comfortable popular managerial job. We had a Year of Mercy. Perhaps, we now need a Year of Justice?

Tim O'Leary
1 year ago

The Appendices show statistics for 2 dioceses (Pittsburgh and Greensburg - pdf pages 1064 & 1122) of those accused. Since 2000, there were none in Greensburg (20/70 years) and 4 or 5 a decade in the much larger Pittsburgh (mostly historical charges). In both dioceses, the real problem was in the 3 decades of the 60s, 70s & 80s. This confirms the report findings are before the John Jay Report & Dallas Charter. The Seminaries now need to be investigated. All bishops and priests who are or have been sexually active after ordination should resign. Zero tolerance. Cleanse the temple.

Joseph J Dunn
1 year ago

The statements of several bishops and cardinals in response to the Pennsylvania grand jury report seem, to me at least, inadequate. The message delivered, or at least the message I heard, is “Yes, but…” Guilt is acknowledged, though that word is not used. The statements include expressions of empathy for victims, in soft words that belie the devastation wrought upon those children. Where in these statements are the admissions, in plain language, of rape and sodomy? Where is the acknowledgement of physical and psychological damage inflicted on innocent lives? Invariably the speaker hastens to assure the interviewer that new procedures are in place to screen church employees, remove any predator upon a credible report of abusive behavior, and cooperate with law enforcement authorities. Just that quickly, we are asked to have confidence in the new, pure, honest and smiling church when we have just now learned the depth and breadth of its depravity. This is like inviting the family of the deceased to be happy and enjoy the legacy of the dearly departed within minutes of learning of his death. We have not yet had a funeral, or time to mourn, to cry, to think, and already here is someone telling us how good things are going to be, or already are. Sorry, it’s too soon for that.

A few of the victims who appeared at the attorney general’s news conference releasing the report said that its publication gives them new peace and freedom. The grand jury report acknowledges in the public record that they were innocent; that men whom they trusted committed crimes against them; that other men conspired to minimize or hide these assaults, that the truth is now known. Let us all hope that sense of freedom and peace will endure. As the grand jury concluded, there are no doubt others who have not come forward. Some prefer to keep their privacy, others are too deeply scarred to speak up, and some no longer live to tell their truth. May they, too, find peace and freedom.

But what will it take to regain the trust of parents and grandparents, who have a primordial instinct to protect their children even at the cost of their own life? What will it take to restore vigor to a church that for a generation now has been, in various ways, hiding and soft-talking the harm to its most innocent members?

A church with two thousand years of human experience and a strong liturgical tradition might draw upon those resources in this crisis. Why not a national penitential rite, conducted by the nation’s bishops in some appropriate place, processing not in gold and white miters but in purple or black robes? Let us mourn and grieve what is lost. There are in every Christian funeral words of redemption and resurrection. But these do not replace the grieving. We cannot fully look forward to resurrection, or renewed life, until we’ve acknowledged the passing of someone, or something, loved.

Bishops, help us to mourn.

Sharon Ryan
1 year ago

I don't look for the Church to solve the problem. The biggest change would come when the statute of limitation laws are abolished. Let the hierarchy face bankruptcy - that will get their attention better than any church-appointed council.

Fred Keyes
1 year ago

The money held by dioceses is typically earmarked for charitable purposes. You don't punish a bishop by driving him into fiscal distress; you hurt the causes for which the money was intended. You also violate the intentions of the individuals in the pews who donated that money.

That's not the case with personally wealthy bishops to the extent they have money and assets they own themselves. Seems to me those assets should be directed to help the victims of their negligence to the extent a case can be made to prove it in a court of law.

John Phillips
1 year ago

I’m sorry, but Deacon Nojadera sounds like he has about as much compassion as a wet dish rag. I am 65 years old and a Catholic from birth. I devoted ten years of my life to doing parish ministry as a Director of Religious Education and in Catholic education. I am beyond disgusted, ashamed, embarrassed and revolted by the leadership of the Church both here in the United States and in the Vatican. Where is the reaction from Rome? All of the words that being said right now are the same things that were said after Boston and are worthless and meaningless. I want action, starting with the resignation of Cardinal Wuerl. I hope that through prayer that I can find the peace and confidence to once again find strength and hope from a Church that has truly betrayed its membership and me. Given the current tone of the comments from Deacon Nojadera and others, I’m not optimistic.

Phillip Stone
1 year ago

Can someone help me understand the illusions they hold so dear that allows them to justify their abrogation of responsibility for the safety and well-being of their children?

How did men and women who were not family get access to their children and young people in any environment which was not public?

Something has happened that has God handing over Christendom to Satan, for a season. Worship of money is legion, but I do not know if it is cause or effect; sexual licence seems to have been facilitated by the oral contraceptive; family life has been undermined by psychology and Marxist political theory and so the list goes on. I remember it starting with the heralding of the Age of Aquarius and the contempt for legitimate authority so that laws, rules, customs and strictures were denounced as oppressive restraints on natural impulses and pleasures.

Our Lady seems to have noticed the same thing and had permission to appear and give repeated warnings which all boiled down to the same thing - prayer and penance.
All but ignored by most who had been given the gifts and responsibility to spread the warnings and commence the remedies.

John Phillips
1 year ago

I’m sorry, but this sounds like the stuff I grew up hearing in religion class when I was growing up (I am 65). Yes, I am very much saddened by the secularism that is now so pervasive in our society. To imply that this secularism is somehow the root cause for what has happened as outlined in the grand jury report is beyond logic.

J Jones
1 year ago

People trusted these men with their kids b/c we are told these same men can turn wine&bread into Jesus' blood&body and if we dont participate we will not get to Heaven. That, ONLY that, is why people turned their kids over to these men.

Fred Keyes
1 year ago

I think it's fair to be disappointed in how well or not the Church has responded to this crisis. But we should not forget a lesson from Org Theory 101: The RCC is an extraordinarily flat organization that pushes the doctrine of subsidiarity to the limit. Pope Francis has no idea what is going on in my parish and has no way to know that unless something goes terribly wrong and is reported upward. Even then discerning what happened takes time, both at the diocesan level and in Rome. Secular systems of justice are no better. Blaming the pope or even a bishop who must oversee dozens of parishes just ain't going to happen easily. The bishops and popes only learn about the bulk of these cases when they blow up.

Losing faith over this issue is hard for me to understand. Earthly administration can go haywire and needs to be thoroughly reformed, no two ways. But losing faith? Makes me wonder how strong anyone's faith was to begin with if it depended on their trust in this or that human being.

Tim O'Leary
1 year ago

Alfred - very wise post. To be in despair or to lose faith because of the failure of clergy, even if emotionally understandable, is a terribly wrong and sinful response. Even Jesus had to clean up the Temple: “It is written, 'My house shall be called the house of prayer'; but you have made it a den of thieves” (Mt 21:13). One in 12 of His chosen apostles betrayed Him. 2 in 12 denied Him. Only 1 stayed by His side as he died. No, do not despair. There is nowhere else to go to avoid perdition. Cleanse the Temple!

William Murphy
1 year ago

I loved the line: "Deacon Nojadera said he doesn’t know exactly why people call his office."

Maybe it has something to do with the title: "The Bishops' Secretariat for the Protection of Children and Young People". Maybe callers are under the illusion that such a body will actually do something to protect young people. Maybe they think that such a phone line is the first point of contact for submitting a formal complaint and by-passing a bishop or a cardinal they cannot trust. They obviously have not cottoned on to the truth that it is a PR exercise and a waste of money.

John Chuchman
1 year ago

Disbelief? Really?

Douglas Fang
1 year ago

A very emotional and interesting story – it is so true for a lot of Catholics these days, “light” or “heavy”.

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-08-16/catholic-church-sexual-abuse-scandal-continues-its-betrayal

The feeling of the author – “Yet when I see a priest today I invariably wonder if he was — or is — a predator. It’s terribly unfair, I know, but that is how corrosive this scandal has been” is the same feeling my children, who are very well educated as software engineers, told me these days. It makes me so sad and angry.

I still ask them to go to mass with me every Sunday and pray together at night whenever we have a chance. “…Holy Mary, pray for us sinners, now… death”. The Rosary is something I hold on dearly in these dark days.

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