Eight lessons to help us move forward from the sex abuse crisis.

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For me, clerical sexual abuse is personal, professional and institutional. It has haunted my service of the church for more than five decades, involving the abuse of people, power and trust and a clerical culture that enabled it and covered it up. My experiences have taught me several lessons that I believe will be helpful as the church moves forward.

1. There are not enough parents in the room when decisions are made.

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In the 1980s, I served Cardinal James Hickey in Washington, D.C. I was summoned to his home where he explained that a senior cleric was accused of abusing young people, and a civil attorney and canon lawyer reported that this abuse likely took place. The bishops and monsignors in the room knew this priest and insisted this was not possible, a terrible misunderstanding or an unfair attack. I did not know the priest and urged his immediate removal. Archbishop Hickey removed him.

These members of the clergy looked at these events through the eyes of a brother priest. Through the eyes of a father, this was the worst thing that could happen short of the death of a child. It undermines trust and faith, priesthood and Eucharist, sexuality and family. There need to be more parents in the room.

2. Lay people need to be much more involved—but need to be independent and focused on the needs of the vulnerable, not the protection of the institution or the care of perpetrators.

I listened as attorneys advised Cardinal Hickey to not to meet with victims and families, acknowledge wrongdoing or apologize and that they would reach confidential settlements to protect the institution. Several of us reminded the cardinal he was a pastor, not a risk manager. I also heard experts insist they could treat and return these priests to ministry. The church paid a terrible price for this terrible advice. Most of these advisors were lay, but they still sought to preserve the institution and focus on “Father,” not on those who had been abused.

This institutional and clerical culture must be broken by the active participation of survivors, parents and, especially, women in these areas.

3.Many bishops are isolated, surrounded by people who reinforce their judgments. Institutional protection, isolation and lack of connection to the anguish of survivors and their families have often led to a lack of empathy, urgency and action.

At the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I worked with Cardinal Bernard Law during the scandals in Boston. I was a loyal, respectful staff member, but I was also a parent of teenage sons. At one point, Cardinal Law said that “no one talks to me the way you do.”

4. There have to be independent, credible and effective ways for bishops to be reported, investigated and held accountable for their behaviors, abuse of power, actions and non-actions with regard to sexual abuse.

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is a friend and has been a great supporter of my work. I have stood on this stage and saluted his leadership. As a father, friend and ally of Archbishop McCarrick, I am appalled, ashamed and devastated by his abuse of power and people. Years ago, I saw attacks on the cardinal, including rumors regarding the abuse of power and seminarians. I asked him directly whether they could be true. I can remember where and when he told me that “if any of that were true, I would not be here. These charges from my enemies have been repeatedly investigated by media. If they were true, I would not be here.” I accepted that answer because it seemed inconceivable to me that he could be archbishop of Washington and a cardinal if these charges were true. Independent investigations have proved otherwise.

This institutional and clerical culture must be broken by the active participation of survivors, parents and, especially, women.

5. Institutional protection and clericalism can blind us to protecting the vulnerable. Beware of those who seem to use the suffering of survivors to settle scores or to advance their own ideological agendas, left or right, or opposition to Pope Francis.

In 2015, I met with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former papal nuncio to the United States, about the work of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. I also told him I was from Minnesota and had heard from key Catholic leaders there that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis had to be removed because of broken trust from his conduct and his failure to protect young people. Archbishop Viganò said that “we cannot give in to the enemies of the church, the media, the attorneys and others who oppose the church.”

6. Defending past choices is no substitute for owning and personally apologizing for past actions that harmed the vulnerable.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl is also a good friend, a leader who was served the church in many important ways and a supporter of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life. I believe he was better than most in dealing with sexual abuse in years past, but that was not good enough. The terrible mistakes we have learned about had devastating consequences for vulnerable people. I believe Cardinal Wuerl has made a wise and necessary choice in asking Pope Francis to accept his resignation so that this archdiocese “to bring healing and a new beginning.”

7. Silence in the face of attacks may be spiritually defensible but is pastorally harmful.

I admire and respect Pope Francis for his authentic, faithful and powerful leadership. However, Pope Francis has been too slow to understand and act on the moral and spiritual consequences of abuse. I believe his recent efforts to listen to victims and survivors and challenge destructive clericalism and his decision to call leaders of the entire church to Rome offer steps forward. The people of God deserve leadership that listens, responds and acts decisively, openly and quickly to bring about genuine accountability, reform and renewal.

8.Silence makes things worse and is not an option for any of us.

In recent days, I have talked with many friends and some journalists about this crisis. I heard myself say that silence and secrecy were a huge part of what made these horrors possible. I then had to face the fact that I had been silent about my own story of clerical sexual abuse, which I had not shared with my wife, my children, my parents (now deceased) or those who might have done something about it. In my high school seminary, I received a good education and strong spiritual formation. I also suffered several instances of sexual abuse and harassment. I did not endure the worst of what was revealed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, but this evil was a part of my life.

I recently reported to the provincial of my abusers’ community what had happened to me and who did it. I learned they were deceased and that other allegations against them supposedly came forward only after their death. I have to wonder whether my silence contributed to the abuse of others.

I don’t share these lessons to claim special insight or to offer my example to others. None of us did enough to confront this evil in our church. But I do suggest that these lessons and the principles of Catholic social teaching—respect for human dignity, protecting the weak and vulnerable, accepting responsibility and practicing subsidiarity and solidarity—can lead to action to help rebuild a more faithful and accountable, healthy and holy church.

A version of these remarks was presented on Sept. 25, 2018, at a panel discussion called "Confronting a Moral Catastrophe: Lay Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching and the Sexual Abuse Crisis," which was co-sponsored by the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, the Office of Mission and Ministry, and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

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Phillip Stone
2 months 2 weeks ago

The evil doer is to blame, was to blame, will always be the one blameworthy, let no-one dare attempt to convince you that your silence caused someone else to suffer.
Let me remind you, abusers continued their vile practices on all continents for decades despite individuals revealing their experiences with them - they were ignored, blamed or damned for disloyalty. Guilty feelings are part of the suffering of victims, not hints of hidden or denied culpability.

Similarly, believing and trusting which is betrayed is also free from culpability - was Jesus to blame for Judas?

Remember, iniquity remains a mystery; are we to blame Almighty God for creating us with free will?

Stefan Svilich
2 months 2 weeks ago

Pretty simple solution: Don't molest the flock or fondle the seminarians. Don't tolerate those who do.

J Brookbank
2 months 2 weeks ago

John Carr, I cannot say how deeply grateful I am for your words and your example. I am in tears. The most powerful moments in Mass for me, throughout my life, have been when we stand together and pray the Confiteor, brothers and sisters to brothers and sisters.... and then move into the rest of Mass having owned what we need to own and then asking, brothers and sisters to brothers and sisters, to pray for us as we engage with the lessons and prayers and Sacrament which move us to make new choices in the future for the benefit of all brothers and sisters.

When I finished your piece, I thought "oh Thank You, God (and America Magazine)!"

I needed to hear this, needed to know and encounter a leader in the Catholic Church modeling the individual path forward.

I never learn from the seemingly perfect spiritual role models in life. They cannot --- in all truth, since every single one of us is messily imperfect, they WILL not --- show me how real human beings, step by step, word by word, behavior by behavior, move forward when we have been wrong and our spiritual lives with God, self and OTHERS are diminished by it.

And I don't mean the leaders who "show us I am imperfect, too" by telling us a funny quip about running red lights or procrastinating on their homilies.

I mean everything from the Jseuit, relatively new to a parish I visited (and risking being exhibit one in a complaint to the Archbishop), who admitted he is so grossed out by feet that, on Holy Thursday, he just could not bring himself to wash other people's feet but would be humbled to wash anyone's and everyone's hands. (Having lived in Catholic Worker houses and also having worked with people in every kind of crisis for decades, I can't think of anyone --- myself included ---- who wouldn't have felt embraced by that honest love and genuine offer of handwashing, that desire to do it with love, that desire to do it as genuine encounter with another rather than as an exercise in obedience

and from there all the way to the diocesan priest famous in a retreat community for throwing public tantrums (a temper that burned hot, fast and extinguished as quickly and as thoroughly), even during homilies, and equally famous for public and humble apologies and generous sharing of the work he was doing to get a grip.

Writing teachers say "show me, don't tell me". Math teachers say, "show me your work, not just your answers".

This is a version of those universal prompts, acted on. The situation is of profound importance. Thank you for showing us your work, and not just your answers.

Though you are not a priest, John Carr, you have ministered tonight.

I imagine much will be written in the years to come about the "life lessons" inherent in this horrible crisis and also about whether Catholics as a group seemed to learn them and apply them to "life".

You are a blessing, John Carr. America Magazine, thank you thank you thank you. This boosts my faith, as nothing I have read in weeks has, that staying will bear fruit as well as pain.

sheila gray
2 months 2 weeks ago

#8... Silence. You hit the nail on the head. Prevent scandal at all cost. The Silence of those who abused. The Silence of those who knew but said nothing. The Silence of the Laity, who refused to believe their own sons and daughters because they could not handle the Truth. Everyone is guilty. And everyone has the power to listen, to learn, to change.

Michael Hichborn
2 months 2 weeks ago

John Carr said, "I accepted that answer because it seemed inconceivable to me that he could be archbishop of Washington and a cardinal if these charges were true. Independent investigations have proved otherwise."

You know what else independent investigations proved? That you were completely wrong about the organizations you defended at the Campaign for Human Development. Time and again, CCHD grantees have been proved to be promoting abortion, contraception, homosexuality and Marxism, and YOU defended them.

You know what else independent investigations have revealed? That YOU signed off on an official policy recommendation to Congress in 1980 that called for expanded access to both abortion and contraception. http://www.lepantoinstitute.org/john-carr/former-usccb-directors-histor…

Your incompetence (or, perhaps complicity?) knows no bounds!

Trent Shannon
2 months 1 week ago

Seriously, youre banging on about contraception and abortions, never mind the absolute horror of going through child sex abuse?

As a survivor myself (3x sexual abusers), i remind you to stay on topic and consider your conflation of the abuse situation with that which you dont like with, else your pride will know no bounds

Michael Hichborn
2 months 1 week ago

No ... I'm pointing out that Carr's recent virtue signaling is just that.

William Murphy
2 months 2 weeks ago

"I also heard experts insist they could treat and return these priests to ministry". How much were they going to charge per hour for their services? It was hardly impartial advice to go down that route. And was there ever any evidence that such perverted behaviour could be "cured"?

The Lucy Faithfull Foundation in England ran a unique treatment program for sex offenders from 1996 to 2002. Despite months of intensive therapy on a carefully selected subset of offenders, the success was limited, to put it mildly. Two-thirds of the patients reported a reduction in their impulse to offend. As there was no way of objectively verifying such "improvements", they could only take the offenders' word for it.

https://www.lucyfaithfull.org.uk/

And if the main cause of the offending was homosexual attraction to adolescents, rather than paedophilia, was any therapy provided relevant to the problem?

Patty Bennett
2 months 1 week ago

Of course not! Homosexuality is the sacred cow of the liberals. They're so PC, they'd never DARE admit that there's anything wrong with being regularly tempted to commit the mortal sin of sodomy. "No problem here, folks. Remember, don't say 'disordered', it's too offensive; say 'differently ordered'. We certainly don't want to hurt the feelings of those who feel compelled to sodomize each other!" I'm sick of all the disgusting pro-gay propaganda.

Patrick Sullivan, Sr.
2 months 1 week ago

Wow,Patty! You apparently choose to be an angry and uninformed person. You don’t like liberal people, homosexual people, differently ordered people, scientists, doctors or other informed people. When will you open up and realize that God made people gay? To be a heterosexual or homosexual abuser is a choice to be rejected. To be a heterosexual or homosexual person is God’s choice, just as it is His choice if you are left handed or right handed. Diversity is wonderful and to be praised.

gerald nichols
2 months 1 week ago

You wrote: "To be a heterosexual or homosexual person is God’s choice,"
That is a lie. God does allow us to make choices.

Patrick Sullivan, Sr.
2 months 1 week ago

It is very obvious that on the macro scale God does not permit choices concerning the laws of physics, and mathematics, and on the micro scale we are born left handed or right handed or heterosexual or homosexual. You respond “that is a lie. God allows us to make choices”. Not very thoughtful of you. He allows choices concerning our behavior. But not whether we are gay or straight or left or right handed. How we act as heterosexual or homosexual is our choice. Not whether we are homosexual or heterosexual.

Trent Shannon
2 months 1 week ago

Gerald, im bisexual. I was born bisexual. Nothing on this earth forced me to be attracted to men and women.

Got a problem with me? Take it up with God. Because the idea of me that fell from heaven was bi, and at the end of my years i will return bi.

Its my choice to ACT on my attractions. Going Catholic, it is thus my choice to be celibate towards men, in accordance with doctrine

Because there's nothing wrong in me being born bisexual in the eyes of the church

Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

As a youth growing up, I was taunted by a painful, offensive term by many of my peers who correctly assumed that I was gay, years before I revealed my sexual orientation. Fortunately, I received love and support from my family and friends when I "came out" as being gay. However, due to depression because of sexual orientation (which I certainly didn't choose) my loneliness led me to have sex with men years ago. I did regret my acts, and received forgiveness and consolation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Please pray that this morning at the Communion Service at the nursing home where I live, that I will have the gift of the Holy Spirit, fortitude, to publicly pray for the victims of priest sexual abuse. (Fortunately, I do have a television which I watch Mass each Sunday, as I did this morning). A priest who taught me theology my senior year in high school got a minor boy intoxicated and then raped him. Shameful! Fortunately, he was prosecuted, found guilty and imprisoned. I pray for all the vulnerable, who in our world are too many to list. These include the unborn, pregnant women, the seriously ill, and the elderly. Let"s be consiatent, regardless of our background, in speaking out for all those in need. As Pope Francis has done for several years, let us practice acts of mercy towards all.

Trent Shannon
2 months 1 week ago

Well, somebody has some wrath issues, and inability to see the LGBTIQ as human beings, and be charitable and merciful to said human beings

The catholic ("universal," "embracing many things") Church is not some straights only club. The door is open, all are welcome.

Im bisexual, so i AM ordered differently - which is a great improvement on "disordered" (biology, psychology, psychiatry all indicate non-straight sexualities are naturally occuring)

But please continue calling people like me disordered. Don't forget to call me disgusting, evil, spawn of the devil etc while youre at it - have at me with wrath

J. Calpezzo
2 months 2 weeks ago

"Hold them accountable" is not good enough. Defrocking, cooperating with their prosecution by civil authorities, and excommunication seems reasonable for those who rape children and for those who enabled and covered-up the crime that will cost the church billions.

Patty Bennett
2 months 1 week ago

And while we're at it, excommunicate all those miserable "catholic" politicians who think it ought to be legal to suck the brains out of babies. Get a spine, bishops! Unless, of course, you think that the "thirty pieces of silver" is more important!

Jerome O Sullivan
2 months 2 weeks ago

A small parish in Berkshire Mass remained silent while a toxic priest abused many children. Also they resisted efforts to implement child protection procedures.

Patty Davidson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you John Carr for your concrete steps toward safety and accountability; and for your courage.

Michael Barberi
2 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you John Carr for this well written and truthful article.

I agree with you that Pope Francis has been too slow in addressing these issues. I don't want to offer an excuse for Pope Francis because in some ways I can understand that the magnitude and scope of these crimes, coverup, et al, can be overwhelming and extremely complex. However, the cancer that has infected priests, bishops, cardinals and popes must be dealt with quickly and a plan to address these issues must be transparent and communicated to the laity. While Pope Francis has called for all the leaders of the hierarchy to attend a special Synod on Sexual Abuse in February 2019, I am concerned that these issues will not be thoroughly investigated by a national lay-lead impartial committee with Apostolic participation.

I am also very skeptical that we will not know how and why Pope JP II promoted McCarrick to Cardinal after his sexual abuse of seminarians was widely known by U.S. Bishops and Cardinals and the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S.

I hope I am wrong.

Trent Shannon
2 months 1 week ago

The Church does move slowly, but the bishops conference in 4 months is not that far away

And dont forget recommendations from the Pennsylvania grand jury, our Royal Commission here in Australia, have gone to the Holy See, so there is movement in the background too

And no, we may not know why McCarrick was elevated, same as why many others with allegations or knowledge were elevated - this unfortunately is a past that cannot be changed.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Carr is right about the pope's silence. All I think when he won't answer allegations is that he is hiding something. But as to the process of how to move past the sex abuse problem .... for the church, finding new "processes" has become the alternative to actually just doing what needs to b done. End mandatory celibacy, let women be priests, make everyone, including the pope, accountable.

Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

As.an imperfect Catholic who's gay, because of loneliness I had sex with men many years ago. However, I regretted my acts, and received forgiveness and consolation from a compassionate priest, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I certainly agree that being celibate can be difficult. However, with the gift of the Holy Spirit, fortitude, I have the strength to remain celibate and enjoy time with my family, friends, residents (whether they're friends or not) as well as at at at the nursing home where I live. It's true that in the early period of the Church, that priests could marry if they chose to do so. However, I believe that celibacy should continue to be the norm for priests in the Latin rite. Also, as a retired Special Education teacher and one who worked in other capacities with staff who were primarily wpmen, I absolutely respect the gifts that women being to the Church and to the world. Women have assumed many roles since the advent of Vatican Ii. This is good and just. As a man who favors equal rights for women, I have no problem with seeing a woman serving as a priest. However, I believe that despite some imperfections (both in health and addressing the crisis of clergy sex abuse) that St. John Paul was correct in affirming that only men can serve as priests. I surely an no theologian. However, in all modesty, as a graduate of 16 years of Catholic schools, who learned much about our faith and enjoyed my classes, I believe that Jesus chose only men to be priests for reasons unknown to we humans. Jesus certainly went out of his way to reach women in many ways. I don't believe that his outreach was merely due to Jewish cultural norms of the day. Jesus, our Savior was frequently criticized by the Pharisees and Saduccees for acts that in their misguided view violated "important" customs: for instance, healing the sick on the Sabbath, eating with tax collectors, and cleansing the temple. As Jesus taught the people:, "...The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Luke 6:5). Also, the Lord "Then (He) said to them, 'The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." ( Mark: 2:27). Finally, I agree that all those responsible for covering up priest sexual abuse must be held accountable. I pray that Pope Francis who is a good man of mercy, will fairly judge those who need judgement.

Tim Donovan
2 months 1 week ago

Hello, Crystal. I respect your views, although in some respects I disagree. Please see my remarks below. With humility as an imperfect Catholic, Tim Donovan

joan knothe
2 months 2 weeks ago

Involve parents....yes. And, not just fathers like the author who have connections to those in power. Mothers need to be heard. Lots of women! Whatever the gender ratio is in those attending Mass should be represented on any such deciding committee. We tried it with celibate men Maki g decisions... Now it is time to let the Women of the Church decide who has access to their children and to their pulpits!

Frank T
2 months 2 weeks ago

Let us not forget Santo Subito!
John Paul II perpetuated and colluded in the system of wide-spread rape of children. He has been made a Saint of the Church in spite of this fact. There will be no healing until the Church owns-up to, and addresses this travesty. There may be real saints among us, but the process by which The Curia makes these decisions doesn't help.

Craig Walterscheid
2 months 1 week ago

It’s a grave injustice for a Jesuit Review to publish anything of this sort.

Jesuits are institutionalized known protectors of the very child abusers clerics among their ranks.
The Jesuit who abused me and other classmates at Loyola High School in Los Angeles, Greg Boyle, S.J., goes about unhindered in his nefarious tactics to promote all things sexually immoral.

Today, the terms “Jesuitical” & “sexually immoral” are almost synonyms.

Sexual immoral child molester Jesuit priest Gregory Joseph Boyle will continue to receive accolades & speaking engagements while his victims like me will be defamed & told to shut up.

Your article grieves me & I wish to God the whole damned bunch of you could be sued into oblivion.

May God have mercy on your sexually immoral Jesuitical souls.

My sad story is spelled out in my website EvilGregBoyle.com

Edward McFillin
2 months 1 week ago

I am the product of a Jesuit education. I have lived a good, long life with hopefully more years to come. No one seems to be addressing the obvious lion in the room. So I will.

The vast majority of sexual scandals the Church is and has faced deal with pederasty not pedophilia. The salacious and destructive attacks made against teenage boys and seminarians who desired to become priests is the most destructive thing that has happened to the Church in its history. This is a direct result of homosexual priests and hierarchy that have attempted to change the Church's teachings regarding Church doctrines and practices in order to protect their own warped modernist views. This has demoralized and hurt the Church faithful and driven many Catholics to other venues.

The only way for the Church to recover is to make a thorough and complete cleansing of all priests, Bishops and Cardinals who have sexually abused, covered up, or have been unfaithful to Church teaching. NO ONE who is homosexual should be admitted to the priesthood. EVERY Bishop who has a homosexual orientation or has promoted homosexual sexual acts should resign immediately and be either defrocked or be admitted to a monastic life of prayer and penance. Cardinals with these tendencies need to be returned to civilian life. No one with homosexual leanings now in authority within the Church should be allowed in any way to participate in PUBLIC ministry.

Vocational formation should be centered on Christ Like men who are well centered in their sexual orientation. If not, then we will always run the risk of further degradation due to our fallen nature.

Leo XIII overheard a conversation between Jesus and Satan at Mass one day which caused him to faint, boasting that he could destroy the Catholic Church in 100 years if given the time and the power to influence more effectively those on earth devoted to him. Our Lord said to him that you have the time and the power. We are witnessing the results today. Modernism and clerical homosexuality has entered the Church and MUST be rooted out. If the Church loses all its prestige, financial capabilities...so be it. We at least will get back to the original intentions of Our Savior...to save souls from damnation. Pray, Pray, Pray. Say the Rosary everyday so that good men will rise up and reclaim our Catholic heritage and Faith.

Patrick Sullivan, Sr.
2 months 1 week ago

Wow, Edward. In what community do you live. You state “NO ONE who is homosexual should be admitted to the priesthood.” If heterosexual priests accost girls/women would you state the same: "No one who is heterosexual should be admitted to the priesthood". Do you know that you know homosexual priests? But, you don’t know that they are homosexual because they haven’t told you. Grow up. Spread your wings and discover reality. Don’t continue, in the future , to be so ignorant. Begin to understand reality. Get to know some homosexual people. They might not be monsters. In fact, I know they are not.

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