Why this Lent is an opportunity to get our response to sex abuse right

Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Mo., speaks at the Leadership Roundtable's Catholic Partnership Summit in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 1. (CNS photo/Ralph Alswang, courtesy Leadership Roundtable) Bishop W. Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Mo., speaks at the Leadership Roundtable's Catholic Partnership Summit in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 1. (CNS photo/Ralph Alswang, courtesy Leadership Roundtable) 

As Catholics begin Lent in the midst of crisis, I feel like we have been here before. In fact, we have. But this time, something is different.

During Lent in 2002, Catholics were reeling from the sexual abuse revelations emerging from Boston and from across the country. Many people looked to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to take action. The bishops took initial steps at their June meeting that year, but they focused on responding to some aspects of abuse and missed the fact that the church was facing twin crises: a crisis of abuse and a crisis of leadership failures and cover-up. This time, both crises need to be addressed in order to get at the root causes and move the church toward recovery and reform.

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If the bishops had listened to other voices in 2002—or looked honestly at themselves—they may have realized that taking action to prevent abuse was not enough. But this Lent is an opportunity for us to look inward for an honest reflection of our church culture. Many Catholics ask: Will the response to the crises be any different this time? I believe that it can, and here is why: Members of the clergy and laity recognize the need to reform an unhealthy leadership culture. Now is the time to act.

Members of the clergy and laity recognize the need to reform an unhealthy leadership culture. Now is the time to act.

The Vatican summit on the protection of minors last month was structured around the three critical themes of accountability, responsibility and transparency, which point toward the action needed to create a new culture of leadership.

One example of such action took place in early February. The Leadership Roundtable hosted the Catholic Partnership Summit for more than 200 lay and ordained church leaders from 43 U.S. dioceses. Among the participants were bishops and abuse survivors, diocesan staff and college presidents, corporate leaders and theologians, canon lawyers and philanthropists, religious superiors and experts in abuse prevention. (America’s editor-in-chief, Matt Malone, S.J., and editor at large James Martin, S.J., were among those in attendance.)

The meeting tables at our summit were a vision of collaboration: Cardinals sat with laywomen, bishops sat with abuse survivors, religious women sat with philanthropists. This did not happen in 2002. Attendees identified root causes, including clericalism, of the church’s twin crises and generated recommendations for resolving them. We have published the results of the summit on our website.

Some of the best recommendations came from dioceses where leadership change and abuse prevention are top, interrelated priorities. One of those places is the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A few years ago, under the leadership of Archbishop Bernard Hebda, auxiliary Bishop Andrew H. Cozzens and professional lay staff, the diocese formed an independent task force to go beyond what most dioceses have done to prevent abuse. Today, diocesan staff hold regular meetings with survivors for input and post the names of credibly accused clergy and religious who worked in the archdiocese.

Some of the best recommendations came from dioceses where leadership change and abuse prevention are top, interrelated priorities.

As Archbishop Hebda has noted, the changes made by the diocese not only help prevent abuse but has changed the leadership culture, including “the way we accept, prepare and promote seminarians; the way we train our priests, employees and volunteers; and how we educate our children and youth in every parish and Catholic school in the Archdiocese. It has helped to improve our culture.”

Another place becoming known for its bold response is the Diocese of Jefferson City in Missouri, where Bishop Shawn McKnight and diocesan staff worked together to implement an innovative policy to ensure that any abuse allegation against a sitting bishop is handled outside the diocese by the metropolitan archbishop in St. Louis. The diocese has also been transparent in its communications and finances related to the crises. Even more, the diocese requested that any religious order that wants to continue serving in the diocese must release the names of all credibly accused members.

These and other dioceses are taking steps to create a new culture of leadership that is built upon co-responsibility between clergy and laity. They are places where the bishop or archbishop have welcomed laity into the decision-making process, providing checks and balances.

As Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, whose archdiocese in Newark has been at the center of the recent crises, wrote, “A strange blessing of the past year has been the overwhelming evidence that laypeople haven’t given up on the church, but are in fact willing to dig in and be a part of the rebuilding.” Indeed, we are.

To be sure, sometimes the abuse and leadership crises in the church can feel like a long Lent without Easter. But from where I stand, I see the glimmers of emerging best practices that are making places in our church not only safer but healthier for the church’s mission over the long term.

The examples from these dioceses remind me that change is happening. It is happening because priests and laypeople are listening to one another and making progress for the people of God. There is a long road ahead. But these Catholics are lighting the way forward. We will make it out of our long Lent but only if the rest of the church begins to follow their example.

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J. Calpezzo
2 months 2 weeks ago

Roger Mahony

Nora Bolcon
2 months 2 weeks ago

Yes but we wont right our problem because clericalism's main ingredient - sexism is not being addressed at all. So now the microscope is on but since we are not getting rid of the one thing that we do know leads to child sexual abuse, patriarchy and all other forms of sexual discrimination, everything will loosen up and abuse will begin anew the second the microscope gets lifted. Pedophilia and sexism are two demons who walk together in our church - if you keep one then you will be stuck with with the presence of the other.

Mike Macrie
2 months 2 weeks ago

I do believe the Vatican and Bishops got the message on Sex Abuse and Accountabiliy. I do believe they have put forth measures to stop it and report it. I also believe that these new measures will scare off young men who might have homosexual feelings from entering the Priesthood thus adding to the crisis on the Shortage of Priests. This crisis has yet to be addressed other than closing Parishes and reducing Mass Services. The need for a greater role for women in the Church Service cry’s out but I don’t see Pope Francis willing to take this issue on in his term. The Priest Shortage has to hit rock bottom first before the Church will address it.

Roland Greystoke
2 months 2 weeks ago

It's been a while since I've been to a church but the proper response to sex abuse every day of the year is to call the police and turn the criminal over to them.

Bev Ceccanti
2 months 2 weeks ago

The legal system will handle the abuse of minors. Its simple.. I agree with Roland Greystroke. At this point, pedophilia is an old issue. The law will handle it now. I want to know the Church is not promoting fornication in the seminaries or anywhere else. I want to know those with homosexual orientation will no longer be accepted in seminaries. From what I'm reading, homosexual activity among those vowed to celibacy is a plague which has reached diabolic proportions. That is what needs to be addressed. Those engaged in persistent mortal sin and sacrilege can't minister to anyone. They need to go to confession, remove themselves from temptation ( be relieved of pastoral duties and quit living in intimate circumstances with other men.). Common sense please. I want to know the hierarchy values Divine Tradition over Social Science (which IS NOT SCIENCE) . I hope to see the hierarchy courageously defend the truth and quit dancing around what they know is what the laity, who are supporting these guys, really want to know and hope to see fixed.( The authors and the hierarchy should know journalism exists outside their prearranged box). It's coming out anyway.

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
2 months 2 weeks ago

Oy. This is an article you should read. http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/01/gay-priests-catholic-church.html. Gay priests are a gift to the Church. MANY heterosexual and homosexual occasionally slip from celibacy and then recommit. Probably makes them better priests. Mature, psychologically healthy homosexual or heterosexual priests never touch a child. Immature, psychologically disturbed heterosexual or homosexual priests may be predators. What is sinful and disturbing and highly hypocritical is the many, many gay priests (up to 60% of the priesthood and especially among the orders, like the Jesuits) who do not come out. You cannot be an alter Christus and hide who are you. Simple. The people need to know how very many of the priests they love and respect and gay and celibate -- or at least committed to a celibacy from which they may occasionally slip along with their straight brothers. But. you are just all wrong on this topic. This article is one of the most moving and loving and challenging about gay priests as I have ever read.

Bev Ceccanti
2 months 2 weeks ago

Mary Gail: I have no respect for the' journalistic credibility' of the article you referenced. It's a loaded blog. There may be some who can resist temptation but the Church has no business putting those with sexual attraction to one another into living arrangements likely to prompt mortally sinful behavior which causes death to the soul, despair, loss of Faith and a pathway to Hell. There are sincere Catholics with homosexual orientation with whom I agree , respect and learn from.

Mike Macrie
2 months 2 weeks ago

I agree with you, the article is extremist and over the top. Cardinal Burke was in the Hierarchy of the Church while all this sex Abuse was going on. He was too busy in his pompous role he had with Pope Benedict. Pope Francis demotes him and now he’s an expert on Sex Abuse in the Church and pointing fingers.

Bev Ceccanti
2 months 2 weeks ago

error

Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea
2 months 2 weeks ago

Here's what might begin to convince me something is different. How 'bout if every bishop spent Lent visiting every survivor and/or their families in their diocese? I mean, ditch the silks and satins, go to their homes, sit at the kitchen table and listen to their stories, look at the photo albums, hear about their lives before and since. Kneel and ask for forgiveness. My guess is that hell would freeze over before this happened, but it is what the bishops should do. Oh -- and maybe have some symbolic millstones fashioned to wear around their necks for the visits instead of the pectoral cross.

Mike Macrie
2 months 2 weeks ago

Amen !

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TondalayaTh Gillespie
2 months 2 weeks ago

What is so hard about combating sexual abuse wherever it occurs? When it happens to you and you are aware of it...you report it to the police for heaven's sake? It can be perpetrated by anyone. All this bunk about setting up guidelines about reporting via any church authority is so much malarky. GO TO THE POLICE! And Catholics please GOD gave us a brain...think...think, don't cower behind pious controllable dogma and doctrine!

Kevin Murphy
2 months 2 weeks ago

Any article that echoes the party-line of "clericalism" and cites Tobin as a leader is pretty useless.

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Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

I don't believe any more that church leaders want to get rid of child sex abuse by priests. They know that doing so would require serious changes, ones they don't want to make, and they've seen that most Catholics will wring their hands but still stick with them despite the abuse. So church goers and church leaders join together in the fiction that we're working on the problem - that's so we can all look at ourselves in the mirror - and we go on with business as usual.

Rebecca Edwards
2 months 2 weeks ago

"They've seen that most Catholics will wring their hands but still stick with them despite the abuse." You nailed it, Crystal. There is no real motivation to change. Consider the following: In the years since 2002, the church has without any doubt been revealed as an organized child sex abuse ring that spans decades and generations. My parents, as children in the 1950s, worshipped in a church that was home to abusive priests. They then, in turn, became adults who raised their children in the church. My parents' generation were exposed to danger; many mercifully dodged that bullet. But, since the church covered it up, and they were ignorant of all of it, they were denied the freedom to make fully informed decisions about what risks they wanted to expose their own children to, years later. The church took that decision making power out of their hands. It is not just the abuse that is the problem here. It is that wholesale abuse of trust, on every level. And yet, after all of that, this scandal has not caused the majority of Catholics to leave the church. Lay people are the problem here. Why would you change as an organization if you could get away even with this? Your members are telling you that there is nothing you can do to drive us away. It is hard to confront the hard work of change under those comfortable circumstances.

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