MAY 8, 2002
A Word from Concerned Catholics
-- Rosemary P. Carbine and Anthea D. Butler
Together with the church as the people of God, we as lay Catholics want to express solidarity with those abused, oppressed, and silenced by ordained church officials. We are saddened by the ongoing lack of pastoral care shown by the church to victims of sexual abuse by priests. We are outraged by institutional policies and procedures that shuffle known sexual offender priests from parish to parish with certificates of good standing, thereby putting more children at risk. If ordained church officials act and serve in persona Christi, or represent the person of Christ in the church and to the public, how much have those officials wounded the church, the body of Christ, and eroded their public credibility by being complicit in and actually perpetrating these horrendous acts? The Pope recently called pedophilia and sexual abuse by clergy a crime; he also asserted that there is no room in the church for its perpetrators. And yet, in recent statements, especially the statement issued after the Cardinals summit at the Vatican, church officials are more eager to publicly reprimand those who dissent from church policies and teaching. When issued in the American Catholic context, such statements reassert the integrity of the church and Catholic moral teaching, instead of getting down to the arduous task of protecting our children from criminal sexual violence. We are appalled that the Cardinals would crack down only on serial offenders, a policy that continues to cover-up rather than openly acknowledge cases of abuse, both past and present. While we agree that we should show compassion and pray for priests, now somehow all painted with the same rushstroke of suspicion, we should not forget, as Diana Hayes in her April 26 column in the National Catholic Reporter reminds us, to show compassion to the children caught up in this cycle of abuse.
With due respect for the Cardinals' directive for penance services to bring resolution to this crisis, healing for our brothers and sister estranged from the church will not come from one day of services. While marking a significant step toward healing, liturgical communion should be part of a much longer and complex religious process of reconciliation. Following the church's own guidelines for the sacrament of confession, forgiveness and restored communion require open acknowledgement of these abusive acts as sinful, sorrow for complicity and engagement in them, and a firm purpose of amendment to rectify policies that endangered children, not just in the United States but across the globe.
Echoing recent statements by the Chicago-based Catholic reform group Call To Action, we are dismayed that church officials have made a mockery of confession. They have failed to exhibit sorrow for these reprehensible acts, and their statements do not reflect serious attempts at reforming church structures and policies that hide unethical and criminal practices. We encourage church officials to stop invoking rhetoric that blames homosexuals, the media, and an allegedly hypersexualized American society for fueling this crisis. Reading reports in the Boston Herald and Boston Globe, we are taken aback and horrified by the insensitive claims recently filed in court by Cardinal Law's lawyers that charge parents with negligence, with failing to protect their children from abuse by priests. Women have long felt the brunt of a rhetoric that blames victims for their own abuse, whether domestic or sexual. Rather than deflect the enormity of the charges through scapegoating tactics, church officials should start working to rebuild the trust of the people of God shaken by this crisis. They should hasten to give victims of clergy sexual abuse and ordinary Catholics alike what they so desperately need to start healing -- a sincere apology that evinces shame for these sinful acts, and that implements a course of action to deal with charges of abuse, leveled both in the past and in the future.
In good conscience, we cannot be complicit with church policies that house and protect sexual offenders. In that vein, we urge bishops at their June meeting to spell out a firm policy of zero tolerance to deal with sexual offenders, whether ordained, in religious orders, or lay, a policy not subject to any given bishop's discretion but uniform throughout all dioceses. We ask that the church stop its faulty in-house methods of investigation, so-called punishment, and rehabilitation. Instead, we recommend that bishops turn over investigating and prosecuting allegations of abuse to proper civil authorities, clarify the church's procedures to remove suspected offenders from any ecclesial service while investigations are underway, and overhaul rehabilitation programs for offenders. We also ask that seminaries and dioceses enlist sexual ethicists and psychological counselors to provide ongoing guidance to future and current priests so that they can simultaneously embrace the gift of sexuality within the context of celibacy.
Like the women who waited at the tomb of Jesus, we wait and watch to see whether the outcome of the bishops meeting in June will abandon or alleviate the long-suffering of our abused brothers and sisters. In the meantime, concerned Catholics have let their conscience be heard in public in various ways, some by boycotting or protesting mass, others by refusing to fiscally support the bishops annual appeal and Catholic Charities, others by founding grassroots organizations for church reform, like the Voice of the Faithful. Now over 6000 members strong, Voice recently identified strategies for ordinary Catholics to get involved in movements for church reform, listing among other things writing to bishops and congressional representatives; we would urge non-Catholics to do the same. We would like to add to that list by suggesting productive ways that lay Catholics can inject their voices into the bishops' decision-making process.
1) To display our religious support for victims, we encourage Catholics, whether lay, in religious orders, or ordained, to get involved in planning reconciliation services at your church. Since our brothers and sisters are currently alienated from the church, we suggest as part of the service a silent candlelight vigil outside the church, thereby expressing solidarity and public penance for these acts. As the people of God, we should stand with those afflicted by this suffering and together ask for God's mercy on us all.
2) To effectively redirect our financial support, we encourage implementing special collections during regular Sunday masses and healing services, so that monies and goods can be donated to groups and organizations dedicated to the healing and restoration of victims of clergy sexual abuse.
Written on the feast of one of the most outspoken doctors of the church and servants of the poor, we as committed Catholic laity petition the American cardinals and bishops to heed the voice of the oppressed among us crying out for mercy. We meet Christ in how we treat the least among us; let it not be said that we victimized those enduring the pain of sexual abuse a second time, but rather embraced them in their time of need.
April 29, 2002
-- Feast of Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church and Activist Rosemary P. Carbine is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University. She is working on a book manuscript that explores how feminist understandings of the self enrich theological education and public theology.
-- Anthea D. Butler is Assistant Professor of Theological Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Ca. Currently she is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.