Listen to those sinned against

An underlying theme of the shameful story of clerical sex abuse in the Catholic Church has been the neglect of the victims. At last this is changing, and next year’s intense study of the whole issue being organised at the Gregorian University in Rome will mark a watershed in the way this aspect is treated. The proposed symposium has the support of the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, and will bring together experts and those with pastoral experience in the field.

So far there are no plans to include victims themselves, which would be a loss. It is not simply that they need to be heard as part of a possible healing process. The marginalisation of victims represented a mindset whose origins lay in traditions of Catholic spirituality that emphasised the avoidance of sin and the recovery of sinners through penance and repentance. That mindset implied that the real tragedy of an act of sexual abuse by a priest lay in the defilement of the priestly office by the commission of an act of unchastity, rather than a grave and possibly permanent psychological injury inflicted upon an innocent and defenceless child.

Those with that mindset, blinded by the lesser evil, could not see the greater. It meant the Church, in response to acts of abuse that came to official notice, gave priority to the treatment of the transgressor and forgot about the one transgressed. This was the very essence of the clericalist deformity of ways of thinking and acting in the Church that prepared the way for all the scandals of cover-up, denial and deception.

By no means everyone in the Church has learned this lesson. The Rosminian order has failed to respond adequately to reve­lations of sexual abuse at one of its institutions in Africa. One priest involved was one of the best-known Catholic priests in London, the late Fr Kit Cunningham of St Etheldreda’s, Ely Place. Before he died, he even returned his MBE to Buckingham Palace because he felt it had been awarded under false pretences. Those whom he had served and who had loved him in London have found it hard to believe he was capable of such crimes: perhaps the knowledge of his own depravity could have added to his sensitivity as a pastor; it almost certainly lay behind his heavy drinking. It was only the surfacing of some of his victims years later, however, that exposed his true history to public view. The Cunningham case confirms what a unique and essential service to the Church victims proffer, yet it is one that the Church has barely recognised.

One key speaker at the Gregorian event will be Baroness (Sheila) Hollins, the former president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists who took part in the pontifical visitation of the Irish Catholic Church. She has played a central role in placing victims at the centre of the Church’s concern. She has said that in her professional experience, men who become child abusers were invariably abused themselves when they were children. This raises the question, urgently calling for further research, into how many priest abusers were themselves abused in childhood (but not necessarily by priests). If this import­ant link in the chain of causality has been missed, that is one more damaging consequence of marginalising the victims.

Jesuits remove popular Maryland priest

A prominent Jesuit priest has been permanently barred from public ministry for allegedly improperly touching a minor in the 1980s.

The Maryland Province of the Jesuits said Tuesday that it removed the Rev. James Glenn Murray from church work after an investigator hired by the Roman Catholic order found evidence supporting the allegation. Murray is living in a monitored Jesuit residence.

The Jesuits sent notice of their action to dioceses and high schools where Murray has served since his 1979 ordination.

Murray is a liturgy specialist who helped draft a 1990s document for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on African-American worship in the Roman Catholic Church.

The priest could not be reached for comment. The religious order did not release Murray’s location, but a spokeswoman said they would try to reach him.

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Bishops Empower Themselves Not to Report Abuse Allegations, Catholics Speak Out

Statement from Call To Action Regarding

Bishops’ 2011 Spring Assembly:

Bishops Empower Themselves Not to Report Abuse Allegations, Catholics Speak Out

After this year’s revelations that the Philadelphia Archbishop and Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop failed to report sexual abuse allegations to their review boards and to civil authorities, Catholics of good will expected the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to revise their sexual abuse policies at this week’s Spring General Assembly.  Today, the bishops conclude their gathering without making any substantive changes to their sex abuse policies.

The bishops did manage to authorize work on a new preaching document, issue a policy statement and approve new musical translations of the new liturgy to begin in September.

However, when it came to changing and further strengthening the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its related Essential Norms, they added little and made minor tweaks to dates and numbers.   One bishop even suggested that some of those who have abused should be able to return to ministry. Equally egregious, the bishops did not add a section to the charter that would mandate Bishops share sexual abuse allegations with their own diocesan review boards and, thus, potentially keep known abusers in ministry.

As a result, the power to keep a pedophile religious leader away from children continues to rest in the hands of the bishop–the same place it has always rested. Based on the last fifty years of scandal, we know this only leads to additional abuse victims and greater harm to the Church as a whole.

Call To Action encourages fellow Catholics to continue to speak up about any signs of abuse and direct their concerns, not only to church authorities, but to civil authorities. For assistance, contact SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests,

Bishops Won’t Focus on Abuse Policies

Despite recent cases in which Roman Catholic bishops failed to report or suspend priests accused of child sexual abuse, the bishops head into a meeting in Seattle on Wednesday proposing no significant revisions to the abuse prevention policies they passed in 2002 at the height of the scandal.

The bishops had promised that they would take a hard look at their policies in light of new accusations in Philadelphia and Kansas City, Mo., that have shaken many Catholics, not just in those dioceses, but across the country as well. The incidents have led some Catholics to question whether bishops are complying with their own policies, and whether there is any accountability for bishops who do not.

In the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Bishop Robert W. Finn admitted last month that he allowed a priest who had taken pornographic pictures of parish girls to continue celebrating Mass and having access to children.

Catholic bishops gather in Seattle, amidst new sex abuse allegations

Nearly 200 Catholic bishops gather in Seattle Wednesday for a three day conference, amidst new allegations of ongoing sexual abuse by priests.

The church leaders from all over the country will discuss potential changes to new rules put in place in 2002 aimed at curbing rampant sexual abuse spanning decades, resulting in thousands of complaints and over $2 billion in legal settlements.

“It’s little more than show. They’ve done virtually nothing to change things,” alleges John Shuster, director of Seattle’s Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Shuster says the reforms are meaningless, because they don’t carry any real power to remove pedophile priests.

Shuster accuses the church of continuing to cover up ongoing abuses, and his group is calling on the church to open its records and subject guilty priests to criminal prosecution. “This is criminal sexual abuse of children,” he complains. “If this were a plumber, he’d be locked up in a minute.”

But Catholic Church leaders insist guidelines put in place the last decade have drastically curbed abuse cases and no further rules are needed.

The gathering comes just days after three men filed new lawsuits against the Seattle archdiocese, alleging rampant abuse and cover up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.