When recent news broke about the sexual abuse of over 1,000 children by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania, a handful of individuals in our JustFaith Ministries community asked if we were going to make a statement in response to the news report. I have to admit, my first reaction was simply to not respond, as I felt any response I had would be grossly inadequate in light of the depth and breadth of the abuse, and the lengths that priests, bishops and other persons in power went to in order to cover up the abuse.
However, as the days passed and I began trying to formulate words in my head – words that could possibly capture both my grief and anger with some semblance of clarity, a statement issued by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) found its way into my inbox. The women religious of the Catholic Church found the words I could not find myself and issued a statement that captures the essence of what I believe many of us feel in this time. In solidarity with their response, I would like to share their statement with you today:
The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.
Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.
We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis. We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.
We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.
Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.
May the words of LCWR compel us to demand that the Catholic Church in the United States – and any other church that choses to put its own interests above all else – does everything in its power to ensure that no child ever again has to wonder if they will be protected from abuse by their church leadership. And, may we never tire of demanding nothing less than 100% protection of our children and total transparency in the face of every kind of abuse, regardless of where or by whom it originates.