People have asked me: what is our position on the horrendous news we’ve been hearing about the cover-up of US bishops in the sexual abuse scandal, particularly after the Attorney General‘s report in Pennsylvania? Keep in mind that the Leadership Team of the Dominican Sisters of Peace are members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. That means we stand with the LCWR statement completely, because we are members — it speaks for us. I invite you to read our very comprehensive and fearless statement below.
For me, however, there is so much more that needs to be done. I’ve been pondering what I’d like to see happen and am very aware of our Dominican charism to speak the truth – so a few thoughts:
In spite of the good work of most priests and the integrity of many bishops, the hierarchy as a whole has lost moral credibility. This is the most damaging aspect to me. How can the bishops make public statements about immigration, family values, or any other issue when their own house is corrupt? Can they correct themselves and restore the confidence of Catholics — let alone the general public? I do not think so – not by themselves anyway. Before bishops can speak of healing for victims, they need to address the root causes of this very public sin. Otherwise, the wrong people are putting a bandage on a cancer.
The 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People did not stop Rev. Kevin Lonergan, a 30-year-old priest from Pottsville, PA, who was charged with indecent assault and corruption of minors after being accused of inappropriately touching a 17-year-old girl and sending nude images of himself to her. He was ordained just 4 years ago. Where is the oversight even now?
Some have called for women to serve in positions of oversight. This is half true to me. I suggest that the USCCB recognize that independent and objective oversight, by both professional lay men and women, who are qualified to serve, is absolutely necessary. It would take enormous courage and humility to submit to such an investigation. But who would appoint and to whom would they report? This question lies at the feet of Pope Francis and I hope he can demonstrate the kind of fearless resolve that we need for the People of God at this time. We need no less than a Reformation of the priesthood. That is just a beginning.
So I look to Pope Francis who certainly as the power to call for a deep cleansing and reform of the priesthood. Vatican bureaucracy has successfully derailed his efforts so far. What will he do now?
Next time, I’d like to share a few more thoughts, but for now, here is the LCWR statement:
LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy
August 23, 2018
[Silver Spring, MD] 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.