February 4, 2018
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of the most striking things of my four and a half years here in Boston is the profound negative effect that the Church’s sexual abuse crisis has had on both the local and worldwide Church. As Church leaders, we continue to make errors on very basic matters. It is beyond frustrating that we can’t seem to get our act together on what should be simple: pastoral care of people.
When someone comes to one of us with an accusation, our first duty should be to listen in good faith to the accusation. Everyone in the Church needs to understand that bringing forth an accusation against someone in power is difficult. The accuser feels he or she will not be believed. Bringing accusations of serious wrongdoing against esteemed institutions and their representatives comes at great personal risk and personal cost.
It is not helpful for Church leaders, early in a fact-finding process, to be emphasizing the requirement of proof against an accused person. All this does is discourage people with corroborating information from coming forward. There is plenty of time to protect the rights of the accused at the end of a fact-finding process.
It is important that we are open to listening to the experiences of other people. We need to work on overcoming our biases, prejudices, and pre-dispositions about people and situations. The church needs to change its approach and its attitude on these matters. We can’t continue to make awkward, unintentional blunders. When a person or an institution makes the same mistake over and over, it eventually becomes a practiced mistake. The reflexive reaction in a like situation is to repeat the mistake. The existing dysfunctional cycle needs to be carefully, thoughtfully, and courageously broken. We have to reset the system, refraining from exercising the reflex to defend people solely on their position of power in the Church hierarchy.
The Shrine is currently running a support group for people who are recovering from sexual abuse, whether that abuse was by a clergy member or by someone else. Mr. David Nolan is running that program for us and we are very happy with its success so far. David can be reached at [email protected]. He is a great resource for us.
The opinions expressed here are my own. May God bless you in the coming week.
Fr. Thomas Conway, OFM