A Long Week for #ChurchToo

by

It has not been a good week for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. On Tuesday, a scathing, nearly 1000-page report was issued by a grand jury in Pennsylvania which outlined a systemic pattern of covering up the sexual abuse of children. Nearly 1000 cases and some 300 “predator priests” were identified across six dioceses in Pennsylvania. These cases go back as far as 70 years, well beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution. A roundup of some of the news coverage:

Vatican is in Shame and Sorrow over Abuses in Pennsylvania (PBS NewsHour)

Bishops request Vatican investigation as abuse crisis grows (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)

Culpability Reaches Vatican (Scranton, PA Times-Tribune)

Catholic Cardinal: ‘Homosexual culture’ is to blame for child rape (Pink News, United Kingdom)

Vatican: Pa. abuse ‘criminal and morally reprehensible’ (Wilkes-Barre, PA Times-Leader)

Diocese: Timlin’s actions, status under review (Wilkes-Barre, PA Times-Leader)

Priests address grand jury report: ‘we can and must deal with anger’ Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Harrisburg Diocese to hold forgiveness Mass in wake of grand jury report (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

After Pa. report, O’Malley says church’s crisis is product of ‘clerical failures’ (The Boston Globe)

Alleged misconduct at Brighton seminary prompts inquiry (The Boston Globe)

Former Catholic Priest Says Pennsylvania Bishop Ignored His Reports of Abuse (National Public Radio)

8:00 pm CDT additions: 

Bishop Sean Rowe’s (Northwest PA and Bethlehem) pastoral letter in response to the report

Statement of Catholic Theologians, Educators, Parishioners, and Lay Leaders on Clergy Sexual Abuse in the United States (Daily Theologian)

Washington cardinal [Donald Wuerl] entangled in two sex-abuse scandals (Religion News Service)

An open letter to my Roman Catholic Friends (Religion News Service)

The numbers, as well as the cover-up, in the report are staggering. It is worth remembering that the Roman Catholic Church is not alone in combating this issue. The Episcopal Church has had its share of similar cases. In recent memory are that of Howdy White, the former chaplain at St. George’s School in Rhode Island (see the Providence Journal’s coverage here); and that of Donald Davis, former bishop of Northwest Pennsylvania, who was found in 2010 to have abused several children during his tenure. In both cases, the people responsible for supervising their work failed to take proper action at the time the abuse was reported. Sexual harassment and abuse figured prominently in many conversations at General Convention last month as well, including a Liturgy of Listening (which is available on the General Convention media site; scroll down to the bottom of the list of worship videos, which is in a window in the middle of the page) and a number of resolutions meant to begin to address the challenges posed by this issue. A full summary of GC’s actions on this and the other business before it is available at the General Convention website.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

I don't know the Roman Church intimately enough to prescribe solutions to a problem that is centuries old, so I'll just make a few observations about my Church.

The Episcopal Church may have far fewer reports of harassment and abuse, but anything more -than-zero is unacceptable. It might appear that the Roman Church has the bigger problem. But we shouldn't find any relief or solace in this difference; they have a 1.2 billion membership. (Who knows, on a per capita basis, we may have the "bigger" problem.)

I don't worry like the doomsayers about the future of the Episcopal Church because with initiatives like this one, the Church will be a safer place for all. A smaller church just may be a better church. After generations of male, Anglo privilege trying to keep people out, perhaps it's time the former "outsiders" sat among us in the pews with every intention of living-out, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You"

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Deborah Britt
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Deborah Britt

Let's begin with a clear, published, zero-tolerance policy regarding harassment, bullying & other demeaning behavior. Organizations affiliated with the Episcopal Church should NOT be immune. At an Episcopal Retirement Community (Asheville, NC) I faced episodes of harassment (some with sexual innuendo & other violations of my privacy) by a male resident. The Resident Handbook does NOT mention harassment or other inappropriate resident behavior, or basic expectations for respect & privacy. With NO policy, I utilized organization chart to report my experiences & lack of policy. The Administration & Board seem to have surrounded themselves with people unwilling to face this issue, creating impenetrable barrier & overlooking key lessons of Church-too and Me-too movements. I moved out after 15 months & suffered a financial loss. There was no price tag for inner peace and for feeling respected, believd & safe.

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Philip B. Spivey
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Philip B. Spivey

Yours is a heart-breaking story and suggests that the problems we face run wide and deep. On the one hand, we require something like an intensive and periodic "Safe Church" for our clergy and lay. On the other hand there's a need for public accountability when and where these violations occur.

How we got here? First, I believe, it's the centuries of no accountability for the perpetrators. It's easy to see how in (any) hierarchical organization where there is gender hegemony, something like this would take hold ---" Don't ask, don't tell".

Second, our Church has an unexplored, and only marginally recognized, drinking problem among a significant number of the clergy and lay persons. What we know about the disease of chemical dependency (when it's active and untreated) is that it is a progressive disease and is marked behaviorally by poor social boundaries. Where it exists, the potential for boundary violations (of all kinds) increase.

May the healing begin.

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Member

In this one diocese, we know that thousands have been affected by this abuse. We know this went on for decades, and we know that the church used every means possible to quash the release of this report. The cover-up extends to the Vatican. This is not the first report to come from the state of PA.

The question becomes for our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church is it time to seriously consider that their church is a criminal enterprise engaged in widespread pedophilia and the cover up of that activity? Is there any other conclusion that can be drawn from this and previous reports other than that?

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