Summit in Rome Holds Prospects—but not yet the Reality—for Reform
Pope Francis just concluded the extraordinary summit of 190 bishops in Rome that he called to address the worldwide crisis of sexual abuse by clergy. Those of us in the United States know that such a summit is 34 years overdue. It should have been called by Pope John Paul II once it became clear that sexual abuse of minors was not “treatable” and that anyone involved in such heinous abuse needed to be removed from ministry, reported to authorities, and minimally placed on a safety plan. Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle (1975-1991) inaugurated just such policies in Western Washington by 1986. And all these have also been in place throughout the United States since the Dallas Charter of 2002, and this aggressive policy has drastically arrested the level of abuse.
What was never addressed in the Dallas Charter was the accountability of bishops. And, for Americans, that’s precisely what’s missing and urgently needed.
At the end of the summit in Rome, Pope Francis outlined 21 mandates for National Bishops Conferences to implement. In his six years as pope he has consistently affirmed the authority of local bishops’ conferences (contrary to the way that the two previous pope undermined them by insisting that nothing was binding on bishops in a national conference unless there was 100 percent unanimity on a decision). Francis has urged great “synodality,” that is, national conferences of bishops to make vital pastoral decisions. He has commented, “Too many issues come to Rome for decisions. I don’t have all the answers.” His leadership style is much more collegial.
The American bishops have already indicated a readiness to move forward on this last crucial step of accountability of bishops. As of January 1, most dioceses and religious orders have now released all the names of anyone who was ever credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults. The Jesuits West did so in December, although those of the former Oregon Province were already publicly listed on a province website since the end of bankruptcy proceedings.
What’s needed now and has been needed for 34 years is the oversight of these processes by independent boards of lay leaders, experts in the field, especially with the inclusion of parents and women so that frank, honest transparency shines a bright light on what has too long been in the darkness and hidden. In addition, church leaders and lay leaders need to listen to the tragic stories of those who have been abused as children or teenagers; such a listening practice will provide the best safeguards and motivation for all that needs to be done.
In many ways, what I have summarized above is simply “best practice,” though it is a significant operational change. But ultimately what is needed is structural change. Such a genuine reform will include the end of clericalism; leadership of women in the church; seminary education integrated with both future clergy and laity; deep-seated financial transparency; a shift away from the bishop beging the “sole corporation”; lay trusteeship (first proposed by Bishop John England of South Carolina in the 1830s); screening and recommendations for the appointment of bishops by both clergy and laity; and so forth.
Meanwhile here at ICTC, we continue to examine the situation in the Church through multiple lenses and informed discussion. Here are two opportunities for your participation.
Patrick Howell, S.J., interim director, Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture
Preface and Notes from the faculty and staff gathering:
On November 15, 2019 the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture and the Center for Jesuit Education convened a conversation for faculty and staff to discuss how, as a Jesuit Catholic University, we should be responding to the clergy sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Fr. Pat Howell (Interim Director, ICTC) opened the event with an historical overview of the sexual abuse by clergy and malfeasance of bishops in dealing with the abuse. Jodi O’Brien (Sociology) facilitated the conversation. About 35 participants included several upper level administrators, members of the Jesuit community, and faculty and staff from various departments and units across campus. Those gathered mentioned several reasons for attending: personal experience; grappling with feelings of outrage, betrayal, need to address systemic evil, and a crisis of faith; a desire to be part of radical reform efforts in the Church; and invested in seeing the university engage deeply in responding. Across this diverse group, which consisted of many faith/belief positions and experiences, there was strong agreement that this crisis requires a sustained, coordinated response oriented to accountability, healing, reform, and renewal.
Thinking about Response
In table discussions, participants shared ideas for response. Recommendations included emphasis on the need for broad-scale, radical change that is rooted in caring for victims; addressing and reforming clericalism; and acknowledging and intervening in organizational patterns of secrecy and silence that have enabled an alarming history of persistent abuse.
Participants also agreed that as a university we are not only obligated to respond, but can do so in ways that reflect our mission of both cura personalis and cura apostolica. Through our teaching, academic work, and community engagement we can educate others in the long history and organizational dysfunctions that result in this sustained crisis, we can highlight the voices and experiences of those who have suffered through this systemic abuse; and we can also offer models of shared governance and accountability that might serve as correctives.
Importantly, discussants voiced that as scholar/educators in a Jesuit Catholic university, we can demonstrate processes for facing directly into the crisis, for grappling with the tensions, contradictions, and dysfunctions in the Church that underlie this moral catastrophe. All assembled agreed that there is no quick fix and that, as a university, we need to keep this issue front and center long after it has ceased to be a media sensation. This work requires a coordinated effort across departments and units.
The current sexual abuse crisis has affected so many dimensions of the Catholic Church that our Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture necessarily must thoughtfully address it. Thus I am offering this special edition of our ICTC newsletter.
One of the challenges we face as a center for the Catholic Intellectual heritage is that our audience is diffused and has multiple levels of knowledge and experience. Some of us have been acutely aware of the seriousness of this issue for at least 33 years when Fr. Tom Doyle, O.P. first briefed all the American bishops on the intractability and incurability of the proclivity towards abuse of minors and outlined for all the bishops precisely what had to be done.
I have always felt immensely grateful that Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle took this urgent message immediately to heart. He and his staff that very week removed some priests from ministry, and then put in place a well-discerned, well-informed plan of action for any future abuse. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the Boston Globe series of articles in 2002 that the whole body of bishops acted to put in place the stringent, professionally advised “Dallas Chapter,” which included an external review process of every diocese to make certain that local bishops and their curial staff were following through on the mandates of the Chapter.
Here at Seattle University, I was dean of the School of Theology and Ministry in those years when the Boston Globe report broke open the story. STM immediately held a public forum on the campus with theological and psychological experts addressing the issue (2002), and then the next year STM hosted Fr. Ron Rolheiser, O.M.I. who gave a major address on the issue, “Carrying a Scandal Biblically,” which was later published in our journal Seattle Theology and Ministry Review (2003). Archbishop Alex Brunett introduced the talk that evening and gave an account of the ongoing efforts of the Archdiocese of Seattle to address the issue at every level.
Meanwhile the Jesuit’s Oregon Province was not without its challenges and faced a series of lawsuits from victims of abuse, especially from Alaska, which eventually resulted in filing for Chapter Eleven bankrupt. Jesuits and religious order priests are all subject to the same ongoing training, mandated by the Dallas Charter, to recognize and report abuse and abusers and to create safe havens for all minors.
The shock of the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report, shocking because it revealed the depth and breadth of the abuse over multiple years, has resonated throughout the country, and this time the focus is much more squarely on the neglect in accountability and even malfeasance of some bishops.
What is evident, however, is that the Dallas Charter has been effective, though it has not totally stemmed the horrible abuse. Since 2004, the average number of new cases among diocesan priests has been less than nineteen per year and among religious order priests, two per year. Those numbers stand in sharp contrast to an average of at least five hundred per year from about 1960 through 2002.
Of course, we always face the reality that it can take several years before a victim of abuse has the fortitude and resolve to make the report.
The Pennsylvania grand jury report, however, has surfaced much deeper issues related to clericalism, the enclosed, self-protective structures of the church, and the narcissism that underlies the abuse. All this calls for a much more radical reform, one which providentially Pope Francis has been addressing and urging since the beginning of his pontificate. All are aware, however, that the structural reforms needed have barely begun.
On November 15 Seattle University faculty and staff will have an opportunity to become better informed about the history of the sexual abuse crisis and a chance to discuss it in depth at a special afternoon forum (details forthcoming). ICTC plans are also in the works to host a symposium for the general public, including a day of reflection and reform sometime in February or March.
I am enclosing a PDF of Fr. Ron Rolheiser’s foundational article, as well as a link to John Carr’s article in America, where he offers eight points for a way forward towards effective reform. Carr underscores such obvious points as 1. “There are not enough parents in the room when decisions are made; and 2. “Lay people need to be much more involved—but need to be independent and focused on the needs of the vulnerable, not the protection of the institution or the care of perpetrators.” (These and other resources are listed here).
As we go forward, let us continue to pray for healing and reconciliation for those who have been abused, as well as deep gratitude for their courage in bringing forward this horrible abuse of power and integrity of persons.
Patrick Howell, S.J., interim director
Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture
It is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of humankind and the good of the Church, which has “an intimate conviction that truth is (its) real ally ... and that knowledge and reason are sure ministers to faith.” (From Ex Corde Ecclesiae, quoting John Cardinal Newman, The Idea of a University.)
In August the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church surfaced again, even more dramatically, when a grand jury in Pennsylvania reported on the patterns of abuse, cover up, ineptitude, and at times malfeasance on the part of the bishops in six Catholic dioceses in the state. A separate scandal related to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, appointed cardinal by John Paul II in 2001, further accentuated a clerical subculture of corruption. The situation was not new, but the extent and depth of it were.
You are invited to participate in a conference on Thursday, Nov. 15, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Casey Commons co-hosted by the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture (ICTC) and the Center for Jesuit Education. Jodi O’Brien, professor of sociology, will emcee and facilitate the discussion, and Fr. Pat Howell, S.J., professor of pastoral theology and interim director of ICTC, will give a short historical overview of the four stages over which the sexual abuse crisis has unfolded. The main feature will be discussions, examining the situation and making recommendations by participants in table conversations, followed by a general session. RSVPs to ICTC@seattleu.edu are appreciated for planning purposes, but not required.
Our hope as co-sponsors is that this conference will pave the way for a greater in-depth consideration of the issues at a two-day symposium during the Winter Quarter.
Jen Tilghman-Havens, Director, Center for Jesuit Education
Pat Howell, S.J., Interim Director, ICTC