An Open Letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matthew 11:25)
From your adult children: on behalf of the little ones of the past, the present and the future
We are hurting. Can you feel our hurt, the pain, the reality of betrayal revealed most recently in the revelations of the Grand Jury report from Pennsylvania regarding the long history and depth of deception, evasion and coverup of abuses of children and youth by Roman Catholic priests and bishops? Do you understand the hurt of the Catholic laity and many good priests by your collective failure to call each other to accountability in light of the Dallas norms established sixteen years ago?
As a reminder, the Charter directs action in all the following matters:
• Creating a safe environment for children and young people;
• Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors;
• Making prompt and effective response to allegations;
• Cooperating with civil authorities;
• Disciplining offenders;
• Providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board.
Do you understand that every time a revelation of a Cardinal McCarrick or the gross disregard for the Dallas norms by the bishops of Pennsylvania stirs up a depth of pain and hurt for countless individuals?
1) First and foremost the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy who are again reminded of the deep harm that those who abused them did to their body and spirit, the harm and hurt that has impacted their lives, some to a degree that they have been unable to enter fully into intimate, life-giving adult relationships;
2) For anyone who was abused as a child or adolescent by a trusted adult (statistics say 1 in 4 girls, 1 in 6 boys) who are impacted by the abuse of memory;
3) For the families of victims who again are called to comfort their loved one while dealing with their own pain;
4) For the Catholic laity who were under the assumption that every diocese, every bishop was following through on the directives/ promises made in the Dallas norms; who thought that bishops would be calling each other to accountability; who thought that every diocese had structures in place to compassionately support victims and that the days of lawyers and administrators focused on ‘preserving the Church’ over exercising the compassion of Christ were long gone; who every day face the questioning of non-Catholics and former Catholics asking “How can you (still) belong to the Catholic Church in light of this?”
5) For the priests who minister to and with the faithful every day on your behalf who again have to respond to your collective failure; who struggle themselves in how to minister in a church where the authentic and transparent pastoral leadership of their shepherds is at best questionable; who struggle themselves in whether to remain in this church that they love, yet which continues to betray them.
+ What should have happened following…
For those who wrote statements, who apologized, who called for diligence, thank you… but, this is not enough. Every practicing Catholic and those on the fringe are directly impacted by this. Every priest and deacon should have been given a pastoral statement required to be read from every pulpit at every Mass in the U.S. the following Sunday. Some priests are as reluctant as some of our bishops to address this for a multitude of reasons.
A public penance service for every bishop to ask forgiveness for the harm this has caused to victims, their families, the Catholic faithful who daily endure the pain and questioning of their continued fidelity to the Catholic Church, and the moral authority of the Church.
Public healing services in every diocese to pray for victims of bishops, priests and other trusted adults, for continued diligence in promoting the protection of children in our church and in our society, and the need for continued reform and external oversight.
Offering listening sessions to the Catholic faithful and others where they can vent their frustration and perhaps gather to organize a greater lay response and call to action to your collective body.
Call the whole USCCB together immediately to discuss and formulate next substantive steps in response to this latest crisis/coverup/betrayal. This should not wait until your regular meeting in November. Otherwise it sounds like business as usual and just another item to cover on your agenda. This must be your agenda!
+ What needs to happen now…
Public admission that the USSCCB, as a collective body, cannot police itself on this issue, and apologies for your failure these past 16 years since the Dallas Charter. We realize that for each bishop your diocese is a dynasty unto itself and no one wants to challenge a brother bishop regarding how they are failing in pastorally addressing the care of their flock, especially the adults who, as a minor, suffered sexual abuse by a priest or bishop. There seems to be a growing acknowledgement, even among bishops, that policing yourselves is no longer a viable option. Accepting this as the current reality, with humble conviction we highly encourage that you support…
The Catholic laity and priests who are on the forefront of this issue, those who truly get it, to incorporate an oversight body, both nationally and in each local diocese. These would be laity and priests who care deeply, first about victims and secondly who embrace the Church’s founding mission over and above the protection of the institutional church, and who believe that at this time we are called by God to participate in resurrection for our church. This is not your church or our church. We have been given this gift by Jesus Christ, a gift that all of us are called to steward. Who also believe that faithful stewardship requires that our first defense of the church never be defensiveness, but a defense born of operating transparently, proactively and compassionately in service of the founding mission given us by Jesus Christ.
We implore you at this time to disclose anything that you are withholding that would help victims of past abuse find hope and healing. Are there more grand jury reports forthcoming? Are there (secret) files that have not yet been disclosed? Are there some among you who participated in abuse and/or cover-up of abuse?
“For everything hidden is meant to be revealed, and everything concealed is meant to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:22)
Dear bishops: We are tired of the slow bleeding and the unexpected and spirit-sapping new revelations. If you truly love Jesus Christ and love His Church, please put it all into the light now!
And, finally, it is clear that many of our priests, deacons and pastoral staffs do not fully grasp the importance of understanding the depth of hurt that sexual abuse of children and youth by priests and bishops has inflicted on so many individuals and their families. Added to this is a lack of full understanding of the depth of hurt carried by 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in our society who were likely sexually abused as children and youth by a trusted adult or an older sibling. Therefore, we are asking that every bishop, priest, deacon and pastoral staff member in every parish in the U.S. be required to go through extensive training on understanding the depth of hurt and pain caused by child and youth sexual abuse; learn how to speak to this issue from the pulpit, both when there is a crisis like this and, more importantly, to speak on various occasions to let those Catholic faithful in our pews know that we acknowledge that they may be hurting and that we as parish staffs are prepared to welcome them, embrace them, comfort them, build trust with them and, if and when they are ready, that we will listen in confidence to their stories and accompany them, as Christ would, through the healing process.
These are our expectations, our hopes, our expression of our love for the church of Jesus Christ. We will be praying for you that the Holy Spirit will give you and all of us the wisdom and courage to be faithful to where God is calling us individually and collectively, all of us baptized into the common priesthood of all believers, to participate in resurrection. For some of us it is Good Friday. For most of us it is Holy Saturday. For all of us, Jesus Christ is calling us to resurrection. We will do our part. Will you do yours?
We invite you to voice your own hurt or to stand by our brothers and sisters by signing the petition.