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BIS LIVES Blog

Grieving With You: On the Catholic Clergy Abuse + What We Can Do

responses to the catholic clergy abuse

We are in the midst of a dark, grave, and serious crisis within the Church. The Catholic clergy abuse crisis has too long festered in secrecy and darkness. The vulnerable have been abused and destroyed callously by the very ministers of Christ who are meant to help guide, heal, and form souls in the Faith. We are witnessing only another round of these crimes being brought to the light. And yet, for the most part, we lack the leadership we so desperately desire to see from those in the hierarchy of our Church.

Sisters, we are beloved daughters of the King, baptized children of God. We’re baptized in the name of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Now, more than ever, we need to defend the Church we love. We need to rise as members of the laity to protect and guide our Church in one of her greatest hours of need. We need to bring our unique feminine genius to the forefront when so many have failed in their vocations and calls.

Sisters, we are beloved daughters of the King, baptized children of God. We're baptized in the name of Christ as priest, prophet, and king. Now, more than ever, we need to defend the Church we love. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

For Such a Time As This

We members of the Church have been deeply and seriously wounded by the lack of leadership, responsibility, remorse, and reparation shown in the wake of this new information by our bishops. Only a few have spoken out with a vigor worthy of this horror. As much as we respect their office and charism, we cannot stand by and allow the continued failure to root out sin in the forms of abuse, unchastity, and failure to report the covering up of these sins to continue in any way, shape, or form.

We are deeply hurt. Many of us have sobbed, screamed, and all but given up hope in those we thought were leading the faithful. Our emotions are raw with feelings of betrayal, abandonment, and righteous anger. These feelings are completely valid and need to be expressed with respect to the bishops of the Church. Even though it may feel highly uncomfortable and difficult to do so.

As members of the Body of Christ, we care about the victims, we care about each other, and we care about Jesus enough to step forward. We care enough to use our voice and to begin the action needed to correct the serious damage done in the past seventy years.

We will not let this continue to be swept under the rug, silenced, and ignored. As Catholic women, we will not stand silent. We will let it be known that this is the age when the laity rose up in the time of deep crisis to help Christ in His Church.

As women, we have the unique and necessary voice to answer this evil. We are mothers of innocent children, we are survivors of abuse. We are women who have given our lives to the Church in our vocations. In our professional lives, we’ve given our gifts, talents, and faith. We need to bring these much needed perspectives and wisdom to the forefront of the Church today.

As Catholic women, we will not stand silent. We will let it be known that this is the age when the laity rose up in the time of deep crisis to help Christ in His Church. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

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Ways to Respond to the Catholic Clergy Abuse

Here’s some concrete action steps to help in this desperately trying time.

Contact Your Bishop.

Has your local bishop made a clear statement against the abuse coming out of the grand jury report from Pennsylvania or the Archbishop McCarrick situation? If not, write him a letter expressing your feelings of broken trust. Let him know how it has affected how you see the Church. Ask for concrete steps to be made, such as issuing clear statements against abuse and coverups, asking for forgiveness if necessary, asking for a lay-led committee to investigate the McCarrick situation, and diocesan lay-led committees to oversee complaints of abuse, coverups, or issues of unchastity in seminaries or priests.

Write to Pope Francis.

Write to Pope Francis asking for a papal representative to investigate our country’s episcopal leadership through lay-led independent committees. We must fully discover failures to adequately report abuse and failures to live up the Church’s moral call to chastity in the priesthood among priests, bishops, and seminaries. Ask for a greater transparency within the Church hierarchy.

Write to the USCCB.

Write to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops explaining your feelings. Ask for swift action, public penance and reparation, clear statements against abuse, coverups, and unchastity, and for justice to be given to priests and bishops who have evidence of abuse or of covering up abusers in the form of a lay-led committee. Ask for the full examination of the serious allegations of abuse and unchastity especially regarding Archbishop McCarrick and any other allegations in regard to bishops or seminaries.

Blessed is She’s Managing Editor, Nell O’Leary, has drafted letters you are more than welcome to use and print or send to your priests or bishops. Read her letters on her blog, and feel free to copy and paste and edit to your liking. We have also linked the letters here for direct PDF downloads

Letter to Pastor // Letter to Bishop

Pray and Fast.

As Christ Himself tells us, evil at times can only be uprooted through intense prayer and physical fasting. Is there is a specific devotion or prayer you feel drawn to, be it the Rosary, novenas, holy hours, daily Mass, prayer of reparation, etc.? Begin a commitment to daily praying for the Church, victims of abuse, and priests and bishops in need of repentance. Pray also for the good and holy priests and bishops who bring us Christ in the Eucharist. Our prayer as women of the Church is needed and powerful, especially when things feel out of our immediate control.

Support One Another.

Support each other, be it through listening to your sister’s agony over what has happened in the form of abuse, the lack of adequate response from those we look to in leadership and Church hierarchy, or the past wounds news like this can expose. We also need to pray for each other as this is a time of shared faith crisis for us all. We need the extra support of each other’s prayer, of Mary’s intercession, and the saints pleading for us at this extremely dark time. Look to your community. Lean on your parish, your small group, your group of friends, your family, or reach out through the Blessed is She regional online groups. Knowing we’re not alone in facing this evil brings light into the darkness.

Stay Committed.

Stay committed to righting these wrongs. The news will forget about this soon. We cannot let the Church forget that this is unacceptable. We must continue to work towards justice and healing. The damage of these sins will ripple through generations. It will take many years of prayer and dedication to overcome. Work within your diocese or parish by supporting initiatives, committees, and other groups that may begin to keep a vigilant eye on diocesan activity when it comes to holding those in leadership to the standards of holiness. Let us work to give our voices as women, no matter our vocation, our profession, or our season of life to the Church. Our voices are very much needed in combating evil and helping the Church root out the evil and focus on following Christ.

Support Holy Priests and Bishops.

Remember to pray and support good and holy priests and bishops. We need, more than ever, priests who are holy and committed to the Church and her teachings. Let’s support them any way we can, be it an encouraging word after he speaks out publicly on these issues or sparks initiatives within the parish or diocese that foster justice and transparency. Invite them over for dinner. Loneliness is a powerful tool of the devil. Let’s remember that priests are part of our communities. Most of all, they need our prayerful support in battling this evil alongside of us. We need to pray that they continue to be holy representatives of Christ as well as pray for their protection at this sensitive time in the Church.

Devote Your Life More Fully to Christ.

Focus on your relationship with Jesus. Jesus feels our hurt and anger. He can hear our hearts in this time of crisis. Don’t step away from Him. Draw closer to His Sacred Heart in this time when nothing makes sense and trust has been broken. The closer we grow to Him, the more we grow in holiness. And that is what our Church needs most right now. That is how we begin the transformation of our Church by transforming our hearts to His radical mercy, justice, and love.

The closer we grow to Him, the more we grow in holiness. And that is what our Church needs most right now. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

For Our Sisters Who Are Victims of Sexual Abuse…

We know that many women in our community are hurting in a specific way right now. The statistics of women who have been victimized by sexual abuse at some point in their lives are appalling. We, as the Blessed is She team, have been affected by this. We know many of you have, too. If the recent news of the Catholic clergy abuse is triggering your past trauma (regardless of whether or not it was at the hands of clergy), please know that you are not alone.

You are Loved.

Our dear sisters, you did not deserve what happened to you. You did not cause it. You are not defined by it. But you have been shaped by it, and are doubtless wrestling with how the Lord could bring beauty from such ashes. We don’t pretend to have easy answers. But we believe with you and for you that there is a life of wholeness and joy ahead. You are dearly and ferociously loved.

You are Good.

You’ve been given tragic cause to doubt, and maybe even fear, your body and your sexuality. But sisters, you were made well. God declared all of you “good”. Your sexuality is God-given and sacred. Your body is beautiful and not shameful. As the allegory of Song of Solomon says, “You are altogether lovely, my darling, and there is no spot on you” (4:7). The one who stole from you might have caused you to doubt. But Christ declares over you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. Every part of you.

Your body is beautiful and not shameful... The one who stole from you might have caused you to doubt. But Christ declares over you that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

You are Worthy.

In times like these, when headlines scream at you from internet websites and your hands shake when you walk into Mass, your truest self needs your attention and care. It is not selfish to prioritize yourself when you have been triggered in such a terrible, sudden way. Maybe you need to stay in bed with a cup of hot tea. Perhaps you need to call in sick to work or skip a college class. Maybe you need a listening ear who will let you cry and rage for as long as you need. Perhaps you need to hire a babysitter so that you can do those things. Take care of yourself as you imagine Mother Mary would take care of you. How would she comfort you in your time of need—you, her precious daughter?

You are Heard.

If you have never spoken of your abuse to another human being, we encourage you to consider doing it now, no matter how long ago it took place. A close friend, parent, relative, or counselor could all be safe havens to confide in. If you don’t have someone or don’t feel ready to do that, you can anonymously speak to a crisis professional via phone or online chat at RAINN’s (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) website. You don’t have to suffer alone.

You are a Gift.

Thank you for being a part of this community. Thank you for doing the hard work of showing up day after day to heal from your past and refuse to seclude yourself from others. You are so brave. We at Blessed is She are grateful for your presence here. We want to continue to learn from and grow with you. Together, we cling to the hope that one day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Together, we cling to the hope that one day God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. #BISblog // Click To Tweet

Comfort and Inspiration from Our Church

In every age and generation, sinners have caused great damage to the Church. But in every age the Holy Spirit has also inspired His faithful children to stand for truth. He has appointed great Saints in their emphatic call for a return to God’s justice, mercy, authentic humility, and holiness.

As we walk this road of damage and look to rebuild our Church from the inside out, we can draw from the richness of our Church’s resources and saints who have paved the way.

St. Charles Lwanga

St. Charles Lwanga is a powerful example of unrelenting commitment to Christ. He faithfully submitted to a torturous martyr’s death by burning very shortly after his baptism. And during his life, he demonstrated one of the purest examples for priestly virtue worthy of our veneration. He served under the ruler Mwanga in Uganda as a page boy and courageously protected his fellow page boys from the sexual advances and immoral acts of their ruler. He inspired them to remain chaste while also instructing them and baptizing them in the Faith. St. Charles Lwanga, pray for us!

St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa of Avila was caught up in an era where the culture of comfort, excess, and sensual pleasures dominated both men’s and women’s religious communities. After some time of living this façade of holiness and being plagued by emptiness, St. Teresa was convicted by an inner conversion to bring radical change and reform to not just her own community, but the entire Church. In her Way of Perfection, she writes:

It is certain, my Lord, that in these days withdrawal from the world means no sacrifice at all. Since worldly people have so little respect for Thee, what can we expect them to have for us? Can it be that we deserve that they should treat us any better than they have treated Thee? They have won severe punishment at his hands and their pleasures have richly earned them eternal fire…

Oh, my sisters in Christ! Help me to entreat this of the Lord, Who has brought you together here for that very purpose. This is your vocation; this must be your business; these must be your desires; these your tears; these your petitions. The world is on fire. Men try to condemn Christ once again, as it were, for they bring a thousand false witnesses against Him. They would raze His Church to the ground—and are we to waste our time upon things which, if God were to grant them, would perhaps bring one soul less to Heaven? No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance.

St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena, Doctor of the Church, didn’t keep her quest for holiness to herself. She was a force for reform within the Church, continually calling others—particularly tepid priests—to immediate conversion and holiness. As Msgr. Charles Pope wrote in a 2015 blog post, her exhortation is still sorely needed for today’s priests:

She loved the Church but remained gravely concerned with the condition of the beloved Bride of Christ. Particularly egregious to her was the condition of so many clergy, right on up the ranks. Even the popes of her time, whom she acknowledged as the sweet Vicars of Christ… could not escape her expressions of grave disappointment and her calls to conversion.

Even more powerful are these excerpts contained in Pope’s blog post, from a letter she wrote:

[If a prelate] sees his subjects commit faults and sins, and pretends not to see them and fails to correct them; or if he does correct them, he does it with such coldness and lukewarmness that he does not accomplish anything, but plasters vice over; and he is always afraid of giving displeasure or of getting into a quarrel. All this is because he loves himself. Sometimes men like this want to get along with purely peaceful means. I say that this is the very worst cruelty which can be shown. If a wound when necessary is not cauterized or cut out with steel, but simply covered with ointment, not only does it fail to heal, but it infects everything, and many a time death follows from it…

Oh, human wretchedness! Blind is the sick man who does not know his own need, and blind the shepherd-physician, who has regard to nothing but pleasing, and his own advantage—since, not to forfeit it, he refrains from using the knife of justice or the fire of ardent charity! But such men do as Christ says: for if one blind man guide the other, both fall into the ditch. Sick man and physician fall into hell. Such a man is a hireling shepherd, for, far from dragging his sheep from the hands of the wolf, he devours them himself. The cause of all this is, that he loves himself apart from God: so he does not follow sweet Jesus, the true Shepherd, who has given His life for His sheep…

Give us, then, a remedy… Press on, and fulfill with true zeal and holy what you have begun with a holy resolve, concerning your return, and the holy and sweet crusade. And delay no longer, for many difficulties have occurred through delay, and the devil has risen up to prevent these things being done, because he perceives his own loss. Up, then, father, and no more negligence! Raise the gonfalon of the most holy Cross, for with the fragrance of the Cross you shall win peace.

Pope St. John Paul II

In 1988, His Holiness Pope John Paul II wrote the an Apolstolic Exhortation specifically for the laity called Christifideles Laici (On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World). It contains some powerful truths and reminders for us as faithful Catholics. See the excerpts below, and read it in full here.

We furthermore call to mind the violations to which the human person is subjected. When the individual is not recognized and loved in the person’s dignity as the living image of God (cf. Gen 1:26), the human being is exposed to more humiliating and degrading forms of manipulation, that most assuredly reduce the individual to a slavery to those who are stronger. …Once again we find ourselves before many persons, our sisters and brothers, whose fundamental rights are being violated… there are great areas of poverty and of misery, both physical and moral, existing at this moment… [e]ntire groups of human beings have been seriously afflicted.

The sense of the dignity of the human person must be pondered and reaffirmed in stronger terms. A beneficial trend is advancing and permeating all peoples of the earth, making them ever more aware of the dignity of the individual: the person is not at all an object to be used, but primarily a responsible subject, one endowed with conscience and freedom, called to live responsibly in society and history, and oriented towards spiritual and religious values.

Up, then, father, and no more negligence! Raise the gonfalon of the most holy Cross, for with the fragrance of the Cross you shall win peace. -St. Catherine of Siena #BISblog // Click To Tweet

For Further Reading

If you’d like to read more wonderful responses from Catholics in the wake of this recent revelation of Catholic clergy abuse and cover up, consider the following resources:

How are you doing in the wake of this, sister? We’re praying with and for you.

Grieving With You: On the Catholic Clergy Abuse + What We Can Do #BISblog #sackclothandashes // Click To Tweet

Written in collaboration by Christy Isinger, Shannon Evans, Megan Hjelmstad, and Laura Fanucci

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7 Comments

  • Reply
    Annonymous
    August 21, 2018 at 8:27 am

    I am one of the abused women recognized in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report… your article is the first glimmer of light that I have experienced since the report came out last Tuesday… for this I want to thank you!
    Not only am I reliving a experience that lasted on and off for 27 years by this predator priest who kept reappearing in my life just when I thought my memories were healed, but for the first time I had to share the entire story with my devoted husband of 33 years, who is also now going through a grieving process along with me.
    This predator priest is now deceased and I forgive him for his illness and manipulation, but what angers me even more since the release of this report is the failure of Bishop David Zubik to acknowledge his blatant failure to admit wrong-doing, even after he himself was accused around 2011 by a former Quigley High School student of wrongdoing which was quickly swept under the rug and obviously not even mentioned in this report.
    His failure to take responsibility of this cover-up while he was Cardinal Wuerl’s right hand man for all those years at the diocese as well as his own years as bishop are the source of great pain and woundedness for me this day… if he had the courage to admit that he indeed swept under the rug many complaints and meetings with those abused, and that he is truly sorry for doing that over the course of his diocesan positions in Pittsburgh, I believe healing could start.
    Until then I will continue to grieve and place my trust in Jesus’ Divine Mercy so that I can once again move beyond these painful memories of abuse, not only by a predator priest but also by a deceitful diocese. Thank you for listening to my story… God bless you all for your continued prayers during this time of crisis in our Church!

    • Reply
      Theresa Mark
      August 21, 2018 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you so, so much, my dear sister in Christ, for sharing your story here with courage and faith. With all of my heart and all that I am, I am so sorry. Words fail to express the depths of my heart, but I pray that somehow I may be able to convey to you not only my deep sorrow and compassion, but also the love and respect I hold for you. Please know that I am on your side. I stand by you. You are not alone. Just as the article says, you, my dear sister, are loved, you are good, you are worthy, you are heard, and you are a gift. I promise to keep you and your husband in my prayers during this time and for the rest of my life.

    • Reply
      Theresa
      August 21, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      Thank you so, so much, my dear sister in Christ, for sharing your story here with courage and faith. With all of my heart and all that I am, I am so sorry. Words fail to express the depths of my heart, but I pray that somehow I may be able to convey to you not only my sorrow and compassion, but also the love and respect I hold for you. Please know that I am on your side. I stand by you. You are not alone. Just as the article says, you, my dear sister, are loved, you are good, you are worthy, you are heard, and you are a gift. I promise to keep you and your husband in my prayers during this time and for the rest of my life.

    • Reply
      Jan
      August 22, 2018 at 9:04 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story. I know how hard that was for you. I was also sexually abused as a child not by a priest but by my father. As a child, we were told to honor your father and mother so that said to me that what they were doing to me was okay and I was the one wrong. But this is nothing compared to what you experienced. I am so sorry for all you had to endured and are still enduring. I am glad you broke the silence and told your husband. You both will be remembered in my prayer daily. I also pray for all the other people who suffer abuse by the clergy. May God give you all peace and healing.

  • Reply
    Rachel Noffke
    August 21, 2018 at 11:36 am

    Thank you for this thoughtful response. It’s thrown so many that I know in ways that are scary because it can be hard to see why it has such a deep effect on us – even those of us who are not abuse victims. It took me a while to recognize the pain – this is a father wound. And it’s impacting the whole church. We are all grieving broken trust in our fathers in the Church. It’s a betrayal. We are heartsick, but we will be restored and receive healing because that is what the Father does with father wounds. He heals them by displaying his own faithfulness in the midst of the faithlessness of human beings. We will come up leaning on our beloved.

  • Reply
    Jan
    August 22, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you, Blessed is She for writing this blog.. I was sexually abused by my father over 65 years ago. I have been trying to bury all this garbage all these years knowing it was my fault that my father did this. It has sort of worked only problem is I was a shell I felt nothing. Then this past June something happened and all of a sudden I was running across videos, blogs, books, etc that was talking about sexual abuse. I tried to ignore them. The more I tried to ignore the more God put these things where I find them. So I decided I needed to try to work through this garbage and learn to feel and yes let the memories come. Which I allowed for a couple of months and then without realizing it I had everything almost buried again until last Sunday when I went to church and at the end of Father’s homily he shared his outrage about the sex abuse scandal. I was stunned (I don’t watch TV because it depresses me. I pray for the world and God knows who needs the prayers.). I felt like the floor had been pulled out underneath me. I could not understand why this was so upsetting for me. Why I had all these memories bombarding me. I was not abused by a priest just by my father. These are the poor people who I need to think about and pray for their healing. I am sorry I was selfish and was thinking about me. Hope those who are dealing with this horror will some day forgive me for my selfishness.

  • Reply
    Bruce Gillette
    August 24, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    A HYMN FOR HEALING, LOVE, JUSTICE AND TRUTH
    This new hymn was written in response to abuse by clergy and churches. Survivors and counselors helped in its creation; it also references Pope Francis’ August 20th letter, using in particular: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Permission is given for its free use. Prayers, including sung ones, and actions are needed to “Bring healing, love and mercy; Bring justice, God of truth.”
    PLEASE SHARE this hymn with priests, pastors, church musicians, counselors, friends and others who might find it to be helpful. The hymn text was posted yesterday, this is posted for those who wanted the hymn with the music.

    O God, When Trust is Shattered
    PASSION CHORALE 7.6.7.6.D (“O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)

    O God, when trust is shattered
    by wolves among your sheep,
    when youth and children suffer,
    when those remembering weep,
    when victims tell their stories,
    when leaders hide abuse,
    bring healing, love and mercy!
    Bring justice, God of truth!

    When leaders side with evil,
    when people do their worst,
    may we reach out to victims
    and put their healing first.
    If any member suffers,
    we all will suffer, too.
    Bring healing, love and mercy!
    Bring justice, God of truth!

    We pray that the abusers
    will learn sin’s awful cost,
    and— making no excuses—
    will know that they are lost.
    Then may they find redemption—
    as we all need it, too.
    Bring healing, love and mercy!
    Bring justice, God of truth!

    May all who serve in churches
    be careful, watchful, wise.
    May we prevent abuses
    and hear your children’s cries.
    We pray that institutions
    will seek your way anew.
    Bring healing, love and mercy!
    Bring justice, God of truth!

    Tune: Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1729
    Text: Copyright (c) 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
    Email: [email protected] New Hymns: http://www.carolynshymns.com

    GREAT RESOURCES: FaithTrust Institute envisions a world where all persons are free from violence in relationships, faith is fundamental to ending violence, religious institutions create a climate in which abuse is not tolerated; faith communities become sanctuaries of safety, worthy of our trust; and all of us experience justice and healing in our communities. http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org. Their free, archived webinars can be viewed at anytime and offer valuable insight and education about the intersection of faith with sexual and domestic violence and child abuse, as well as the importance of clergy ethics and healthy relationships in preventing harm. https://www.gotostage.com/channel/300000000000444958

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