By Rhina Guidos, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — As the Catholic Church in the United States marks two decades since the U.S. bishops adopted a document establishing policies to deal with allegations of sexual abuse of children by clergy, Jesuit Father Jerry McGlone worries about the psychological responses the event could trigger.
And he knows from experience because he’s not solely a priest who works with survivors but also a survivor of abuse by a priest.
“This big 20th anniversary … the church might be wise to think about the fact that every time you advertise all that you’ve done … it doesn’t matter if you don’t start by saying you’re sorry,” Father McGlone said in a June 9 interview with Catholic News Service. “As (Boston) Cardinal Seán (P.) O’Malley says, ‘We can never say sorry enough.'”
In the two decades since the U.S. bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in 2002, “there were some really good advances” that came out of it as a result, he said.
But expressing “lamentation” for the church’s sex abuse scandal is something Father McGlone, a psychologist and researcher at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, said he still struggles to find in church circles, even 20 years after the church “was forced” to respond to sex abuse perpetrated by clergy.
Take for example, he said, the statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops June 9.
While the statement mentions that the conference has “benefited from listening to and working with survivors of abuse,” there’s no apology in the statement, there’s no sense of lamentation for what happened, he said.
To him, it’s as if Germany were to say it had learned from the Holocaust but didn’t express any deep sorrow for what happened.
“Yet again, where is there a sense of contrition in this?” he said, pointing to the USCCB statement. “Instead, we’re commemorating 20 years of ‘we’re doing so well.’ We’re still not being heard. How is the survivor story at the heart of their response? That’s the question I have.”
To be sure, it’s painful to hear Father McGlone’s criticism. But widespread pain is at the heart of the sin, the horror and the atrocity of sexual abuse, he said, and no one’s pain is greater than the pain of those who’ve been abused.
Understandably, it’s hard for a lot of people to contemplate traumatic assault, particularly the sexual abuse of a child and others under the church’s care, he admitted.
“We fail to find the words to describe the atrocity, but we also see the atrocity as hard to grasp so our first physiological response to horror is to back away,” he said.
And while retreating is not a response unique to the church, for a survivor of abuse like him, it’s especially troubling to know that church leaders backed away when they knew of sex abuse allegations or suspicions against priests — and in the case of former cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick — against brother bishops and failed to stop them. It’s the betrayal that’s difficult to taken in even decades later, he said.
“Where was the sense of moral outrage of the bishop to go to the authorities when he knew that a priest was accused of child rape? The rape of a child is a crime, was a crime, will always be a crime. How in God’s name could any man representing the Catholic Church with any moral authority not report it … to authorities?” he asked.
But looking at abuse, at the cover-up, no matter how painful, is precisely what the church must do if it’s ever to heal, he said.
One way to confront what happened is through survivors’ stories, by hearing about the pain abuse has caused them, their families and parish communities, by hearing about how it was ignored and allowed to fester.
Pope Francis’ “field hospital” provides a model to help Catholics “go to where the pain is,” Father McGlone said.
“Don’t we do that every Holy Week? Don’t we recall the horror of Good Friday in order to understand that there’s hope in healing?” he asked. “In telling survivors’ stories, we recognize the horror and absolute atrocity of what happened to an unsuspecting and innocent victim.
“Notice, just like the innocence of Jesus. It’s very comparable. But we don’t run from that. We have images of that right in front of us all the time. Why don’t we have images of the death and life of the survivors surrounding us so that we become righteous witnesses?”
It would do the church and the world well to study why some survivors were resilient, and why others were destroyed by the abuse. “Who died of this? What’s the difference and how do we know what helps,” he said.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if the church would fund research on exactly what are some of the factors that allow some people to flourish and have seemingly normal lives and those who are (tortured) by the experience of abuse and whose lives result in addiction, suicide, broken relationships or homelessness?” he asked.
Instead, there’s a danger that a lot of what has developed following the adoption of the charter is focused on the perpetrator, on avoiding more scandal or liability for the church, rather than a church, at all levels, focused on caring, pastoring to those who endured the atrocity, he said.
“I don’t see penitent community. I don’t see a church that is filled with remorse and sorrow. If we were a church that was full of remorse and sorrow, what would that look like?” Father McGlone asked.
“We need a National Day of Remembrance, where we come to prayer in sackcloth and ashes for the sins of our brothers and sisters, for what they have done to the innocent,” he said. “We have a (pro-life) march on Washington. Where is the march on Washington for survivors? Is that not a pro-life issue?”
People have died from the tortured life that abuse brings, whether by suicide or by addictions caused by abuse, he said.
The church needs to consider a catechesis that includes the stories of survivors, he said, “the good, the bad, the ugly, those who reconciled with the church and those who can’t.”
“But, you know, we still have divided communities,” he said. “People who don’t want to hear the stories of survivors, who are embarrassed by this, who say, ‘Move on. We’ve done enough.’ Say that to someone who’s been wounded.”