Tuesday, December 10, 2013

New Disclosure Practices? Healing?

By the Editorial Team

The Archbishop is falling over himself to establish “new disclosure practices,” but the one essential disclosure practice is still missing: Call the police.

Not once in his message to the Catholic people of the Archdiocese—in the Catholic Spirit, December 5, and read from pulpits on Sunday, December 8—does the Archbishop indicate that he has learned the lesson of that necessary disclosure practice.

At the end of his four column statement about websites and future plans, the Archbishop says: “As has been our policy and practice for many years, we encourage anyone who suspects abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult within Church ministry—or any setting including the home or school—to first contact law enforcement.” Has it been his own practice “for many years” to first contact law enforcement when he learns of suspected abuse?

Call the police. It is that simple. Should the Archbishop consider himself a mandated reporter if he gets a report of sex abuse of a minor by one of the men or women he supervises? What if he picked up the phone and called the police? Calling the police is the initial, necessary disclosure, but it is also against the grain of Catholic culture, particularly clerical Catholic culture, to expose the church’s image.

Revealing “dirty family laundry” in public is taboo, but it can also be rationalized. The rationalization goes like this: The institution does so much good and it is relied upon by so many people that we do not want to weaken it by showing its shadow side. Good people who need the church will lose faith in it if priests and religious are seen to be sinful.

Cover-up keeps people in the dark short term, but cover-up creates the long term damage the secrecy is meant to avoid. The list of names of abusers reported in the paper all have multiple parish assignments following their names. Did anyone call the police? Catholic people have been formed to first go to the supervising bishop. That phenomenon deserves some analysis too. But obviously, the bishops did not call the police. They moved the offender from parish to parish. Had they called the police at once, and, as pastors, stayed with the victims throughout their ordeals with law enforcement and courts, we may not have had the multiple victims, billion dollar, shameful debacle we have had. It may be that Jeffrey Anderson, St. Paul attorney, and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have provided the pastoral care that the bishops did not provide.

Is the Archbishop more clear about how healing happens? The Archbishop tries to frame his court-ordered disclosure of past clerical abusers as a “path toward healing.” There can be no healing until there is honesty.

To be honest, we suggest that the Archbishop might have to say, “We bishops and archdiocesan administrators have failed in covering up these cases of abuse. We abandoned the victims from fear of public exposure. I have failed in valuing the image of the institutional church over the well-being of children. I have been a bishop here for seven years, I had reports of suspected crimes committed by men under my supervision, and I did not call the police. My culture kept me in ignorance of the necessity to disclose, but the broader civil culture has been well aware of that necessity for some years. My failure to respect the civil culture contributed to my vincible ignorance and I will accept the consequences.”

If John Nienstedt remains in the position of Archbishop and he really wants healing, we suggest that he has to go on to say, “I am determined to attain some self-knowledge. I will look into the motivations behind the policies and practices I support. I know that putting the institution before the well-being of people was a tragedy when sexual abuse was involved. I am beginning to realize that my putting the institution before people has injured gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered people, their families, friends, and fellow citizens. Putting the institution before people has separated me from the people I am supposed to lead with the compassion of Jesus. My blindness has divided this Archdiocese I was sent here to unify and it has driven people from the church.”

Now if the Archbishop were to say all that, we could forgive each other and start being the local church we were meant to be.

If you think we need enlightenment in our response to the Archbishop's statement, please give us your opinions.

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