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LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy

August 20, 2018

[Silver Spring, MD]

The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.

Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.

We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis. We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.

We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.

Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.

Sisters Annmarie Sanders, IHM
Director of Communications
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

* LCWR is an association of leaders of congregations of Catholic women religious in the United States. The conference has nearly 1300 members, who represent more than 38,800 women religious in the United States. Founded in 1956, LCWR assists its members to collaboratively carry out their service of leadership to further the mission of the Gospel in today’s world.

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As a Society, we are appalled by the findings of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, and during this time, we seek the Holy Spirit and ways to feel, express, honor and release all of the emotions that we are experiencing.

Pax Christi USA, a national, nonviolent Catholic movement, dedicated to a spirituality of nonviolence and peacemaking and committed to human rights impels us to ask the following question:

CAN A CHURCH BETRAYED BECOME A CHURCH REDEEMED?

The People of God (i.e. the church) are experiencing yet another public betrayal in their Catholic community with the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s disclosure last week of the continuing abuse and secrecy in a church entrusted with witnessing to the Gospel.

There is no rationale or apology, no matter how well worded, thought out or eloquent it might be, that excuses the actions of the perpetrators, the complicity, the rationalizations and the cover-up by those in positions of trust and authority.

– To all those with the courage to speak your truth after years of being held hostage by fear and silence…we pray for your continued healing.

– To all those members of the Grand Jury who heard the pain of lost innocence and prepared such a comprehensive report…we commend your endurance.

– To all those families who are affected by these betrayals of trust…we ask the God of unconditional love to sustain you.

– To those mentioned in past, present and future reports for both illegal and/or immoral conduct against God’s most vulnerable people…we entrust you to the God of Justice.

How does such a profound betrayal in an institution get healed? There is no ‘fix’ short of a total transformation of the policies, practices and procedures of the structures of the church, a public profession of complicity, along with real and symbolic proof that the institutional church is worthy of the trust invested in its ministers by God’s people.

This rebuilding of trust will take years for the transformation needs to be radical. Words like ‘truth’, ‘accountability’, and ‘transparency’ need to replace secret archives, loyalty to a highly dysfunctional system, and a gross misuse of power. We desperately need a clergy who is more committed to the needs and protection of its people than to the institutional church. For this radical transformation to be real it must include opportunities for ALL people to be engaged in painful, deep and honest dialogue or else we cannot even hope for the Beloved Community, as envisioned by God to emerge among us.

May we who are angered, disgusted, saddened, disillusioned and ready to give up on an institution that once nourished us remember…our faith is in a lavish God who craves a relationship with us so that we can all receive the fullness of life promised by the Holy One who gave his life and death for us.

Suggested Actions:

We invite parishioners to gather in large and/or small groups to share openly and honestly the pain, hurt and mistrust you are feeling, and together find creative ways to bring about healing and reconciliation.

We invite Regional and Local Pax Christi chapters to facilitate the above conversations in their areas.

We also invite Catholic organizations to advocate, facilitate and encourage such dialogues.

Pax Christi USA