Responding to the Clerical Abuse Crisis: Actions from a Family of Four Parishes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

As members of the Body of Christ, we stand with and for our sisters and brothers who have been deeply wounded by clerical sexual abuse. We also know that the clerical abuse crisis has greatly shaken the faith of many in the Church. Throughout the country, many have already taken prophetic action towards providing a space for the faithful to process, reflect, and pray, and we want to lift up some of the ways parishes and dioceses are responding to this crisis in an effort to build community and solidarity. The following post is part of an ongoing series that will highlight some of these efforts.

Networking Seminar Meet Ups ConceptIn the face of the crisis of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, it is hard to know what any one person or any one parish can do that might make a difference. Many members of the Catholic laity feel hurt, angry, and betrayed, and they are looking for their parishes to help guide them through these emotions and walk with them in prayer and action for the Church that they love.

In the spirit of responding to this pastoral need, the churches of Old Saint Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, Saints Peter and Paul, and Three Holy Women (a family of four parishes on the East Side of Milwaukee) are making our own humble attempt at a response.

We began in August, as the news about former Cardinal McCarrick and the Philadelphia grand jury report dominated the headlines. Our pastors, deacons, and lay staff gathered for an open conversation about these issues, taking time to express our own feelings of anger and dismay, then discussing together how we as parish leaders might respond. Further conversations in the coming weeks led to a few specific action steps:

  • First, we wanted to make sure that our parishioners knew that these issues were weighing heavily on our hearts, that their priests and parish leaders were just as hurt and outraged by these revelations as they were. Our priests wrote a public statement that was read at all masses, expressing their solidarity with parishioners during this difficult time, and promising that our parishes would be responding in a prayerful, thoughtful manner in the coming weeks.
  • The following weekend, various lay staff members gave a short talk at our masses, providing another voice of compassion and solidarity with the feelings of the people in our pews, while inviting their feedback and ideas for how our parishes might respond.
  • After these initial talks, we offered a “Prayer and Action” insert in our bulletins, which included suggestions for lay people to be engaged through focused prayer and meaningful action in response to clergy sexual abuse.
  • We held Listening Sessions over the course of four weekends in October and November. These sessions took place after mass at each of our parishes, and all were invited
    to come and share their thoughts, feelings, and questions in response to the clergy sexual abuse and cover up crisis. Staff members of our parishes facilitated these conversations, while our pastors were present simply to listen to the voices of parishioners. In total, seventy-two
    people participated in our listening sessions to make their voices heard. Thorough notes were
    taken at each session, and the contents of these notes were condensed into a summary which was then published in our bulletins and parish websites, as well as sent directly to our Archbishop for his consideration.
  • During these listening sessions, we noted that many parishioners wanted more clear information about parish and archdiocesan policies and procedures for preventing and reporting abuse, so our pastors offered a brief summary of this information at masses throughout December, with more detailed information being provided through printed documents at the back of the church.

While we have received a lot of positive feedback about the action steps we have taken so far, we also know that there is much more work to be done. Our pastors and parish staff continue to discern together what we can do to meet the needs of our people and engage with the broader Church in the year ahead. We walk forward in faith, trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us every step of the way.

This post was authored by staff of Old Saint Mary, Our Lady of Divine Providence, Saints Peter and Paul, and Three Holy Women Parishes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Responding to the Clerical Abuse Crisis: A Season of Discernment at Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C.

As members of the Body of Christ, we stand with and for our sisters and brothers who have been deeply wounded by clerical sexual abuse.  We also know that the clerical abuse crisis has greatly shaken the faith of many in the Church.  Throughout the country, many have already taken prophetic action towards providing a space for the faithful to process, reflect, and pray, and we want to lift up some of the ways parishes and dioceses are responding to this crisis in an effort to build community and solidarity. The following post is part of an ongoing series that will highlight some of these efforts.

people-sitting-circle-counseling-87643809After the tumultuous Summer of 2018, with news of on-going revelations relating to allegations regarding an Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, as well as the numbing effects of the findings of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report and other assertions of clerical improprieties, hearts were truly burdened at many parishes throughout this Archdiocese, including those in Holy Trinity Parish in Georgetown. As Father Kevin Gillespie, S.J., Pastor of Holy Trinity, noted, the poetic words of Charles Dickens, from “A Tale of Two Cities,” may well be applicable to the crises afflicting the Catholic Church. As Father Gillespie, S. J. observed, we do seem to be experiencing one of the “worst of times.”  The question that became central in the life of the Parish was: what can one parishioner or one parish do?

As mentioned in a column by the Pastor in the Holy Trinity Parish Bulletin soon after the crisis intensified, it was decided that the Parish should enter into a Season of Discernment whereby hundreds of Holy Trinity parishioners would be engaged in a series of listening sessions to respond to the anguish and anger prompted by the new allegations. Holy Trinity turned to a process of Ignatian discernment, which has roots in our Catholic tradition and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, to help process and respond to the current crisis. In this way, Holy Trinity was responding from its charism as a Jesuit-sponsored Parish.  In the Ignatian tradition, discernment involves paying attention to our experiences to understand whether they lead us toward God (authentic spiritual consolation) or away from God (spiritual desolation).

Participants’ responses during the listening sessions, as well as feedback received from emails to staff, phone calls, and a form on the Holy Trinity website were recorded, a dedicated team organized them into six thematic categories.  One category was, “What is heaviest in your heart?” which included the feelings parishioners expressed in response to recent revelations.  The other five were action-oriented categories:

  1. Church Structure
  2. Transparency and Accountability
  3. Role of the Laity
  4. Support of survivors and their families
  5. Prayer

The responses, arranged into these categories, were made available on the Holy Trinity website. As a way of following up on the listening sessions, the parish offered a Prayer Service for Healing and Reconciliation on October 17, 2018. A Parish Pastoral Council meeting, open to all parishioners, was held to discuss further appropriate next steps. As a result, all parishioners were invited to attend a Parish Open Forum in the Parish’s Trinity Hall on Sunday afternoon, November 4, 2018, from 2:30-5:00 p.m. Parishioners were invited to join one of the groups arranged by the thematic categories to plan for possible actions and follow-ups.

On November 4, 2018, the Parish Open Forum led by members of the Parish Pastoral Council and the Restorative Justice Ministry started with prayer and guidance on how to determine the best path in response to the challenges of this crisis, and how to respect the insights of all participants in this dialogue.

Facilitators invited participants to select one of the above categories and to join an associated breakout group to engage in a smaller group discussion focusing on specific plans and next steps. The breakout groups used the suggested outcomes as a starting point for their discussion, but also provided members the opportunity to weigh the merits of different approaches and to amend or expand on the outcomes. The next step in the forum was a plenary session in which individual spokespeople for each of the groups presented a brief report to the larger whole of attendees.  They suggested action items that included learning more about church structure, being laity who are empowered by Vatican II, initiating collaboration with other parishes, supporting priests of integrity, being welcoming and supportive to survivors, and ongoing prayerful discernment. To close the Forum, the facilitators led the participants in a reflection on what were the moments during the discussions when they experienced spiritual desolation or spiritual consolation—a prayer known in the Ignatian tradition as the Examen.

Based on the discussions and proposals for further action explored at the Parish Open Forum, the breakout groups have developed detailed recommendations for further review, consideration, and action by parish participants. Each parishioner is encouraged to continue to collaborate in this engagement, by offering reflections on the merits of specific proposals and calls to action. In this way, the views of the parish community will be reflected in concrete recommendations that will serve the Church as we face this crisis, in positive and constructive ways. As an individual parishioner, this process has accorded each member of the parish community an opportunity to channel feelings of betrayal and disillusionment into fruitful expressions of faith and hope for the authentic reform of Church structures and practices.

RichardColl

 

Richard Coll is a parishioner at Holy Trinity Church in Washington, D.C., and a member of its Parish Pastoral Council.