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.
In 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