Public Penance and the Abuse Crisis

Public Penance and the Abuse Crisis August 13, 2018

A week from today, Monday, August 20, St Matthew’s Cathedral here in DC is dedicating their usual monthly Eucharistic Holy Hour to prayer “for the healing of all affected by clergy sexual abuse, especially the survivors, and for the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in acting to bring greater accountability on the part of bishops for addressing and reporting sexual abuse by clergy members at any and all levels of Church leadership.” You can find more information, as well as a call to prayer and fasting, on page one of the weekly bulletin.

In a powerful piece, Dawn Eden Goldstein calls for public penance on the part of the bishops themselves:

What is more, the prayers and penitential acts of the U.S. bishops thus far fall short in two vital areas. First, they fail to take both personal and collegial responsibility for sins of omission and commission. As Griffin notes (drawing upon the work of Anselma Dolcich-Ashley), the bishops have said they are sorry, but they have not said, as a body, that they were wrong. Without such acknowledgement, our penitential tradition insists, true contrition is not possible.


more. Please share this widely if you agree, since she says her proposal’s circulation on social media has led to serious discussion in the bishops’ conference about taking this step toward repentance and reform.

And Chris Damian hosted a small get-together of Catholic young adults to discuss the abuse crisis in the Church, which strikes me as a fruitful idea. From his notes on their discussion:

In the clergy scandal, the relationship between abusers, clergy, victims, and the Church more generally has had a very different dynamic. Again, one participant noted “circling the wagons.” Certainly, bishops have less credibility than in the past, and Catholics don’t instinctively trust the parish priest simply by virtue of his position. But while victims are spread across the Church, those wiling to come forward are few and far between, and we have no way to seriously celebrate their courage.

Still, we do see some making big steps. I noted one diocese in Pennsylvania that recently announced they will be waiving all the confidentiality agreements from their former victim settlements. To me, this showed a big change, in that it opened the diocese to huge exposure and vulnerability, while creating almost no benefit for itself other than honesty. The diocese has decided that it wants the truth to come out, regardless of the consequences, and this is a huge source of healing. We want to see that our dioceses are willing to look bad, to be sued, and to be slung through the press, for the sake of truth.


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