Posts Tagged hierarchy

SNAP in the crosshairs / Thomas Doyle

Photo of Tom DoyleRev. Thomas P. Doyle, who has a doctorate in canon law and five master’s degrees, sacrificed a rising career at the Vatican Embassy to become an outspoken advocate for church abuse victims. Since 1984, when he became involved with the issue of sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy while serving at the Embassy, he has become an expert in the canonical and pastoral dimensions of this problem—working directly with victims, their families, accused priests, and Church officials.

SNAP is well known by sex abuse survivors throughout the world. It’s also well known by those who still believe the clergy abuse phenomenon is a gross exaggeration that is primarily about harming the Church.

SNAP was started by Barbara Blaine in 1988. Barbara is a survivor of sexual violation by a priest whom she and her family trusted. She was violated as a pre-teen. By the time she was a young woman the scars were still as painful as ever. Barbara started SNAP as a support group for other survivors because, as she herself has said, “No one else would help so we had to help ourselves.”

Barbara was dead right. I have been involved with survivors since 1984. I have heard many … more than I can count … tell their sad and shocking stories. All were from devout Catholic families and naturally turned to the Church for help, but to their added shock they found they were being ignored, lied to, threatened into silence and in general treated as if they had some sort of communicable disease. Barbara Blaine experienced this and had the courage to stand up rather than stay a victim.

SNAP grew steadily because the number of victims increased when the media began actually covering it and not burying it. SNAP and the LINKUP were the only places victims could go for support. The Church was no help. In fact, when victims got involved with the Church, even to a minor degree, they almost always ended up being re-traumatized.

By the nineties, SNAP members were not just sitting in rooms listening to each other’s stories. They were organizing for a purpose: to get the attention of the bishops and the institutional church. Sex abuse by clerics was far more widespread than anyone imagined and certainly far, far worse than the Church spokespersons claimed.

This was not a few bad apples, a passing problem, or a temporary nuisance. This was the uncovering of the worst crisis the institutional Catholic Church had faced in at least a thousand years, and it was not from the outside but from within.

The institutional Catholic Church responded to the victims of abuse by its own clerics (including bishops and cardinals) in a manner that shocked, angered and scandalized not only the victims but countless others. The official Church’s highest and really only priority was self-preservation and the institutional image. The often-used term “the good of the church” really meant the good of the bishops.

The victims would have been trampled underfoot and left in the dust if it had not been for Barbara Blaine, Dave Clohessy, and the other courageous founders and leaders of SNAP.

Needless to say, SNAP wasn’t high on the list of favorites for a lot of people, especially the bishops. SNAP members got in their faces, openly criticized them, called them out for hiding predators, and condemned their duplicitous words and actions. They wrote letters, held press conferences, demonstrated and, most important, gave other victims courage to come out of the shadows.

Here was this little group of people with no money and no political connections facing off with the Catholic bishops of the United States. In spite of the impossible odds and the massive power imbalance, they made headway.

Why? Because they were right and the Church was wrong.

Now, SNAP is in the crosshairs. As most know, a former employee has filed a lawsuit that makes several allegations and in general tries to portray SNAP as a deceptive, dishonest criminal enterprise. The plaintiff makes a number of serious accusations in her complaint, but they really are aimed at SNAP’s top national leaders and not the organization. She departed SNAP four years ago and now has decided to file a lawsuit.

Her contention that SNAP was actually a cover for an elaborate system involving steering victims to attorneys who in turn paid it kickbacks is ludicrous. Victims from all over the world call SNAP leaders, especially the national leaders, all the time and a common request is for the name of a lawyer.

SNAP is far more than the national offices, which consists of a handful of people. In reality the organization is a collection of local chapters each with its own leadership. Most direct contact with victims happens on the local level because that’s where the SNAP membership is.

When responding to requests for lawyers, the SNAP policy always has been to respond to with three names or more. I also have gotten plenty of requests for help in finding a lawyer. (I gave up recommending victims to their local diocesan headquarters because I learned that this was not only useless but counter-productive.) I recommend the names of attorneys in the area where the person lives … if more than one lawyer is available, I give them contact points for all. I have never acted as an intermediary between a victim and a specific attorney. Instead I suggest they contact the attorney themselves.

On many occasions, I am asked to connect the person to a specific attorney, and the number one name on the list is Jeff Anderson. I always explain that if they are looking to get Jeff Anderson, they need to know that he does not practice in every State in the union nor can he possibly take every case that comes his way. If someone wants Jeff’s phone number or that of anyone else, I give it.

That’s how the SNAP leaders operate too. I don’t get any royalties or kickbacks, nor does SNAP.

It’s true that attorneys have donated money to SNAP over the years. Forbes Magazine wrote an article about this a few years ago and tried to make it sound like the practice was immoral, unethical, illegal, or all three—and in fact it is none of the above.

People ask for specific attorneys like Jeff Anderson because he is known worldwide and, most important, he is known to be a very compassionate and caring man. I’ve known him since 1989 and he is in fact caring and compassionate besides being a brilliant attorney. To even dream that he has some sort of backroom deal with SNAP is not only lunacy but an insult to his intelligence. He and the other attorneys who do the bulk of the sex abuse cases are not stupid. To get engaged in a kickback scheme would be stupid and, worse, it would be professionally suicidal.

SNAP has incurred the wrath of a lot of bishops and a lot of devout lay Catholics. Why? One of the more obvious reasons given is that SNAP appears to attack the Church and it never lets people forget that the “problem” is still with us. The bishops and a lot of lay people would like to see SNAP suddenly disappear into the mist—but not just SNAP: all victims and their supporters.

SNAP and the victims are a major threat to the equilibrium and to the secure image projected by the institutional Catholic Church. Shaking up the security people have in their Church, especially one that promises them salvation in exchange for obedience, docility and generosity, is bound to generate a hostile response.

Much of the hostility, anger and denial generated by the clergy abuse issue are grounded in the unwillingness to accept the reality that the Church and its clergy aren’t as perfect as people expect them to be.

One adult woman I knew, a victim of rape by a priest at twelve, put it succinctly: “Clergy abuse has destroyed the security we had that the priests would tell us everything we needed to do and to know. Now, we have to take charge of our own spirituality and be adult Catholics. That’s hard.”

Much of the angry rhetoric comes in the form of accusations that victims are dissenters from doctrine or that they are pushing anti-orthodox agendas (e.g., birth control, ordination of women). The most common accusation is that SNAP, the victims, and anyone on their side is attacking the Church.

Most victims could care less about Church teachings. They are interested in honesty and justice, two commodities in short supply in the institutional Church. The sexual violation of minors or adults and the lying and cover-up by bishops has nothing to do with orthodoxy, dissent or belief in official dogmas. It has everything to do with betrayal by the trusted clergy. But most important, it’s about the violation of the bodies and souls of the vulnerable.

Sex abuse by clergy has been around since the beginning of the Catholic Church. The institutional Church, i.e., the hierarchy, has controlled the responses to victims throughout the centuries. Until now, that is.

When Barbara started SNAP 30 years ago, she and the original members knew they were on their own and that they were up against the largest religious organization on earth, with more money, resources, power and influence than they could ever imagine. But they knew sex abuse was wrong and covering it up and lying to victims was far worse.

They didn’t have any of the resources the official church had, but they knew two things: One, they had truth … what happened to them was real, it was deeply wrong, and that was the truth. Second, they knew that the Church didn’t stop with priests and bishops. The victims were just as much “the Church” as the college of cardinals and the pope. In the eyes of Christ, everyone was on a level playing field.

So, the fundamental difference between victims now and victims 300 years ago is this: Today’s victims have taken charge of their own destiny. They are determining the course of the sex abuse nightmare. They are working to protect children today and in the future. They are in charge, not the bishops or their lawyers and not even the pope.

The fact that there have been so many grand juries, state-sponsored investigations (e.g., Ireland, England, Australia), criminal convictions and civil judgments is evidence that the official Church is no longer in control. If the Church government had been able to sidetrack all of these it would have, but this time around the bishops just don’t have the horses.

I can’t comment on many of the detailed accusations in the plaintiff’s complaint because they are about a lawsuit from Illinois which I know little about. The allegations are also about a number of individual incidents that appear to have taken place between her and the two top leaders of SNAP but certainly not the full organization.

However, I can comment on two issues, one that appears in the complaint and the other that has been in the news coverage.

David Clohessy and Barbara Blaine have resigned their positions at SNAP. Some news reports have alleged there is a connection between the lawsuit and the resignations. A couple of commentators on the events have pronounced that both have resigned in disgrace because of the lawsuit. The only source of information any of them have is from the complaint itself. In fact, David had planned on resigning in 2016, before anyone knew about the suit. Barbara planned her departure before the suit was known, and it was only by coincidence that it was announced at the same time the suit was announced. Both of them had been on the front lines for three decades and well deserved a break from the non-stop stress of their positions.

The other accusation made against SNAP is that its primary goal is to hurt the Catholic Church. They don’t need to hurt the Church. The Church does a better job of hurting itself than anyone could possibly do.

SNAP has been accused of “Catholic-bashing” by just about everyone who disagrees with it or is threatened by it. Exposing world-wide sexual abuse by clergy and cover-up by bishops is not Catholic-bashing. It is telling the truth and exposing an entire culture of sex abuse that is diametrically opposed to everything the Catholic Church stands for.

Those who persist in believing that the victims’ real agenda is combatting Church teaching on various sexual issues are wildly delusional.

The accusation itself is senseless if you think about it for a minute. Consider the bottom line. On one side, we have the Roman Catholic Church, which has the most stringent sexual/morality policies of any religion on earth and teaches that every kind of sexual activity, with the exception of procreative sex by married partners, is mortally sinful—and also insists that these policies can’t even be discussed. On the other side, we have the Church’s leadership exposed for enabling and hiding clerics who have perpetrated the vilest of sexual acts, the molestation of children and the vulnerable. Does that configuration perhaps have some semblance to institutionalized hypocrisy?

Those who claim the victims and SNAP are out to “get the Church” obviously either don’t know or they reject a basic teaching of ecclesiology: The Church is the People of God, not just the clergy, the hierarchy, the devout who are at Mass every Sunday, or those who agree with every teaching and doctrine. The Church also is the victims, their parents, their spouses, and those who try to help them. It’s those who disagree with one or the other teaching or practice, and it’s those who see the layers of institutional corruption, inaction, and narcissism.

It’s pretty obvious there are plenty of people who don’t know the difference between the clerical establishment, the church’s governmental system and the People of God.

SNAP is down right now but it’s far from out. It’s made up of too many brave, committed and courageous people who are in it because they want the Church to be what it’s supposed to be: a true, living Christian community and not a gilded kingdom for the privileged or the nostalgic.

March 5, 2017

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Our Faithful Revolution

churchfacadewebshadowIn this first week of a new year, Voice of the Faithful reflects.

Voice of the Faithful, a community of Roman Catholics committed to service and reform, has always sought to “Keep the Faith, Change the Church.” We are faithful Catholics seeking to change those Church structures and processes that impede lay voices and change Church cultures that exhibit a clericalism that separates the clerical from the lay rather than binding them pastorally and collegially.

Such clericalism often stifles the people of God. Pope Francis has said as much and condemned clericalism repeatedly, recently saying that “the spirit of clericalism is an evil that is present in the Church today, and the victim of this spirit is the people, who feel discarded and abused.”

The story of Voice of the Faithful’s founding is well documented. The movement exploded onto the scene in 2002 along with the burgeoning visibility of Church scandal, specifically clergy sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston, chronicled most effectively by The Boston Globe in 2002 and 2003.

The movement spawned a frenzy of activity at the beginning, fueled by anger at and frustration with a Church that had, euphemistically, let us down. If you were to review the Globe stories, other media coverage of the crisis from that era, and books about Voice of the Faithful written since, you would discover that Voice of the Faithful could be credited with much of the rhetoric calling the Church to task.

By 2017 Voice of the Faithful, with commitment and tenacity, has settled into a long struggle in which we use our voices to help change Church structure and culture so that scandal has no fertile ground in which to grow. Progress has been slow, but steady.

We offer Catholics a community within the community of the Church where, as the people of God, we find a way to remain faithfully Catholic without giving up our baptismal right and responsibility to offer opinions and foster dialogue on issues important to the Church.

This is a post-Vatican II point of view well expressed recently by Fr. Louis Cameli, author of more than a dozen books and the Chicago archbishop’s Delegate for Formation and Mission. In an interview about post-Vatican II pontiffs in National Catholic Reporter Cameli said he “sees underlying, foundational points of continuity in the post-conciliar era.” Two of the points he made are especially pertinent to Voice of the Faithful:

  • “Communion: The Church is a set of interlocking and dynamic relationships among people and with the Triune God (in contrast to a primarily organizational-institutional-structural model of the Church).
  • “Dialogue: The Church is the place where believers speak and listen to each other, and it is the community of faith that speaks with and listens to the world. (This is the ecclesia discens et docens (Church teaching and learning) and, therefore, is a dynamic community instead of a static “container of truth.”)”

Communion and dialogue could be Voice of the Faithful watchwords. We are a community concerned with providing a voice for the voiceless and have introduced the language of clericalism, accountability, and transparency into the language of Church reform, language that is being reiterated by no less than the present occupant of St. Peter’s chair. While we have always supported victims/survivors and promoted programs that better protect children, we have focused most directly on finding, naming, and publicizing the underlying causes of scandal which must be addressed to stop and prevent scandal.

Kathleen McPhillips, a lecturer at the University of Newcastle, has succinctly framed the challenge Voice of the Faithful seeks to meet. In an article in the Newcastle Herald called “The royal commission has exposed a Catholic Church in desperate need of change,” she said:

“It is imperative [that] current religious groups undertake research into why this happened, as well as resourcing for the healing of survivors … Understanding how this happened is essential to the health of our community, and to the creation of new Church structures which are transparent, inclusive, accountable and respectful of women and children. The Church needs to show it is serious about cultural change – this is yet to be effectively demonstrated.”


More information about Voice of the Faithful is at www.votf.org.

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Vatican dialogue with U.S. women religious continues, says cardinal / Catholic Herald

More than a year after the conclusion of the Vatican’s apostolic visitation of US communities of women religious, the Vatican has begun asking more than a dozen orders to send their superiors to Rome to discuss concerns that surfaced.

“‘We did a very positive report at the conclusion of the visitation,’ a report that looked at the life of women’s congregations in the United States as a whole and was released in December 2014, said Cardinal Joao Braz de Aviz, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

“But ‘there remained about 15 — more or less — congregations that we needed to speak with about a few points,’ the cardinal told Catholic News Service on June 14. The cardinal had attended a news conference about a new document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith looking at the relationship between the hierarchy and communities or movements that arise from ‘charismatic gifts.'”

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, in Catholic Herald — Click here to read the rest of this story.

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Francis rails against child sexual abuse, saying abusers must be ‘severely’ punished / National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis railed against the sexual abuse of children in a weekly address in St. Peter’s Square Sunday (May 1), calling any such abuse a ‘tragedy’ and saying the church cannot tolerate the matter and ‘must severely punish the abusers.’

“Greeting members of an Italian association that has worked to raise awareness against pedophilia and to report sexual abuse crimes, who were present in the Square for the recitation of the Regina Coeli prayer, the pontiff thanked them for their work before departing from his prepared text.

“‘This is a tragedy,’ said Francis off the cuff, his voice raised and his arm extended from the window of the Vatican’s apostolic palace above the Square. ‘We must not tolerate the abuse of minors. We must defend minors. And we must severely punish the abusers.’

“The Catholic church around the world has been embroiled in scandals over its handling of sexually abusive clergy for decades, with survivors, advocates, law enforcement agencies, and some local jurisdictions saying members of the hierarchy covered up crimes in order to protect the institution at the risk of children’s well-being.”While Francis did not specifically mention the church or its response to abuse on Sunday, he spoke in the plural using a remarkably forceful tone.”

By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter — Click here to read the rest of this story.

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Cardinal Kasper: Francis wants a hierarchy that listens to ‘sensus fidei’ / National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis wants to retool the Catholic hierarchy so that it not only defines and enforces church teachings, but also listens and responds to how laypeople understand God’s will, German Cardinal Walter Kasper said.

“Kasper, a noted theologian whose writings are known to have influenced Francis, said the pope wants to create a ‘listening magisterium.’

“Kasper said one concept important to the pope is that of the sensus fidei, or the capacity of individual believers and the church as a whole to discern the truths of faith.

“That concept, Kasper said, was emphasized by the council … [but] Francis now wishes to give it complete meaning.

“‘He wants a listening magisterium — that makes its position, yes,” the cardinal said, “but makes its position after it has heard what the Spirit says to its churches.’”

By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter — Click here to read the rest of this story.

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Assessing Pope Francis

Vatican watchers in the media continue to assess Francis’ impact a little more than two years and a month into his papacy. Here are three recent stories:

The barque of Peter in shark-infested waters
(Apr. 13, 2015) “The seas have suddenly become a lot more agitated for Pope Francis, who up to now has proven to be amazingly unsinkable in the face of any kind of adversity. But in the last few weeks, he has found himself in the midst of several minor crises and controversies that if not resolved well could work to undermine his credibility with many Catholics and deal a blow to his project for reforming the church.” By Robert Mickens, Global Pulse editor-in-chief, in National Catholic Reporter

Despite rhetoric, Pope Francis treats cardinals like princes
(Apr. 10, 2015) “In his pre-Christmas talk to the cardinals and bishops of the Vatican Curia, Pope Francis shocked his audience and the world by his scathing words on the failings of those working in the Vatican. He warned them against 15 separate “diseases” in their work and attitudes … News stories of this talk naturally connected it with Pope Francis’ plans to reform the Curia, but the speech notwithstanding, little progress has been seen except in the area of financial reform. After such a speech, one would have expected heads to roll, but they did not. Despite the rhetoric, curial cardinals are still treated like princes.” By Thomas Reese, National Catholic Reporter

Pope Francis is wildly popular. So what?
(Apr. 8, 2015) “In the days before Easter, NBC News and the Wall Street Journal published the results of a poll finding that most Americans still hold a favorable view of Pope Francis. A few weeks before that, the Pew Research Center released a report showing that the pope remains popular even with non-Catholics. That was an update to a poll from last December demonstrating that Francis was popular around the world, too.” By Michael O’Loughlin, Cruxnow.com

 

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Vatican event seeks to gently push Francis on women’s roles / National Catholic Reporter

An organization seeking to influence Pope Francis’ view of women — and to propose female professionals he might tap to lead high church offices — will be hosting a live-streamed event from the Vatican for the second time next month.

“Called Voices of Faith, the event will feature storytelling presentations from 10 women from various parts of the world who have overcome adversity or have reached the highest places available for women below the hierarchy’s stained-glass ceiling.

“The event will be held March 8, the day marked as International Women’s Day, at the Vatican’s iconic Casina Pio IV, a white marble structure inside the Vatican Gardens that houses the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.”

By Joshua J. McElwee, National Catholic Reporter — Click here to read the rest of this story.

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