Note: Some whistleblowers whose writing is presented on this page have suffered reprisals. We use a pseudonym for their protection. If you would like to submit a reflection for this page, please email it to us.
• Statement Regarding the America Interview of Pope Francis, by the Catholic Whistleblowers Steering Committee
• Victims of Abuse by Nuns, by Sr. Sally Butler, O.P.
• An Open Letter to Retired Australian Bishops Geoffrey Robinson and Patrick Power
• Bishop Song, by Anonymous
• Bats in the Belfry, by Rev. Ron Lemmert
• Open Letter to the Roman Catholic Bishops of the United States of America, by Rev. Patrick Collins, Ph.D.
• If You See Something, Say Something, by Fr. Emmanuel
• Meditation on the Story of the Woman Caught in Adultery, Fr. Emmanuel
• The Price of Speaking Out, by Fr. Emmanuel
• What Impedes the Revelation of the Truth? by Fr. Jim Connell
STATEMENT REGARDING THE AMERICA INTERVIEW OF POPE FRANCIS
September 20, 2013
We realize that the interviewer determined the questions for the interview thus perhaps restricting the comments made by Pope Francis. Yet, we say: while we warmly welcome Pope Francis’ refreshing spirit of understanding and compassion, we note with profound disappointment the absence of any comment in this interview about the clergy sexual abuse crisis and scandal that plagues the Catholic Church. Indeed, the clergy sexual abuse issue challenges the church at its core: a commitment to a love that truly protects children and to a sense of justice that truly holds the culpable accountable. Where does Pope Francis stand on this specific and major crisis and scandal?
Moreover, on behalf of all victims/survivors of Catholic clergy sexual abuse, we reiterate the plea that we expressed to Pope Francis in our letter to him last April 29: “Please, Pope Francis, do not pass us by”. All too frequently bishops and other church leaders have ignored the trauma and pain of victims/survivors. We trust that Pope Francis will be different, but he needs to act, now.
We call upon the pope for three immediate actions: 1) personally initiate ongoing dialogue with victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse because no one knows their plight better that they themselves; 2) hold accountable bishops who have deliberately frustrated or ignored the cause of truth and justice in this issue (Archbishop John Myers of Newark being a primary example); and 3) publicly support efforts to alter church and civil laws, retroactively and proactively, to protect children and to foster justice.
Catholic Whistleblowers Steering Committee
VICTIMS OF ABUSE BY NUNS
By Sally Butler, O.P.
August 7, 2013
It is hard for some people to imagine a woman as a sexual abuser of children and, for some, even harder to place a woman religious in that role. But there are approximately five hundred victims of nun-abusers in this country, according to SNAP [Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests]. These victims have extreme difficulty finding support.
In 2003, several such victims approached the Leadership Council of Women Religious [LCWR] This is an association of most of the leaders of religious orders in the United States, and was designed to help them carry out their gospel mission. The SNAP members asked to address the LCWR general assembly of about four hundred sisters in order to describe their abuse and suggest preventive measures to be taken by the religious orders. The victims were refused, but were offered time with the group’s executive committee. The victims did not want their message filtered through a committee, so nothing came of it.
This scenario was repeated for eight years. The sisters seemed bent on following the bishops’ path, choosing the advice of lawyers over the message of the gospel.
This year, Catholic Whistleblowers now offers the victims of nun-abusers the chance to connect with people throughout the country who can help them find a voice. Please email me if you are interested. Victims will use this website to make contacts and “blow the whistle” when appropriate. We suggest they take the first step, using this timeline, which offers a brief history of what has happened, or failed to happen, in the past eight years.
It is also important to note that many religious orders do not come under the direct jurisdiction of the local bishop, but answer only to the Vatican. This makes it extremely difficult for victims to bring charges and to expect satisfaction.
Sally Butler, O.P. is a member of the steering committee of Catholic Whistleblowers and is a contact person for the organization.
AN OPEN LETTER TO RETIRED AUSTRALIAN BISHOPS GEOFFREY ROBINSON AND PATRICK POWER
June 24, 2013
Dear Bishop Robinson and Bishop Power,
Catholic Whistleblowers is a newly formed network of current and former priests, women religious, brothers, deacons, and laypersons who actively support survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Indeed, the Church’s tragic and scandalous sexual abuse crisis is our sole and specific focus.
From that perspective we strongly support your call for a worldwide council to take effective measures to end sexual abuse in the Church and to initiate the necessary changes in the Church to solve the ongoing sexual abuse issue.
We note with appreciation the common thought linking your call for a worldwide council that would include laity and clergy in addition to bishops and our recommendation to Pope Francis in our letter of April 29, 2013, in which we ask him to establish within the Holy See an international body composed of survivors of clergy sexual abuse, lay professionals and clergy who will be responsible for the facilitation in all dioceses of a dialogue between the Church and victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, so as to nurture understanding. No one understands victims/survivors better than victims/survivors.
Indeed, the sexual abuse crisis, cover-up and scandal in the Church is worldwide in scope, thus requiring a response of equal magnitude. Moreover, Pope Francis can initiate the process to bring forth justice and healing for the crimes of the past and also to change the Church so that the horrific crime of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults never surfaces again.
Thank you for your courageous leadership in the effort to safeguard all God’s children and count on our support.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Represented by: Rev. John P. Bambrick (Jackson, NJ), Sr. Sally Butler, OP (Brooklyn, NY), Rev. Patrick Collins, Ph.D (Douglas, MI), Rev. James Connell (Milwaukee, WI), Rev. Thomas Doyle, OP (Vienna, VA), Robert M. Hoatson, Ph.D. (West Orange, NJ), Rev. Msgr. Kenneth E. Lasch, J.C.D. (Morristown, NJ), Rev. Ronald D. Lemmert (Peekskill, NY), Helen Rainforth (Lincoln, IL), Rev. Bruce Teague (Springfield, MA), Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish, SNDdeN (New Castle, DE), Patrick Wall (Stillwater, MN)
Bishop O’Toole you have broken the rules
O’Tooles have followed for years
An honorable name you have brought us great shame
You’re guilty as sin it appears
We have canon law and we have Cardinal Law
But there’s unwritten laws of this land
That decent men heed without lawbooks or creed
As they meet with shillelaghs in hand
When judgment day comes you’ll hear trumpets and drums
Father grandfather you’ll face
And your ancestors all down the line they will call
And ask why you brought them disgrace
They’d have fought fierce and wild to protect any child
But you’ve dragged our name right through the dirt
There’s no earthly excuse for these young boys’ abuse
How could you let children be hurt
BATS IN THE BELFRY
By Fr. Ronald Lemmert
I once visited friends at an Army base where the chapel had a problem with bats. Every evening, bats could be seen flying around the chapel, which was quite annoying to the parishioners. This went on for quite some time, causing lots of complaints. One day, some of the men decided to take a look in the belfry to see if the bats were living up there. When they opened the trap door in the ceiling of the vestibule, an avalanche of bat guano cascaded down all over them. The problem had been going on for years for all of that guano to accumulate, and it was a serious hazard to everyone’s health. But until they investigated, no one had any idea of the enormity of the problem.
I have long thought of that story as being symbolic of the state of the Church. We have all been aware of various kinds of pesky “bats” flying around throughout the centuries. People complained about the “bats”, but until fairly recently we had no idea where they were coming from or of the true nature of the problem. Since the sex abuse crisis started to become public knowledge in Lafayette, LA an avalanche of “guano” has begun pouring out of the belfry, poisoning everyone in the whole Church. It’s a horrible mess, but at least now we know what we are dealing with, and now we can start cleaning up the mess.
OPEN LETTER TO THE ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
By Patrick Collins
Ten years ago, on my 39th anniversary of ordination, I sent this letter to the bishops of the United States. On this May 31, 2013, my 49th anniversary, I share these words because they remain painfully true in my opinion.
Nevertheless I rejoice today in 49 years of priestly life and ministry. Despite these leadership problems, our faith community continues to deepen and do good works for the Reign of God. And my spiritual life continues to deepen, be enriched and bring me great joy each day.
As I have witnessed men and women committing themselves to the “for better or for worse” in the Sacrament of Marriage, I have often thought: “You really don’t know what you are in for!” And, as I have listened to their marital difficulties unfolding over the years, I realize how correct I was. Only over the years of trying to be faithful to that vow can they come to understand the great difficulties associated with keeping the promises they made on the day of their marriage.
Similarly for me on the day my ordination to the ministerial priesthood. When I placed my hands into those of Peoria, Illinois bishop John Baptist Franz on May 31, 1964, I heard him ask me, in Latin of course, “Do you promise to me and to my successors obedience and respect?” With trust in God and the goodness of bishops, I, without a clue as to the future implications of my response, responded innocently “I promise.”
If I had had any prescience that day about difficulties I might have in keeping that promise, it would probably have been in the arena of obedience rather than respect. Surrendering one’s freedom to another is a bold and seemingly foolish action and obedience has never been easy for this strong-willed convert to the Roman Catholic Church. But never did I suspect on ordination day – nor in most of the nearly 39 years since – that the greatest trial for me in keeping that sacramental promise would be respect. Yet in the face of the current sexual abuse crisis in the church, obedience seems like “a piece of cake” in comparison to fulfilling my pledge to offer to bishops the respect which is their due.
What do I mean by this rather brash admission? Respect must be deserved as well as promised, I am discovering. And many bishops are proving to be unworthy of such respect from us priests. Why?
Too many in our church leadership have engaged in embarrassing secrecy and complicity in the crisis of clerical sexual abuse. Past systemic forms of episcopal governance have facilitated this. And this not only in Boston. Some bishops continue to protect their brother bishops whom they know to be guilty by not investigating allegations against them for improper handling of cases. Many of us priests know as well of examples in which priests have given incriminating information about other priests to bishops and nothing has happened. In one case I have in mind, the offending priest was even promoted to a prominent position after his bishop was informed of the priest’s inappropriate sexual conduct.
Which is worse, many of us priests are asking: The unspeakable sin and crime of abusing children committed by less than 6 percent of priests in this nation – or the much larger percentage of bishops who have covered up, paid off and lied for the sake of their self-protective behaviors?
In the years prior to the current sexual scandals many bishops seemed to protect the institution of the church and its assets by protecting the violating priests but not adequately respecting and serving the violated. Now it seems they are bending over backwards to make up for those errors by almost failing to honor the due process deserved by the violating priests while being totally dedicated to the violated. There is a noted consistency here, it would seem. The primary driving energy would appear to be to protect themselves and the patrimony of the institutional church. In neither case is the energy primarily about protecting and honoring persons – either the priest or the children and the family. That is sad to realize. Because this is becoming more and more obvious, our leaders are finding diminished respect from more than just the clergy.
According to the Dallas Morning News of June 12, 2002, 111 out of 189 US bishops have at least one case of clerical sexual abuse in which they did not act properly. This claim has never been refuted to my knowledge. After 1985 – when evidence about this problem was clearly present to the bishops’ conference – there can be little or no excuse for such episcopal failures in administration. And we are all suffering because of it.
To me too many of our church’s leaders today are tragically like emperors without clothes who don’t realize their public nudity. They seem to think that setting in place revised norms for handling sexual abuse by priests and deacons is the end of the matter without dealing with their own forms of administrative abuse in these cases. They seem too ready to forgive themselves or to look the other way.
Bishops’ credibility as leaders can only be improved when those who have participated in the systemic evil which has protected the ecclesiastical institution at all costs are, like the offending priests, removed from their posts. Offending priests have been put out in the cold – for even one offense many years ago, no matter how effective their ministry in the meantime. But bishops can wring their hands with public apologies and yet continue in their ministries without recrimination. This makes the ordination day promise of respect for bishops difficult to keep.
Why should priests appropriately be held accountable for their carnal sins and the bishops not be disciplined for their participation in this sad instance of systemic evil? Many of us priests would like to have an answer to that question during 2003.
In the writings of St. John of the Cross we learn that “The Dark Night” is where God approaches making space and purifying – making space for the gift of the forgiving and liberating God Self in human history – as in the Midnight of the First Christmas. My prayer is for Light in this Dark Night for our national and ecclesiastical leadership. We need their authentic authority, their more honest and humble message and their more human and humane style of governance and living if we priests are to more readily keep our promise of respect for our bishops.
May the Light of Christmas show them – and each of us The Way. My prayer this Christmas is that The Light may shine in our darkness – a Light which no darkness can ever overcome – whether in our nation, our churches or within ourselves.
Rev. Patrick W. Collins, Ph.D.
Priest of the Diocese of Peoria IL
IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING
By Fr. Emmanuel
After the collapse of the Third Reich in Nazi Germany, it soon became horrifically evident to the rest of the world what terrible evils can happen when good people do and say nothing. History has repeated itself in the Catholic Church as well as in many other religious and secular environments in the area of the sexual abuse of minors. For such things to be going on in our parishes, committed by priests we loved and respected was unimaginable. Since they were usually done behind closed doors with no adult witnesses, for many years victims were reluctant to come forward to say what had been done to them. If they did, most people didn’t believe them and were more concerned about the priest’s reputation than protecting children from abuse. Even people who saw “signs” of abuse, often tried to convince themselves that they must be mistaken.
But times have changed! We can no longer look the other way. As they say about unattended packages in public places, “If you see something, say something!” This must be the motto for people of conscience today. It is far better to err on the side of caution than to take the chance of a young person being hurt. For example, many years before the abuse crisis became headlines, I was in a parish where the pastor was overly friendly with the altar boys. The longer I watched him, the more I knew something wasn’t right, although I had no specific evidence of any wrongdoing. But once I got some complaints from the families I turned him in. Later it was discovered that he had been abusing teenage boys throughout his entire priesthood in many different parishes, but no one had ever before spoken up. Meanwhile, some of those kids had committed suicide. I went with the State Trooper to inform one of the mothers that her son had blown his head off and held her in my arms while she screamed hysterically. This tragedy would never have occurred if someone had spoken up sooner
MEDITATION ON THE STORY OF THE WOMAN CAUGHT IN ADULTERY
By Fr. Emmanuel
In the current sex abuse crisis, I have always identified the Church hierarchy as the Pharisees: quick to condemn others but very slow to accept responsibility for their own failings. But on some level, I often do the same thing. In doing so, I have turned the hierarchy into the woman caught in adultery. I am ready to cast the first stone until Jesus makes me realize I am in no position to do so. He has compassion on the woman. I would actually find it much easier to have compassion on her than to have compassion on many members of the hierarchy, because what they have done is far more scandalous than committing adultery. What is even worse is that many of them are continuing to do it! So throwing stones is indeed tempting!
But I think Jesus wants me to see them in a different light. Yes, adultery is a serious sin. So is the cover-up of sexual abuse. Jesus doesn’t approve of either one. But what should be the correct response? Jesus told the woman to sin no more. The hierarchy is always promising to do better, but they never seem to change, and their cover-ups are still going on. The scandal continues to grow throughout the whole world, and along with it grows my judgmental attitude. So what would Jesus do? The image of putting a millstone around their necks and casting them into the sea comes to mind! But is that what He would really do in a one-on-one encounter with a bishop who has covered up for abusers, allowing them to harm His children? So what does Jesus want me to do about it? I think He wants me to do the same thing He did to that woman. He called her to conversion. I see that as one of the purposes of our whistleblowers’ network. He wants us to see their human frailty, to have compassion on their weaknesses that have prevented them from doing the right thing, but then to demand some changes.
As I deal with my personal dissatisfaction with our hierarchy, I am reminded of how Moses was denied entry into the Promised Land when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it as the Lord had commanded. When Martin Luther became aware of the corruption in the Church during the Middle Ages, he too ended up “striking the Rock”, which resulted in a splintering of the Church. The tendency now is also to “strike the Rock” because of the total ineptness of our bishops who have created this mess. But we don’t need any more fragmentation in the Body of Christ than what we already have. What we need is to exert pressure for reform from the top on down. The laity didn’t make this mess; the bishops made it through their proud, self-serving, unchristian attitude that made them think they were accountable to no one. They may have thought they were protecting the Church by covering things up, but they seem to have forgotten that the Church is not just their fellow bishops. The children they allowed to be raped are also part of the Church, as are their families who are devastated and angered and alienated from the community by what was done to them by leaders who should have known better. We must make our bishops realize that they are accountable to the whole Church, not just to their old boys’ club! We are the Church too, and it is time for us to fulfill our prophetic ministry (by virtue of our baptismal calling) to remind our erring brethren that they were ordained to serve us, not the other way around.
THE PRICE OF SPEAKING OUT
By Fr. Emmanuel
A prophet is never welcomed in his home country. We only appreciate prophets when they talk about someone else’s problems. Whenever the message strikes close to home, it makes us very uncomfortable. Whenever a prophetic figure points out unmanageable problems within our local community, most people do not want to hear about it. They prefer to live in a state of denial, unwilling to face the reality of what is going on around them. This state of denial is most evident in dealing with addiction. Even though a person has a serious drinking or drug problem, his/her loved ones often find it difficult to admit that he/she has a problem and will make all kinds of excuses for his/her aberrant behavior. When someone suggests the person has a problem with addiction, many of those loved ones will cover up for the person and deny that there is a problem. It’s not until some terrible crisis occurs that people look back and wonder why nobody ever saw any signs of the problem before it was too late.
That is what has been going on in the Church for centuries. In many cultures, people grew up believing that priests were almost superhuman. They placed their priests on pedestals and couldn’t believe that they had the same kinds of problems that other people have. No matter how outrageous a priest’s behavior might be, their devoted parishioners would make excuses and pretend that everything was fine. So when someone accuses their beloved priest of molesting children, they respond by either blaming the victims or the whistleblowers. Just like the families of alcoholics and drug addicts often need treatment (through groups like Al-Anon), many of our parish families that have been affected by an abusive priest also need treatment and healing. Some of that treatment involves breaking through the layers of denial and helping people learn how not to be enablers. But it also involves being reconciled with the whistleblowers who were often rejected and ostracized for speaking the truth. Many of us are broken, angry and psychologically damaged because of the way we were treated, not only by our inept bishops, but by parishioners who used to love us until we spoke the unwelcome truth. It’s never too late to reach out to one of those rejected prophets and say thank you. We need to hear it in order to be healed.
WHAT IMPEDES THE REVELATION OF THE TRUTH?
By Fr. Jim Connell
What stops the bishops from providing thorough explanations and detailed information about the clergy sexual abuse crisis confronting the Church? Here are my top five picks.
1. The Cardinals’ Oath. This is an oath taken by each new cardinal as he is about to receive his red biretta. For example, here is a key portion of that Oath (printed pages 20-21) as spoken by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and 21 other new cardinals on February 18, 2012: “I, N., Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, promise and swear, from this day forth and as long as I live ….. not to make known to anyone matters entrusted to me in confidence, the disclosure of which could bring damage or dishonor to the Holy Church …..”
Surely, this oath contributes to the crisis. In other words, if the cardinals promise to be silent, and if other bishops follow their example, can truth and justice ever be served? Can this crisis ever be resolved? Also, do all bishops take an oath similar to the Cardinals’ Oath? Secrecy must not reign. The Pope needs to release the cardinals from this oath and secrecy, and require them and all the bishops to speak the complete truth.
2. Attorney-Client Privilege. At least by the late 1980s bishops were becoming aware of an increasing number of allegations against priests. So, what advice did the attorneys give? Did they help to shape the strategies used by bishops.
The attorney-client privilege means that an attorney cannot divulge information provided by a client. But, the client holds the privilege and can waive the privilege, thus releasing the attorney from that restriction, either totally or partially. Consequently, if each diocesan bishop would waive the privilege in respect to clergy sexual abuse, the attorney for the diocese and the attorney’s firm would be free to speak about the advice that was given when the first cases of clergy sexual abuse were brought to the attention of the attorney or the firm, as well as regarding cases in more current times.
What did the attorneys say? Did they inform the bishops that these actions were crimes and that the police should be notified? We need to know what the attorneys said. It’s a major part of the needed and yet-to-be-told truth.
3. Embarrassment and loss of reputation. All too frequently, victims/survivors and their supporters were not believed, traumatized, and regarded as the ones having done wrong. But, the victims are the victims! They were sexually assaulted by priests. They loved the Church and were involved in the Church, which is why they were available to be preyed upon. Why, therefore, this reaction by so many Church leaders? Why hide the truth and be so defensive? As one parishioner asked me: “Father, how much worse can the truth be as compared to what our minds dream up as our imaginations run wild?” So, what’s under the lid? What’s the secret?
Could what is under the lid and remaining sealed in the secrecy of embarrassment and loss of reputation actually be additional scandal: scandal involving bishops, priests, and lay persons; scandal involving civic leaders; scandal involving the use of Church funds? But, who knows for sure just what is under the lid? Whatever it is, it must be very embarrassing because the bishops in the United States have spent billions of dollars and yet have not resolved the crisis.
I am reminded of the report concerning the priests’ sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Dublin (Ireland). In July 2009, a Commission of Investigation headed by Judge Yvonne Murphy issued a Report into the Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin. In Chapter 1 of this report, Section 1.15 states, “The Dublin Archdiocese’s pre-occupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid 1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities. The Archdiocese did not implement its own canon law rules and did its best to avoid any application of the law of the State.”
Obviously, “what’s under the lid?” is a global question needing immediate papal intervention.
4. “The love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim. 6:10). Money itself is neutral; it can be used in good ways or it can be used in bad ways. The love of money is greed. Under the guise of a “fiduciary responsibility” which is only part of justice, not the whole of justice because the common good also must be considered, the clergy sexual abuse crisis frequently was addressed by Church leaders, especially in the early years of the crisis, with pragmatic approaches to protect money and reputations, rather than with pastoral approaches of listening to those involved, welcoming the truth, and requiring justice.
Indeed, the pragmatic approaches used were not relational involvements that would foster healing. Rather, from the moment that the first crimes of clergy sexual abuse became public, the chores of public relations seem to have prevailed over pastoral care and the details of civil and church law. Saint Paul is correct, “the love of money is the root of all evils”. It can even quiet voices that should be public and vocal explaining the truth, such as those of the bishops.
5. Mental reservation [“I did not lie; it was a mental reservation”]. On February 9, 2012, I was in a federal bankruptcy courtroom in Milwaukee, attending a hearing concerning the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s Chapter 11 reorganization petition that had been filed in January 2011.
At one point the judge called for a recess. While I was standing in the corridor, a victim/survivor asked me to explain what the Church means by the term “mental reservation”. I explained that the term refers to speaking words that are literally true, but when spoken within a specific context would be understood by the listener to mean something other than the literal meaning of the words.
However, if the “mental reservation” deliberately deceives and deprives one of information to which there is a right, then the “mental reservation” would be a lie, a sin, violent, and destructive of society. It would not contribute to a relational involvement that would foster healing.
Only a few minutes later a different victim/survivor also asked me to explain the term “mental reservation”. I had not thought of that term for many years, and now two people asked me to explain it within minutes of each other. Why? Is “mental reservation” a technique used by some Church leaders to deceive victims/survivors? Remember that Jesus taught “let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Anything more is from the evil one” (Mt. 5:37).
What else foils the truth? Perhaps the mantra should be: be embarrassed but tell the truth.