Around here, all Catholic teachers, youth leaders, clergy, and parish volunteers know about “Virtus,” a website that offers sex-abuse educational material, for a fee.
In order to interact with young people in parish life, we all must read and respond to the articles that Virtus publishes regularly. This on-going education plan is one of the key elements of the strategy for ‘child protection’ devised by Church authorities after the Boston Globe Spotlight scandal of 2002. Every diocese has a ‘child-protection co-ordinator,’ with the task of policing the compliance of everyone who interacts with young people in Catholic parishes. We all have to read and respond to every article by answering on-line questions about it.
No complaints about any of that, in and of itself. Virtus bulletins sometimes have insightful and helpful information. That said, last month’s Virtus bulletin had the following message:
The media has reported sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. It may seem disheartening to us Catholics. But getting the truth out is a good thing, and the Church learns from mistakes that leaders have made in the past. We, the Catholic faithful, are the ‘child protectors.’ If we see something that looks wrong, we must report it up the Church chain of command.
[I would link to the article, so that you could read it for yourself. But the article is not available to the general public, only to paying customers.]
A parishioner and generous volunteer here noticed the hole in the article’s argument, and wrote this letter to the editor of the Virtus bulletins:
You invited constructive feedback. I hope this is considered constructive.
I was pleased to see an article that touched on the need for accountability and open conversation, and the admission that we Catholics might have this feeling of “when will this all end!”
I also recognize that the intent of these posts is to guide and encourage those in youth ministry to be alert, and know how to identify and address unsafe practices or suspect behavior. I know the purpose is not to address the failings of our leadership.
I would argue, however, that the accountability issue is huge! Why bother reporting something when we don’t believe any good will come of it? Why report up the chain of the church leadership when they are poised to protect the institution, not the child? What assurances do we have that if we report up, and an incident is not addressed, that those in positions of authority will be held accountable?
While the McCarrick report shares more than what was previously known publicly, it still seems vague. The report indicates a flow of information that sadly confirms a behavior of “passing the buck” and a pattern of response that gives preference to testimonials of colleagues rather than believing those who were molested or inappropriately treated. The report shows no ardent desire for the health of our children and the conscience of the Catholic people, who would demand no stone be left unturned!
It saddens me that the McCarrick report explains away the sequence of seemingly lack-luster investigations rather than taking a very different approach. Namely, actually holding those parties who are still in leadership positions accountable, according to their extent of involvement. Some people think they are untouchable. Until that changes, the church, that is the people, will continue to suffer for the sins of their leaders.
I would hope that today an incident report would be properly investigated and not brushed aside. Still, I would err on the side of reporting to the civil authorities, because there is no conflict of interest, as there might be with a parish priest or bishop, archbishop, cardinal, etc.
The net is that we, the people in youth ministry, need to know that a complaint will be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly and properly, and that we will be kept informed (rather than experiencing some mysterious disappearance), regardless of whether it is behavior toward a child, a teenager, or an adult.
And if this doesn’t happen–if we the people have to report up (above the bishop)–we need to know that the bishop will be dismissed for not doing his job!
No excuse is acceptable for ignoring, brushing aside, or disbelieving a report without a proper investigation. No excuse is reasonable for rushing to judgment, when the truth and the health of our children and parishioners is at stake. While there is historical evidence to suggest that some might attempt to libel or discredit vis-à-vis a claim of abuse or inappropriate behavior, it is not reasonable to disregard a claim based on that defense. The field of psychology has come far enough for us to understand that children, in particular, do not lie about such claims.
We also need to know that the behaviors previously present in our seminaries have been eliminated, and that our future priests are no longer being subjected to such inappropriate advances as acknowledged in the McCarrick report. Who in their right mind would allow their child to consider seminary knowing that he might be put into such compromising and humiliating situations?
Thank you for reading this note.
Bernadette received a brief, courteous response from the editor. She awaits, however, answers to these questions that she posed in a follow-up e-mail:
If we report something, how long might we expect to wait before getting a response?
How do we know if our report is getting brushed aside?
How long should we wait before escalating?
Should we try discreetly to take video or audio of suspect behavior?
How do we keep ourselves and our family safe if we choose to make a report?
How long should we wait between reporting to the pastor, then later to the bishop or to law enforcement?
What recourse do we have if we are asked not to come back to ministry after making a report or get let go from a staff position?