Continuing the Conversation on Clergy Sexual Abuse

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Archdiocese of Regina website

Continuing the Conversation on Clergy Sexual Abuse

By Pamela Walsh

In December presentations in the Archdiocese of Regina were given to the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council (APC) and the Council of Priests (C of P) regarding an annual liturgy on clergy sexual abuse. The aim and focus was on education, and to move from a single parish service to having a service in each deanery. Engaging the APC and C of P in dialogue, the hope was to move the service throughout the diocese and into the hands of the deaneries, as a way of reaching out to not only victims, but to all people, allowing for victims to be heard and the scope of that conversation to widen on this very painful topic.

Each presentation was tailored to the participation that each council would be asked to provide. The C of P deans were asked to work with APC members to present a prayer service or Way of the Cross service in each Deanery, as well as having one service in French. Archbishop Bolen started off the presentations by describing the history and reality of Clergy Sexual Abuse within the Archdiocese. He then introduced Pamela Walsh and Sr. ReAnne Letourneau, the co-chairs of a liturgy committee that coordinated and presented a service on clergy sexual abuse in March 2017, and is currently preparing a second liturgy, a Way of the Cross.

It was explained that Papal Nuncio to Canada Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi requested a liturgy be held in all dioceses in Canada on an annual basis. The Nuncio confirmed his desire for the service to continue when he met with Walsh during his November visit to Regina.  She explained that last year’s service was a revision of an Advent service CARES Healing Community wrote and helped to lead in various Regina parishes, from 2010-12.

Walsh then turned attention to the reality and impact of clergy sexual abuse on victims. Speaking from a personal perspective, she shared how so many victims sit in silence for decades; how many walk alone in hurt and pain, shame and sorrow; how many sit in the pews too scared to share what has happened to them, bound by the silence that has been created. Those victims no longer in the church have also been bound by the silence surrounding clergy sexual abuse. This is the dark reality that many victims live in.

The tragedy of clergy sexual abuse does not just affect a single victim. It is multi-layered, generational, continuing to harm unborn generations, not only within the families of victims, but within parishes and communities; every relationship a victim has is collateral damage to the abuse. This will continue unless everyone begins to make a change, a change to open hearts, spirits and minds in order to begin to understand the pain the darkness causes, Walsh said. The journey of coming forward left her enduring the shattered reality of being cast aside. There were repeated attempts to silence her, but this was longer an option for her.

She spoke of the fallacy people have that all victims’ want is money. Going through the church process, her complaint was deemed credible, but she has not taken a cent from the diocese. Instead she knocked at the diocese door loudly and asked Archbishop Bolen to walk with her. She asked the same of the papal nuncio with both agreeing to do so. She then extended the same invitation to those present at the APC and C of P meetings, asking them to walk into her world into the world in which victims live, and together begin a new conversation, a new beginning where all are welcome at the table; that the cross that victims carry, that is so burdensome and heavy, be shared and lifted so that we come to see victims in all their brokenness, and welcome them for who they are, not punish them for what was done to them.

Sr. ReAnne spoke about how the prayer services done by CARES Healing Community were stepping-stones into the journey of supporting victims of clergy sexual abuse. An awakening within allowed her to begin to listen to the voice of victims, and it changed her. She hoped it would awaken others. Giving the example of how the service in March enabled St. Cecilia’s CWL to experience first hand the pain and sorrow of victims; this in turngenerated a good conversation at their next CWL meeting.

She reflected on how the church can see Christ too as victim, rejected and put to death; this is a theme in the season of Lent. She shared how she had been resistant to this topic, wanting to defend the church because it was her family. Gradually, she came to see Jesus in the victim (despised, rejected, persecuted, abandoned), and recognized that they are part of her family too. She finished by expressing the desire that these prayer services begin to lift the silence and shame around this reality, so that change/conversion can happen personally and within the church, so that victims receive support, accompaniment, healing, justice, or whatever it is that they need.

APC member Marian Grady was quoted as saying: “The presentation to the APC on Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse focused on the victims and the challenges they live in a society and Church that isn’t always willing to admit this sad reality in our faith community.  Their honest and sincere testimonies call us as Church to truly listen to the voices of the victims and move from years of denial to becoming a community of compassion and support for all whose lives have been devastated by this cruel use of power and control.” Estevan Deanery Rep. Bill Mann added his voice “I believe this is the exact proper method for our Diocese to display support and to help facilitate healing for these victims, and it is long overdue. The church, in my opinion, has not done this enough, but has elected to support the accused more than is proper or even necessary. We should all applaud this proposal and place our undivided support behind the initiative. I, for one, intend to carry this message full-strength to our deanery council and subsequent parish communities to provide healing and support for all of these victims of these terrible atrocities.  I encourage everyone, as much as they can, to do likewise.”

Of the presentations of the C of P gathering, Fr. Gerry Bauche noted, “It is never easy to listen to the account of how a victim of clergy sexual abuse has been impacted, as we heard from Pam. I found both Pam and Sr. ReAnne’s presentations to the Council of Priests a strong reminder of what victims who have suffered abuse by clergy have to deal with constantly, on a daily basis. The least we can do is to try to step into their experiences, even for an evening of prayer and solidarity with their pain and suffering.”

Both presentations ended with a question and answer period. Both groups asked several questions and ended with commitments from both APC and C of P members to having services in their dearies. There has been interest and commitment to have services in three deaneries and discussions are ongoing in other deaneries. Let the conversation continue.

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