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CNS Top Stories

Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests, but by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference.

Four survivors of sexual assaults by priests shared...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Chaz Muth

By Zita Ballinger Fletcher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests, but by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference.

Four survivors of sexual assaults by priests shared their stories with Catholic News Service. They are: Jim VanSickle and Mike McDonnell of Pennsylvania, Michael Norris of Houston and Judy Larson of Utah.

Many of them have not been to a Catholic church in years. They say the hardhearted attitudes of diocesan officials, staff and ordinary churchgoers and an atmosphere at their parishes allowed the abuse.

"Being raised Catholic, I remember -- you don't speak out against your own church," said VanSickle. "Nobody's going to listen to you."

Most of them belonged to what they described as extremely traditional parishes and said they were attacked as vulnerable children. Their view of Catholicism changed when fellow believers showed them no compassion and acted to protect selfish interests.

"I've known others that came forward. They were ridiculed and ostracized -- even by their own family members," said VanSickle, 55. He stood next to Attorney General Josh Shapiro when grand jury findings were released to the public Aug. 14. He had suffered silently for 37 years after being sexually abused by a priest at age 16.

"We lived in a neighborhood where most of the people in the subdivision were Catholic. Everything in our lives revolved around the church," said Larson, who is now retired and in her 70s. "To be in that kind of environment and try to say something horrible happened to you, by a person everybody thinks is a god on earth, you're all alone."

The abuses these survivors suffered at the hands of priests were not crimes of passion, they said, but cold exploitations of control. Most victims were not aware that their attackers were serial abusers. Each felt alone when he or she was victimized.

"I think it's opportunistic," said VanSickle. "I feel like I was targeted."

"It's a lifelong impact. I deal with it every single day," said Norris, a chemical engineer. He said he was abused by a priest in Louisville, Kentucky, at age 10. After many years of struggle, he revealed the truth to his devout parents at a point when he "couldn't take it anymore."

When he acted to report the abuse, he and his family members were mistreated by fellow Catholics in the archdiocese.

"They discredited me," he said. "Probably the biggest disappointment in my life was how the church responded to my accusations. Maybe I was naive, but I expected them to believe my story and take action. When they didn't do what I saw as morally right, I became more disillusioned with their teachings."

Survivors also faced a stigma caused by sexual assault. The victims were molested at an age when they did not know about sex. Confused, they realized what happened when they grew up. Feeling disgust, anger and shame, they feared hostile reactions from their traditional communities.

"When I was growing up, we were told, 'It would be better for you to die than lose your virtue.' This was told to me in fourth grade," said Larson. "I didn't know what 'lose your virtue' meant."

She was raped by a priest one year later at age 10. After realizing the truth as an adult, she did not tell her parents. She knew they would not listen, since it was taboo to speak ill of a priest or nun in their presence.

Some Catholics viewed sex as scandalous and treated victims as if they were contaminated.

"People say, 'You're a bad person,' or 'You must have wanted it,'" said VanSickle. "It's amazing that they attack their own people. They attack their own faithful."

The survivors are disillusioned with the way church officials handle abuse cases. This disillusionment has affected their personal beliefs.

Norris is no longer Christian. "I personally can't set foot in another church because of what's happened and the way I was treated," he said.

Larson hasn't been inside a church in over 50 years. "For a lot of us, going to church is a triggering experience. It's re-traumatizing to victims," she said.

VanSickle said he has strong belief in Jesus and has become a Christian. His family members are Catholic. He welcomes interactions with Catholics and wishes to be reconciled with the church, but wants the institution to change first.

"To be away from the Eucharist in my life is a hard thing to deal with because of my belief as a Catholic," he said. "But I can't reconcile myself with the church until I see change."

They feel sorry for Catholics who are struggling with their beliefs in light of the recent grand jury report. Norris and VanSickle say they do not wish for Catholics to lose their faith.

Despite the pain caused by recent revelations, they hope change will result.

"It reopens a wound from the past for me as a survivor. But I'm also extremely happy that this information is coming to light," said McDonnell, a specialist at a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Philadelphia, regarding the recent grand jury report. "It is vindication and validation for many survivors and victims."

He believes the church needs to stop withholding information about abuse and be honest with the public. "It will invite people back to the Catholic Church once they see that the church is not just publicly making a statement that 'we're sorry,'" he said.

As the church hierarchy considers change, Catholics can make simple changes in their homes and parishes. According to Larson, the average age for a clergy sexual abuse victim to come forward is 42. As child victims grow into adults, they begin to realize what happened to them -- and fall silent due to religious and social pressures. Ordinary Catholics can solve this problem, she said, by treating others around them with openheartedness instead of moral superiority.

"Be compassionate," said Larson, sharing her advice to families coping with revelations of abuse. "Believe your family member. They're in pain. And they've held this terrible secret for many, many years because of their fear of your reaction when they tell you."

One of the hardest things Norris experienced in his life was the shattering effect of the abuse on his parents. They did not find out about it until they were much older. One of the last things his father expressed on his deathbed was sorrow for what happened.

VanSickle said a family's first responsibility is to love and believe a child who speaks out about sexual abuse by clergy.

"They need to wrap their arms around that kid and make them feel safe. That never happened for me," he said. "You need to hug and protect your child first. Deal with the church after."

McDonnell said victims recover with support from others, including fellow survivors.

"Part of the healing process is coming forward. I'm only as sick as my secrets," he added. "Talk to somebody."

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Posted: August 20, 2018, 11:25 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "No effort must be spared" to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and "to prevent the possibility of their being covered up," Pope Francis said in a letter addressed "to the people of God."

"I acknowledge...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- "No effort must be spared" to prevent future cases of clerical sexual abuse and "to prevent the possibility of their being covered up," Pope Francis said in a letter addressed "to the people of God."

"I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons," the pope wrote in the letter dated and released Aug. 20.

The letter was published less than a week after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on decades of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups in six dioceses. The report spoke of credible allegations against 301 priests in cases involving more than 1,000 children.

"The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced," Pope Francis said. "But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence them."

"The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain," he said, "and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults."

In his letter, Pope Francis insisted all Catholics must be involved in the effort to accompany victims, to strengthen safeguarding measures and to end a culture where abuse is covered up.

While the letter called all Catholics to prayer and fasting, it does not change any current policies or offer specific new norms.

It did, however, insist that "clericalism" has been a key part of the problem and said the involvement of the laity will be crucial to addressing the crime and scandal.

Change, he said, will require "the active participation of all the members of God's people."

"Many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred," he said, are groups where there has been an effort to "reduce the people of God to small elites."

"Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to a split in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today," Pope Francis said. "To say 'no' to abuse is to say an emphatic 'no' to all forms of clericalism."

In his letter, Pope Francis acknowledged the church's failure.

"With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives," he wrote.

"We showed no care for the little ones," Pope Francis said. "We abandoned them."

"Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient," he said. "Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated."

Recognizing the safeguarding policies that have been adopted in various parts of the world as well as pledges of "zero tolerance" for abusive clerics, Pope Francis also acknowledged that "we have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future."

As members of the church, he said, all Catholics should "beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others."

Pope Francis also asked Catholics to pray and to fast so that they would be able to hear "the hushed pain" of abuse survivors.

He called for "a fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combating all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience."

In Washington, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said by opening his letter with these words of St. Paul, "If one part suffers, all parts suffer with it'," Pope Francis "shows that he is writing to all of us as a pastor, a pastor who knows how deeply sin destroys lives."

In a statement issued late Aug. 20, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston responded in particular to these words from the pope: "Penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people's sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils."

"These words must provoke action -- especially by the bishops," Cardinal DiNardo said. "We bishops need to -- and we must -- practice with all humility such prayer and penance."

The pope is inviting "all the faithful" to "join in prayer and fasting as a way to help foster conversion and genuine change of life wherever it is needed, even in the shepherds of the church. Cardinal DiNardo said he too, extends that invitation to all Catholics.

Jesus' own words about the power of prayer and fasting, the cardinal said, is "a humble reminder that such acts of faith can move mountains and can even bring about true healing and conversion."

"On behalf of my brother bishops, I offer that only by confronting our own failure in the face of crimes against those we are charged to protect can the church resurrect a culture of life where the culture of death has prevailed," he added.

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: August 20, 2018, 9:27 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) -- At an Aug. 17 news conference, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said that in response to the release of the grand jury report on abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70- year period, he will collect and release a...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller

By

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (CNS) -- At an Aug. 17 news conference, Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, said that in response to the release of the grand jury report on abuse claims in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70- year period, he will collect and release a list of the names of priests in the diocese he currently heads who committed similar offenses.

Bishop Rhoades called the details of the grand jury "equally appalling and heartbreaking." He expressed sympathy and support to the victims and their families, adding, "The church failed you. For that, I apologize."

Emphasizing that during his tenure as bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend he has released the name of every priest removed from ministry as a result of a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.

He said he has learned, as a result of the grand jury, that it also important to victims to see the names of their abusers made public "for all to see. For everyone to know the pain caused by these priests."

"It is my hope," he said, "that by releasing these names, the innocent victims of these horrific and heartbreaking crimes can finally begin the process of healing."

The list will be compiled beginning immediately. In closing, Bishop Rhoades reiterated the diocese's efforts to regain the trust of the those it serves, and indicated a renewed vigilance regarding its efforts to protect young people.

The grand jury report on the six Pennsylvania dioceses included Harrisburg where he was bishop from 2004 to 2009.

He said in an earlier statement that the report "mentions two incidents during my time as bishop of the Diocese of Harrisburg."

"In both of those situations," he added, "I followed all child protection policies and procedures, notified law enforcement, and took other action as appropriate, since each of the accused priests had already been removed from public ministry due to previous allegations."

 

 

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Copyright © 2018 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: August 17, 2018, 9:52 pm
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