Child Abuse

Sex Abuse Victim Allegedly Sidelined by Papal Panel

Peter Saunders. Image via REUTERS/Tony Gentile/RNS

One of the two victims of clerical sexual abuse serving on a Vatican commission set up by Pope Francis has apparently been sidelined. The Holy See on Feb. 6 said Peter Saunders, a British Catholic who was abused by Jesuit priests as a teenager, is taking a “leave of absence” from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

‘Spotlight’ Was Just Nominated for 6 Oscars. But Will Journalists Dig up the Next Faith Scandal?

The cast of Spotlight. Image via Open Road Films/RNS

A few months before Robert W. Finn became bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, I interviewed him for The Kansas City Star about the challenges he might face when he replaced the much-loved Bishop Raymond Boland. Of course, neither Finn nor I had any way of knowing that a decade-plus later he would resign in disgrace, having been convicted of the misdemeanor crime of failing to notify law enforcement authorities about a suspected child-abusing priest in the diocese — a priest who now spends his time in prison.

Catholic Diocese of Duluth Latest to File for Bankruptcy Over Sex Abuse Payouts

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth announced on Dec. 7 that it had filed for bankruptcy protection following a jury verdict last month that held the Minnesota diocese responsible for more than half of an $8.1 million judgment on behalf of a victim of sex abuse by a priest.

The Chapter 11 filing makes Duluth the 13th of nearly 200 U.S. Catholic dioceses to file for bankruptcy since 2004 because of the clergy sex abuse scandals. Regional organizations of two religious orders have also sought bankruptcy protection.

The Duluth award was one of the highest single monetary compensations for a survivor of clergy abuse, experts said. It was made possible thanks to a Minnesota law that lifted the statute of limitations on civil claims for sex abuse.

Domestic Violence: Are the Children Safe?

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There are many reasons for divorces and one of them is domestic violence. It’s true that there are women and men who experience domestic violence and never leave the marriage; they only want to cleave while others leave for their dear life. Domestic violence can be viewed as family violence but there are family members from whom we may rarely hear in these situations, namely children. Most certainly, domestic violence impacts the perpetrator and victim yet if there are children in the same space, they, too, will be affected. They, too, may even be beaten, battered, and bruised. This is the blues-inflected struggle of life.

The book of Mark focuses a lot on the suffering of Jesus. Pain seems to have some privilege in the way Mark preaches the gospel. He keeps it real. Mark is a truth-teller because even today many travel a trail of tears. The level of pain and the type of pain vary. But the honest truth is that life is not a bouquet of sweet-smelling roses. There are thorns and fractures. There is brokenness — broken bodies and relationships — so it is of no surprise per se when we see Jesus and the Pharisees engage in a conversation about marriage and divorce, topics that may heighten our awareness of human brokenness in our society. It’s no secret that many marriages fail and end in divorce, whether they are people of faith or not.

Pope Francis' Words on Abuse Vary by His Audience

Image via Dado Ruvic / Reuters / RNS

On his first full day of the visit, Francis praised U.S. bishops for their “courage” in facing the difficult moments of the explosive clergy abuse scandal “without fear of self-criticism and at the cost of mortification and great sacrifice.”

Listeners, however, were shocked, mindful that the church has spent hundreds of millions in settlement payouts — often after years of protracted legal fights — to compensate for decades of bishops who protected, even promoted, abusive priests.

He sounded “tone-deaf,” said Vatican expert the Rev. Thomas Reese.

Indiana Pastor Accused of Battering Kids in Boarding School

Gerald Harris. Image via Clark County Detention Center / RNS

A Sellersburg, Ind., pastor and fellow church workers are accused of beating multiple children in their care with a wooden paddle.

Clark County Prosecuting Attorney Jeremy Mull said the alleged abuse occurred at Crossroads Baptist Church, led by Pastor Gerald Harris. It operates a boarding academy complete with dormitories and classrooms for mostly out of state students, he said.

While parents, teachers and caretakers are allowed to discipline children “in a legal way,” Mull said, the bruising allegedly seen on the children constituted criminal abuse.

Jozef Wesolowski, Former Vatican Diplomat Accused of Child Sex Abuse, Is Dead

Orlando Barria / Catholic News Service / RNS

Jozef Wesolowski, in 2011. Photo via Orlando Barria / Catholic News Service / RNS

The Polish ex-nuncio — as Vatican ambassadors are called — had been due to stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children during his time in the Dominican Republic. Criminal proceedings were expected to get underway on July 11 but were halted after Wesolowski was hospitalized.

A lawyer for the former bishop said at the time he was unaware of Wesolowski’s suffering from health problems.

“I saw him two or three days ago, and, given his age and his state of mind, he was fine,” said Antonello Blasi, according to The Associated Press. The lawyer told the court that Wesolowski had been “willing and able” to come to court.

An Inheritance of Scars

“WHAT YOU do to children matters. And they may never forget.”

This thread runs aggressively through Toni Morrison’s most recent novel, God Help the Child. The speaker is Sweetness, a woman who shares her family’s wounds from trying to pass for white, or “high-yellow,” for generations. Of trying to blend in well enough to drink at fountains, to try on hats in stores, to use the same Bible as whites during ceremonies. When her child and the novel’s focus, Bride, is born black, “midnight black, Sudanese black ... blue-black,” all the advancement Sweetness and her ancestors strove for dies. She loses her husband (who assumes she has been unfaithful), her social standing as a light-skinned woman, and any love for her child. “Her color is a cross she will always carry,” Sweetness says. “But it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not.”

Bride grows up without the love of a mother’s touch and scorned for being so oddly dark, until she learns to use her color to make herself exotic and marketable. What may seem to be a character living into her identity as a black woman is really a façade in order to regain what was lost because of her skin. Of course, what Bride sees as progress is actually proof that she too has fallen into Sweetness’ obsession with what Morrison described in a recent NPR interview as “skin privilege—the ranking of color in terms of its closeness to white people or white-skinned people and its devaluation according to how dark one is and the impact that has on people who are dedicated to the privileges of certain levels of skin color.” But while race and color as social constructs are themes in the book, they are not explored as deeply or given as much emphasis as childhood trauma.

As in some of Morrison’s other novels, magical realism conveys the battle between the past and the present, the spiritual and the physical, playing a poignant, visceral part in Bride’s journey. Bride goes through a literal metamorphosis, assuming it is penance for gruesome choices she made as a child to feel alive and as an adult to feel powerful. She is numbed to what true progress and success are, constantly trying to put a fragmented identity together until she can no longer get up and must face her trauma and changing body.

The only people in the novel who allow themselves to truly heal are a child named Rain and an ex-convict named Sofia. They speak to the power of self-forgiveness. Too often we carry the shame and hate handed to us by other people’s evil, whether from childhood trauma and abuse or complacency and apathy as adults. While we can and must be held accountable for our own mistakes, we must also be willing to take off the shroud of self-loathing and guilt, and move forward past trauma into self-acceptance and healing. Both Rain and Sofia, young and old, can see the power of blame and regret and refuse to walk that path, while Bride, her lover Booker, and her mother Sweetness will arguably always drag the sins of their forebears behind them.

“What you do to children matters. And they may never forget.”

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Vatican Orders Former Dominican Republic Archbishop to Stand Trial on Child Abuse Charges

Photo via Orlando Barria / Catholic News Service / RNS

Jozef Wesolowski. Photo via Orlando Barria / Catholic News Service / RNS

In an unprecedented move, the Vatican on June 15 announced its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, would stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children.

Wesolowski, 66, who had the title archbishop during his five-year post in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, was recalled to the Vatican in 2013. He was later the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on child abuse charges.

He also faces charges of possessing child pornography during his stay at the Holy See and ahead of his arrest in September 2014, the Vatican said in a statement.

The Strength of our Stories

Vintage Inscription. Photo by MyImages - Micha / Shutterstock

There is room and need for men’s stories in the narrative of ending violence against women.

In blending our separate and shared experiences we find common ground. Together they lead us to what Dr. King described as "the fierce urgency of now." Every action we take today will save others the pain and suffering that is in our collective past. We need to add male voices and stories to those of women who have been speaking out about violence for decades.

Today I work as a co-coordinator in Oregon for the We Will Speak Out campaign. Our goal is to bring faith communities into the movement to end domestic and gender-based violence. This not a women’s movement. It is a movement of all people of faith to speak up and speak out to end the use of power over women and children. It is a movement that walks with survivors in their healing journey. It is a movement that strives to live into Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The "Broken Silence" report commissioned by Sojourners and IMA World Health indicates that the main issue in keeping pastors from speaking out about sexual and gender-based violence is a lack of knowledge on the issue. By speaking our truth and sharing our history we provide both the common ground and urgency to take action—together and now.

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