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Truth & reconciliation.

Neither canon law nor civil law processes can help the Catholic Church establish true accountability for the sexual-abuse scandal, argued Jennifer Haselberger during a talk she delivered yesterday at a conference for victims of clerical abuse. Haselberger--former top canonist for the struggling Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis--resigned in protest last year before going public with damning accounts of the way the archdiocese had handled cases of priests accused of sexual misconduct. Noting how difficult it was to acknowledge her role as "a perpetrator"--not of abuse itself but as part of a system that enabled it--she challenged her former colleagues in the Twin Cities and elsewhere to subject themselves to an examination of conscience with respect to their own roles in the scandal.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held its annual conference in Chicago this weekend, marking the organization's twenty-fifth anniversary. Speakers included Jason Berry, whose pioneering reporting--much of which ran in the National Catholic Reporter--introduced the scandal to a national audience; historian Garry Wills; Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, who served as an inaugural member of the U.S. bishops' National Review Board; and Haselberger.

Responding to Pope Francis's call for "the whole church to find the grace to weep, to feel ashamed and to make reparation" for the sexual-abuse crisis, Haselberger sought to find "concrete actions" the church might take to establish accountability. But she did not spend much time looking for accountability in canon or civil law, which do not "have anything of significance to offer in this regard." While canonical procedures can be helpful in clarifying the status of accused clerics and removing them from ministry, "the processes are by their very nature incapable of producing the results sought by Pope Francis, or of reconciling the one abused with the broader faith community."

(Haselberger's remarks were condensed from a longer paper--all quotes here are taken from the full version of her talk, which has not yet been published.)

Canonical trials are designed to "insulate" the Catholic community from knowing that abuse has been committed, Haselberger continued. They are "oriented toward the offender" because their purpose is to assess guilt, not repair relationships. "In such a process the victim of the violation is reduced to a mere witness to the crime."

Other aspects of canonical trials can function as stumbling blocks to "acknowledging the harm that has been suffered and to making appropriate reparation," Haselberger wrote. For example, when attempting to assess guilt, a jurist must determine what statute applied at the time the alleged offense was committed.

A canonist in the United States might on the same day find that she must inform one victim that his or her abuser is not required to be permanently removed from ministry according to the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People/Essential Norms [the canon laws written in response to the scandal, and that apply to the United States alone] because the victim was seventeen when the abuse was committed on April 24, 1994, whereas her response to a second victim, also seventeen, but abused on April 26, 1994, is that his or her abuser is subject to the provisions of the Charter.

Of course, determining whether a crime is actionable "is a necessary aspect of the application of law, but this is a difficult message to communicate when the system of law in question is the internal law of a religious institution and as such is expected, rightly or wrongly, to conform to a higher set of expectations." That point was driven home for her when she read about the Vatican's response to the UN's critical report on the church's handling of clerical sexual abuse. While she "can appreciate the legal accuracy of the Holy See’s defense that its adherence to the treaty can only be assessed in relation to what occurs within the territory of the Vatican City State, in my heart I found such a response to be, simply, beneath us."

The "secrecy and mystery that surrounds canonical processes" may have been established to protect both the victim and the accused, Haselberger argued, but it has come to "represent the lack of transparency for which the Catholic Church has been rightly assailed." That lack of transparency "has benefitted very few except for the offenders" because it enables them to "perpetuate their own narrative of wrongs and false accusations" without the risk of being exposed. "The weight of the pontifical secret," she continued, "is heaviest on those attempting to administer justice, not on those whose actions have destroyed it."

Civil law isn't much better because it provides "very little incentive" for perpetrators "and those who have enabled them" to come clean about their misdeeds, Haselberger wrote. Yet in criminal and civil trials victims must "undergo harrowing examinations both in and out of court in order to prove the abuse they have suffered." Even the document dumps that often accompany civil sexual-abuse suits don't provide the truth of what happened because, she explained, important details are usually redacted and "such documents rarely lay bare the motivation behind the actions they describe."

Financial settlements themselves don't do enough to satisfy the requirements of justice either, Haselberger claimed, because "the aggrieved party is offered a sum of money, without any admission of fault, in exchange, basically, for going away." In a footnote, Haselberger recounted a telling exchange she witnessed between a diocesan victims-assistance coordinator and an attorney who worked for another diocese. The coordinator was discussing how difficult it had been to persuade her diocese to pay funeral costs for a "destitute victim who had received a settlement years before." The lawyer criticized those efforts because "the purpose of the settlement had been to end the diocese’s obligation to the victim," Haselberger recalled.

So if neither civil nor canon law can reliably establish accountability for the sexual-abuse scandal, then what can? Haselberger proposed looking to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, created to respond to human-rights abuses that occurred under apartheid. The TRC has "acknowledgment, healing, and reconciliation as its primary objectives," she wrote.

The TRC's approach is "victim-centered," Haselberger explained--"unlike the current internal processes of the Catholic Church." The commission applied "a broader notion of accountability by requiring individual amnesty petitions to be accompanied by a ‘full disclosure of all the relevant facts.’" This was not a painless process because of the TRC's "extremely (and often uncomfortably) public nature." Transparency was the commission's watchword. Indeed, as Haselberger noted, the South African Broadcasting Corporation aired a weekly program summarizing the commission's work.

The TRC sought victims' testimony by traveling to victims in their towns and villages. The victims didn't have to go to the commission. It conducted two sets of inquiries. First it determined whether a human-rights violation had occurred, and then it identified the victim. Then it tried to establish the identity of the perpetrator and his accountability. These distinct inquiries meant, Haselberger explained, that even if the commission found that a person was killed by police during an apartheid protest, but that the police were acting in self-defense, the victim's experience is not minimized--nor is the country's obligation to provide reparation. That approach may offer a correction to inequities in the church's canonical system, "where processes cannot begin without a perpetrator who can be held accountable and who is subject to penal sanctions," according to Haselberger. Many victims, she continued in a footnote, "have been denied the opportunity to vindicate their claims canonically" because the accused died, left the priesthood voluntarily, or was laicized following an earlier canonical process.

Haselberger pointed out that "the commission’s mandate required it to investigate and respond to gross violations of human rights committed both by those defending apartheid and those committed to its eradication." If the churfch were to adopt a similar commission, she argued in a footnote, "members of some organizations that support or advocate for victims’ rights might also have to ask if they have committed any violations for which they would need to request amnesty." Apart from victims who became victimizers, "most violations in this category would likely not be violations of bodily integrity (severe violations), but the Universal Declaration of Human Rights also identifies privacy and reputation as human rights."

The Truth and Reconciliation's mandate also required it to identify all "persons, authorities, institutions, and organizations" responsible for violating human rights--and hold them accountable. That meant investigating both the individuals who committed those crimes and "those who had aided and abetted those acts (including conspiracy, incitement, instigation, command, and procurement)," Haselberger wrote. That too is "contrary to our present internal Church processes."

Controversially, the TRC allowed perpetrators to petition for amnesty. The idea was in part to give perpetrators a reason to be honest about the crimes they committed, even if this resulted in rampant deception. Still, as Haselberger pointed out, the commission encouraged victims to attend amnesty hearings, where they could question the petitioner and elicit evidence. That part of the process "would have greatly improved many of the Catholic Church’s private negotiations for so-called ‘prayer and penance’ accommodations,'" she wrote.

The reparations recommended by the TRC offer a model for what the church might adopt. Haselberger suggested that "Catholic schools, colleges, and universities could establish scholarships for victims and/or their family members." She floated the idea that Catholic health care agencies that "provided services to clergy offenders could dedicate resources towards providing counseling, facilitating support groups, or providing other care for victims." All of that could be done without bishops' approval.

The public nature of the TRC's work was intended to make it harder to lie about the terrible history of apartheid. The Catholic Church needs that too, Haselberger wrote. "There is a very real need to similarly expose the number of lies circulating unchallenged in the discourse of the Catholic Church regarding its response to sexual abuse, as those of us who have worked within the Church and have confronted these issues are all too aware." She encouraged those attending the SNAP conference to imagine what it would be like for the church to listen

as 21,300 individuals recounted their experience of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, followed by a similar period of time in which those responsible for that abuse--priests and deacons as well as the bishops and other officials who either enabled or failed to prevent the abuse--were forced to publicly either fully admitted to their actions and the motivations behind them, or were subpoenaed and forced to respond to the charges leveled against them.

Knowing the motives of those who committed abuse and those church leaders who responded to it--adequately or not--remains all too necessary, Haselberger argued, "in order to ensure such abuses of power do not continue, as they have even in the decade following the adoption [by the U.S. Catholic bishops] of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People/Essential Norms." It might also have the effect of bolstering priests' morale because it would increase the church's credibility in the eyes of the faithful, she noted. And it could quell fears among clerics that an errant touch would lead to public shaming and removal from ministry.

She acknowledged that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops attempted to get at the truth of what happened by commissioning two studies of the scandal, one presenting data on victims and perpetrators and another attempting to explain what happened. But she also expressed doubt about the studies: "two of the three diocese in which I have worked did not provide accurate information to the researchers."

Would a Catholic Truth and Reconciliation Commission help to address the weaknesses in the U.S. bishops' studies of the abuse crisis? Haselberger thinks so. But, as she told attendees of the SNAP conference, "what I have proposed will never and likely could never be." That's because, she explained, the Catholic Church cannot indemnify its perpetrators or its assets from criminal and civil actions. So-called window legislation, which allows plaintiffs to sue for alleged abuse that took place long ago, makes it financially impossible for the church to authorizes such a commission.

But that doesn't mean the thought experiment lacks value. "The challenge is for each of us to situate ourselves within the paradigm established by the TRC, and honestly acknowledge our status as perpetrator or victim." It's not difficult point at an abuser and say, "There. There is the perpetrator." The harder, more important work requires the church to acknowledge "not only who committed what acts, but also who benefited from them, as well as to identify those structures and practices that facilitated them--our acts and omissions--and to acknowledge our accountability."

"Our"? In a footnote, Haselberger recalled the April deposition of a former vicar general of the Twin Cities diocese. In sworn testimony, "Father Kevin McDonough acknowledged that the Catholic Community Foundation was established as a way to insulate funds provided ‘for the support of Catholic services’ from potential legal judgments and settlements," she wrote. The CCF was established in order to support the "spiritual, educational and social needs of our Catholic community," according to its website. "It can be argued that anyone who benefitted from the work of the foundation (which is almost every Catholic in the Archdiocese since 1992), also benefitted from, and perhaps even contributed to, a policy designed to limit reparations made to those with legitimate claims against the Archdiocese (or the Archdiocese’s ability to pay them)," Haselberger wrote. "One might ask if such actions could also be understood as mistaking right or wrong for what is good or bad for the institution, and also begs the question of whether making reparation towards those who have been harmed is not also a spiritual and social need of the Catholic community."

For her, this sort of self-examination hasn't been easy. "It was extremely painful to come to the realization that my position in this paradigm was equivalent to that of an Afrikaner--in other words, that I was a perpetrator"--not of sexual abuse but as a part of an organization that enabled it. Nor has it been easy to go through "the process of publicly exposing the violations that have occurred and my complicity with them." But doing so was, she said, the only way she could make reparation to the victims of abuse--and request amnesty, if only symbolically.

As she brought her speech to a close, Haselberger called on her former colleagues in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis "and beyond, canon lawyers and civil lawyers, chancery officials and ordained ministers, to subject themselves to a similar examination" of conscience. "It is time that they ask themselves for what violations they need to seek amnesty, and what truths they must admit in order to receive it."

After all, she concluded, "They are certainly part of the ‘whole church’ that the Holy Father wishes to make reparation, and having personally and intimately encountered the reality of sexual abuse by clergy, they should not need grace to prod them into weeping or feeling ashamed."

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Thanks - if I recall, some of us have been proposing TRC for years and Commonweal editors questioned this approach as unrealistic.  Other are advocating for the Australian approach in the US - a formal, US government investigation which is a more legal approach rather than the experience of South Africa.  Why can't a TRC approach be used which clearly lays out compensation limits, etc.?  (Think of how much money has been wasted by various dioceses in paying defense attorneys, bankruptcy lawyers, etc.)

(Side note - the CCF in Minneapolis-St. Paul was modeled on the Catholic Foundation in the Dallas Diocese and many other dioceses.  Not many folks have done the internal analysis and self-reflection that Ms. Haselberger calls for.  Rather, they blame the bishop(s) or Rome and see these foundations as a way to protect their local school, parish, etc.  So, much for the idea of the *commonweal* or common good)

Keiran Tapsell's new book, Potiphar's Wife, does an excellent job of tracing the history of the * secret of the Holy Office* modified by Paul VI in 1974 to the *Pontifical Secret* in Secreta Continere. BTW - there was no secret of the Holy Office until 1921 - the history of how the church handled clerical abusers from roughly 300 AD to the year 1900 has been that certain clerical abusers were turned over to civil authorities.  The last hundred years have been an anamoly in our church history of dealing with clerical abusers. (six popes have created this anamoly)

It also spends a number of chapters on Ratzinger/Benedict's mental reservation about whether Crimen Solicitationis was revoked or not by the 1983 Code of Canon Law - first, they said it was; then, in 2001, they said it wasn't and then in 2010, Benedict rewrote history when he allowed civil authorities to be notified (if that was the civil law of the land) and said that Crimen was revoked.  (and, of course, in the meantime, he wrote the Irish bishops and blamed them for not following canon law even though Crimen said something different - talk about Orwellian double speak or typical Vatican bella figura.)


Thank you, Grant. Truly the Holy Spirit is at work here. Jennifer Haselberger is an inspiration to me, which I will now feel challenged to live up to.

But, as she told attendees of the SNAP conference, "what I have proposed will never and likely could never be." That's because, she explained, the Catholic Church cannot indemnify its perpetrators or its assets from criminal and civil actions. So-called window legislation, which allows plaintiffs to sue for alleged abuse that took place long ago, makes it financially impossible for the church to authorizes such a commission."

This touches on an important problem that has really sent the bishops astray. Lawyers telling the bishops to deny everything to avoid paying huge penalties. Maybe a church wide fund can be established with an arbitrator who will determine compensation. From there reconciliation might be easier since the fear of financial ruin will be removed. At the same time her advice is sound that all of us can ackowledge how we need amnesty because of the way we have obstructed reconciliation for the victims. 

I'm not a lawyer, but shouldn't it be possible for the bishops, through the USCCD for instance, to reach a sort of settlement with victims, as represented by SNAP for instance, to set up a Truth and Reconciliation style process? Dioceses and victims would be free to opt out, like in any class-action settlement, but isn't it possible for those that opt in to give up their right to sue independently?

I don't think a TRC system would work for clergy sex abuse for a couple of  reasons. 

  As limited in satisfaction as a criminal or civil trial might be, it is a public acceptance of accountability for wrongness at a level our civil society is willing to punish - I don't think an"i'm sorry" will have the same weight.

And I suspect that an admission of guilt by a perpetrator will be insufficient for many vistims  because they were failed even more by the church's cover ups.   I seriously doubt we will ever get church leaders to publically admit their guilt for this, both because of worries about being financially and criminally liable, and because bishops and the Vatican care more about their reutations than about justice.



In addition to your two straightforward reasons why Church leaders find it hard to admit culpability, reasons which would apply equally to any secular organization, I have long thought that there is a peculiar blindness the Church has brought upon itself in believing so confidently in its own righteousness and that of its ministers.

In the distant past of the 50s and 60s, the worst you were ever likely to hear about Father So-and-So was that "perhaps he takes a wee drop too much now and then." It was certainly not the case that sexual abuse of children was unheard of. Unordained creeps hanging around a schoolyard would soon find themselves talking to the police. It was just not possible, it was inconceivable, that kindly men of the cloth, our teachers and our intercessors before God, men with "Reverend" prefixed to their names, could be preying on children.

And so when an allegation was made against a priest, the default position was that it simply could not be a plain crime. It was a misunderstanding, a bit of thoughtless, over-exuberant touching, playfulness. At worst, it was a sin of indiscretion in a man too innocent of the world to be truly culpable. 

But it could also be an embarrassment to Holy Mother Church if it was not carefully managed. Best to remove Father from the scene of his temptation, enroll him in a treatment program that would certify a complete and permanent recovery, and then, after an intensive course of prayer, settle him quietly in another parish. Memories are short, people forget. Well, except the victims. But we won't use that word. And there is certainly no occasion to restrict the poor man's activities or limit his ministry. Why subject him to such humiliation for a thing he already regrets? Besides, that would call further attention to something that cannot be too soon forgotten. We are confident that all will be well.

The Church is not alone in suffering this blindness. No one finds it easy to believe a horrible truth about a brother or a son or anyone close. What is peculiar for the Church, and most dangerous for children, is the wash of sanctity that obscures all. Before bishops can acknowledge particular faults and failings, they must confess that they and their priests are ordinary men.

Jennifer Haselberger has been discredited.

Haselberger cried that a priest had pornography on his computer which "appear[ed] to show children." The police investigated. Thoroughly. For months. *Twice*. They failed to find a single image of kiddie porn. Nada. Zilch.

Meanwhile, Minn. Public Radio (MPR) loudly broadcast the claim, and the priest's reputation was irreparably shattered. The guy is still out of ministry because of the media frenzy.

Way to go, Jen!


No one who wants to be taken seriously on a story like this would link to a supposed news site without acknowledging that it is his own blog. That omission discredits you.


Long ago, while the infamous Dallas Charter was in the process of being written and debated, I recommended to then archbishop William Levada that the only credible way for the church to recover the trust and confidence of Catholic people and the public in general was to adopt a South African-style Truth & Reconciliation Commission with real authority and power to compel the participation and cooperation of all bishops, priests and religious.  

Anything else would only be a half-measure attempt to address the greatest scandal to befall the church since the crusades and the Inquisition.

Levada sneered at me:  "How could you expect the church to do more?  We have already done so much!" [Direct quote.]  I realized in that moment that there would be no T&RC since I was aware that Levada was a trusted acolyte of Joseph Ratzinger who would later make Levada cardinal to oversee the worldwide cover-up at the CDF.  I understood then that I was participating in the elaborate cover-up.  

If I wanted my own personal and professional integrity to remain intact, I understood that I needed to leave the review board - which I did after Levada blocked all attempts to investigate the actions of former SF archbishop John Quinn when it was revealed that one of the most notorious child abusers - former SF chancellor and canonist Gregory Ingels - was indicted by a Marin County grand jury and was living in John Quinn's retirement home with the former archbishop on the grounds of St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park.

I still believe the preferred way to get out of this mess is a T&RC.  But, I'm not holding my breath.  The hierarchs' political hegemony over the church is too entrenched.  The hierarchy's radical ideology and endemic narcissism [as Papa Francesco has acknowledged] just won't allow it.  We would need at least three or more consecutive Papa Francesco papacies to knock the narcissistic and self-referential starch out the hierarchs.

But I am heartened to hear that folks like Jennifer Haselburger and several of the comments on this blog are finally making the connection between the nexus of the hierarchs' feudal oligarchy and their unaccountable and unfettered access to mountains of money.  That is how their political and ideological hegemony is fueled and fed.

If we Catholics are really serious about reforming and renewing the priesthood from parish to pope, then we must find ways to SEPARATE the MINISTRY from the MONEY.

You want to curb the clericalism, and the hierarchs' clueless support and participation in scandal?  Then take away their access to their mad money that allows them continue the cover-up and on-going abuse of children, and their political exploitation of the rest of the church.  

It takes $billions to keep a medieval feudal oligarchy going in the 21st century.  Grab them by the b_ _ _ s, then their hearts and minds will certainly follow.

Let the People Decide!


BTW:  If you don’t think the hierarchs aren’t sitting on mountains of money check out these shades of Downton Abbey:

Someone might have realized that the "new" process was not working when people who were chosen to assist or serve on commissions on sexual abuse resigned and publicly expressed disillusionment -- as Anne Burke and Frank Keating and Jennifer Haselberger, as well as others, have all done. 

South Africa (and Argentina, which also had a truth commission) had to try to achieve a new normal for their society, from top to bottom, and the truth commisions were a way of acknowledging a horrendously unjust but institutionally legal status quo.  These abuses and crimes (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) were open and notorious and quite literally defined these societies.  Sexual abuse of children has not been an institutionally legal status quo for a long time, and thus, it is much easier, and probably much more accurate to draw lines between perpetrators of crimes and others.  It's true that this is a subject no one wants to think about, and so, perhaps, "regular" Catholics were happy not to raise questions or to complaint too vigorously about failure to discipline and expel individual priests. 

But still, I disagree with Haselberger that "everyone has benefited" in the same way from sexual abuse that Afrikaners and wealthy Argentines benefited from unjust regimes in those countries.  Afrikaners have more wealth directly as a result of their repression of the indigenous population.  Most people would say, rightfully in my view, that they have not benefited from the commission of crimes against children -- even if they do benefit from measures taken to limit the payment of damages.  Even with the creation of special entities, it is also probably accurate to say that many donations would not be made if donors could not be sure that their donations would be used for specific charitable endeavors. 

So truth and reconciliation commissions might have their place, but reading between the lines, I would wager that their use by church officials would be just another means of trying to protect those who were in charge from accountability, by blurring the lines between the guilty and the innocent. 

@ Barbara:  If you're going to denigrate the arguments and reasoning of folks like Haselberger, then it is incumbent upon you to tell us exactly how you would go about "accountability" for the hierarchs?

You need to tell us just how you would go about SEPARATING the MINISTRY from the MONEY?

Jim, Let me stress, I am not encouraging special entities, and I think there is a duty for dioceses to deal ethically with victims of sexual abuse, I am just pointing out that benefiting from this kind of tactic is different from benefiting from the perpetration of child sexual abuse in a way that makes a general statement that "we all benefited" somewhat unpersuasive.  And if there is one thing that would sink a truth and reconciliation process, it is the belief by any important constituency that they are being mischaracterized or dealt with unfairly.  To that end, I can see a truth and reconciliation process being used as a means to perpetrate injustice and diffuse blame in a way that absolves those who have much more to answer for -- just as review boards have been.  Which is to say that I think a truth and reconciliation commission works only when there is a consensus that change must occur, and that most people, even if not always wholeheartedly, have agreed to and support that change.  I don't see that consensus exists within the church hierarchy.  And if you try to convince the rank and file that they are also responsible for sexual abuse, I feel sure that there is no consensus their either. 

I stopped donating money to my church a long time ago, not because I wanted it to have less money to settle sex abuse suits, but because I was generally disillusioned, with the sex abuse scandal being one of the reasons.   I think it is true that people who might want to support (say) scholarships for Catholic students won't bother donating to a general fund, but I would also say that they might be more focused on attorneys' fees than settlement amounts.  I suppose I would say that to be ethical, they should just stop donating, like I did.  That also results in less money for victims (along with everyone else), but less money might motivate authorities to actually do something productive instead of just pretending to.  So having the special entities in place does allow the status quo to be perpetuated in away that it could not otherwise. 


Of course this approach only works if parties are committed to both Truth and Reconciliation, but Church officials aren't committed to telling the Truth and SNAP (and other affiliates of Jeff Anderson & Associates) aren't committed to Reconciliation.

@ Marty:  It is NOT the job of SNAP [nor it is the job of Jeff Anderson] to work for "Reconciliation."

That is OUR job - us sheeple in the pews!

BTW:  The T&RC in South Africa could compel testimony, but they could not compel confessions.  The benefit for those who committed atrocities under aparthied to come forward and testify to their crimes was that there would be no retributions or punishment.  If they didn't cooperate with the T&RC, then they were referred to the criminal courts.  [The T&RC was led by Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu who ahered assiduously to Gospel prinicples of forgiveness and mercy:  "The Truth will set you free!"]

In the distant past of the 50s and 60s, the worst you were ever likely to hear about Father So-and-So was that "perhaps he takes a wee drop too much now and then.

At my grade school, we heard the shocking news about Fr. Feeney.  But never a peep about sexual abuse.  We had a priest, early 50s, who was so crazy that even the non-Catholic kids in the parish had heard of him.  And there was another priest, late 50s, notorious among the 8th grade and high school girls for asking probing questions in the confessional and for coming onto them at school and CYC picnics, etc. 

But what I want to say is this:  there was still a very strong memory at that time of the bitter anti-Catholicism of the 19th century, the Al Smith campaign, the APA, etc., etc., so no one should be surprised that even if some people knew about evil priests (and some did -- cops, among others), they kept their mouths shut.

I echo Tim Huegerich's comment re: Haselberger and the Holy Spirit. 

Re: Haselberger's statement that the church cannot actually undertake a process of truth-telling because it can't indemnify itself and its assets: that is clearly the case of the church on its own.  But civil authorities have that power.  Should civil authorities protect the church from litigation, for the sake of the truth?  And if so, would civil authorities, the church and victims all cooperate to make this possible?


Barbara - by "special entities", do mean diocesan funds that are earmarked for certain ministries or purposes (and thus shielded from payouts to victims and their attorneys)?

I think a truth and reconciliation commission works only when there is a consensus that change must occur, and that most people, even if not always wholeheartedly, have agreed to and support that change.  I don't see that consensus exists within the church hierarchy.

Barbara, many thanks for the excellent comments.  Regarding the snippet I've pasted here: I don't doubt that you're right that, nationally, the bishops may not come to a consensus.  But could not a single diocese undertake such a process on its own, particularly in cooperation with civil authorities (and, of course, victims)?  If the ordinary of that diocese is convinced of the wisdom of the undertaking, no consensus is necessary.


Jim Jenkins

I dont see how you can ask the hierarchy to work for reconciliation and at the same time claim that SNAP need not work for reconciliation.  One party cannot reconcile with themselves.

Jim, the idea that the diocese sets up a special entity to receive donations so that funds are not available except for certain activities specifically part of that entity's mission.  Many donors designate funds to be used only for certain purposes as well, but that can be difficult to keep track of and so, if those funds are in a general account, my assumption is that they would be counted as an asset of the diocese or parish for purposes of estimating assets available for payment of settlement claims, assuming that they are not (as most are not) covered by insurance.  I do think that people should realize if special vehicles are being set up to avoid making payments to victims, that to consciously try to avoid paying for damages is, to some extent, to perpetuate the abuse and its effects or at the very least to send a message that one doesn't really care about it. 

Jim, I don't know how you would do it with the kind of transparency and humility that would make it effective if you can't limit the reach of its effects.  I doubt if most diocesan authorities could bring themselves to risk the consequences of openly explaining how diocesan authorities erred in the handling of abuse cases.  And what you would need to do to contain those effects would undermine its transparency and credibility.  The analogy that comes to mind is balancing a checkbook -- once you stop doing it monthly, eventually, you just can't do it no matter how much you might want to, and if by chance you do uncover a mistake that was made years ago, it's too late to correct it now.  There are things that just can't be reconciled let alone made whole. 

@ Bruce:  SNAP is not a religiously affiliated organization.  It is a support group for those who have been assaulted by priests/ministers.  SNAP is rightly dedicated and focused on promoting the interests and revealing the stories of abuse and exploitation of survivors.

Most survivors don't want to reconcile with the church or the perpetrators.  [Many get physically ill just merely walking into a church.]  Survivors want justice and peace.  Survivors know that healing, if it ever comes to them, will take a life-time of struggle.  Sadly, the hierarchs have ensured that it will take that long by shoddy way they have treated survivors.

Considering the parable of the Good Samaritan, I don't ever recall Jesus' insistence that the victim left in the ditch had a responsibility to seek out those who had violated him ["Tore off his clothes" - what was that an allusion to? Sounds like sexual abuse to me!] so that he or she could experience reconciliation.

The point of the parable, if you will recall, is that Jesus is responding to a question of just "who is my neighbor?"  Seems to me, that would apply more to you, Bruce, and to me, and to all of us sheeple, than it would to survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of Catholic priests and bishops.

I do think that people should realize if special vehicles are being set up to avoid making payments to victims, that to consciously try to avoid paying for damages is, to some extent, to perpetuate the abuse and its effects or at the very least to send a message that one doesn't really care about it. 

I guess I wouldn't see it that way, for a few reasons:

  • Without denying the church's obligation to make victims whole somehow, the church nevertheless has many other missions and obligations that also are entitled to funding.  As a member of the church, I have an obligation to support all those things: making victims whole to be sure, but also the church' sacramental life, proclaiming the Gospel, feeding the poor, educating children, providing for a Cristian burial, and all of the other activities that the church's mission encompasses.  
  • There is also the question of whether and to what extent a financial payout make victims whole.   Paying victims and their attorneys millions of dollars may not always equate with justice and may do little or nothing to help victims heal.  Donors with genuine qualms about paying large amounts to victims should be able to direct their money accordingly.  Folks who disagree with those qualms are welcome to try to educate those donors.
  • Finally, there is the point that the diocesan officials entrusted with stewarding donations today may  not be the same regime that enabled and/or covered up abuse a couple of decades ago.  Giving money today isn't demonstrably contributing to problems that others, now gone, brought about.


SNAP is not a religiously affiliated organization.  It is a support group for those who have been assaulted by priests/ministers.  SNAP is rightly dedicated and focused on promoting the interests and revealing the stories of abuse and exploitation of survivors.

I would imagine that some portions of Haselberger's talk, e.g. her discussion of the limits of civil law to help victims, were challenging for SNAP officials and supporters.


Here's an accurate store about Rev. Shelley (vs. DPierre's biased reporting):

Oh yeah, he still does not have an assignment - wonder why?

BTW - Nienstedt had to release a new list of accused and credible clerical abusers - shockingly, it is three times longer than the previous list reported in December, 2013.  Can that be?

Catch also Anderson's news conference concerning New Ulm - Nienstedt was bishop there in 2004 and provided the John Jay Study five names of credibly accused clerics....oh my gosh, today the list grew to 8 credibly accused clerics and after Nienstedt released a statement that he had completely covered all abusers.

Jim P., sure, for all those reasons you might say the answers to these ethical questions are not straightforward, but still, the larger point is, certain needs and missions are insulated from the risk of being balanced against the claims of victims of sexual abuse.

Barbara, what we need is not to make things whole, since that is impossible as you say. What we need, in the imagery of James Alison, is a gaping *hole*: "However, any prison in which there emerges an uncloseable hole ceases to be a prison and becomes a quite different sort of collective. While some in it may prefer the stability and order of life before the hole, and act as though there were no hole in the system, the fact is that the entire system has now been altered."

In other words, we need to gently ask our diocesan leaders to live out their calling to be little Christs, leading us to do the same. If it is true that all or most dioceses (in this country, for starters) have systematically failed to protect victims and doubly failed to do appropriate penance to them for this failure, then what we need is an immense undertaking to expose this reality and beg forgiveness from all. And we need to stretch our imaginations to envision it. Do we really want to wait for another pope hundreds of years from now to give a genuine apology, as Pope John Paul II rightfully did for the Church's treatment of Galileo? If the person who many looked to as the credible face of reform, Archbishop Flynn, was really as duplicitous as MPR makes it seem, we need to think big indeed.

There's a sense in which you are completely right that lay Catholics did not benefit from the facilitation and coverup from these terrible crimes, so that it would be unjust for us to pay a financial penalty for them. However, there is a deeper sense in which we did benefit, a sense in which diocesan officials were right to montrously think that we *wanted* them to cover up these crimes. It was our reputation and sense of self-righteousness that they were protecting. It was our fiercely guarded identity as good people that threatened them. If they had publicly turned over every accusation to the police as they should have, would we really have thanked them, glad that justice was served and eager to help compensate any victims that *our* organization had created? No, we would have blamed them and left them, re-directing our energies and donations elsewhere.

There's an important spiritual sense in which we are all complicit in this, and something of the magnitude of a Truth and Reconciliation commission is really the least we can do. You're right that something like consensus is required, but the utter absense of such a consensus now does not mean it is impossible. This is what being an Easter people means, no? A core part of being Catholic is owning up to being susceptible to serious sin, recognizing that we are really no different from our ancestors who committed the abuses involved in the crusades, the inquisition, slavery, and all the rest. Even though none of us had any causal relationship whatsoever to Christ's painful death, we believe that he suffered for our sins.

@ Jim Pauwels:  Not surprised that you "wouldn't see it that way."

  • the church nevertheless has many other missions and obligations that also are entitled to funding:  Unless the hierarchs are defrauding and lying to us again - which I would contend is probable, most of the "costs" of the abuse and cover-up were financed through self-funded diocesean insurances.  Many diocese shifted money around to dummy corporations to avoid liability in court settlements [a la what Dolan did in Milwaukee].
  • financial payout make victims whole:  I don't know if any amount of money in the world can make someone whole after they have been rape and sodomized when they were a child.  But it is as close to justice and redress of grievances that survivors will ever get from the rapacious hierarchs.
  • diocesan officials entrusted with stewarding donations today may  not be the same regime:  That is a difference without a distinction.  All of these diocese are corporations [under the legal principle of corporation sole which the hierarchs relish because it gives them absolute legal control over every inch of property, stick of furniture, penny in any bank account] and therefore by law they are a continuing legal entity which is legally responsible for all the actions and liabilities of the corporation.  That's the way the hierarchs like it, so now they can just pay-up for their malfeasance and corruption.

JP, no amount of weasel words now can absolve you or the hierarchs from the legal and moral responsibilities and liabilities we Catholics owe to survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation by priests and bishops.  

Jim Jenkins: I trust you see the contradiction in your first bullet: if insurance payouts are covering the costs of victim awards and settlements, there is no need to shift diocesan money around to insulate it from those claims.  And no diocese would need to seek the protection of bankruptcy courts if insurers are completely covering awards and settlements.    I expect that the sources of payouts to victims and their attorneys include insurers and diocesan funds.  The shifting money around probably is a different symptom of the same thing that Barbara has been commenting about: special entities (financial/legal structures) that are shielded from victims' claims.  But to note that such structures exist and that they are funded doesn't address their justice or lack thereof.  My view, and I assume it one that many Catholics would share, is that the church should both pay victims punitive damages and continue to fund its mission.  Working from that view, it seems that it may be just to shield some funds from victims' claims.  (It isn't necessarily so, but it may be so.)  Perhaps it's wrong to shield funds from victims' claims.  Or perhaps it isn't wrong.  Obviously, you're convinced that it isn't wrong.  What are your reasons?

Regarding justice and redress of grievances: I agree with you that all the money in the world may not make a difference.  The topic under discussion is truth and reconciliation, which are not financial categories.  If a way could be arranged (e.g. a Truth and Reconciliation Commission) to bring about truth-teling and reconciliation between victims and the church, at the price of exempting the church from victim lawsuits, how far would that go toward justice and redressing victims' grievances?  Would you support such an arrangement?

Your point about the legal, corporate reality of the institutional church is correct, of course, as far as it goes, but it seems to completely ignore Haselberger's critique of legal strategies to bring about truth and reconciliation.  Do you think Haselberger's critique is wrong?  If so, why?

These are not weasel words, Jim J.  This comment is an attempt to engage you in a civil discussion.  




Tim, my point is, details matter.  Of course one can argue that ordinary Catholics were being protected by keeping sexual abuse hidden and abusers on the move, I am sure that's one of a number of excuses told by church authorities to themselves and others.  However, ordinary Catholics did not participate knowingly in those decisions and so might react with something less than a sense of personal culpability when confronted with the accusation that evil was being done for their own protection.  Sort of how I feel when I found out that the Bush administration was torturing prisoners for my safety.  When a person arrogates authority to themselves and hides actions from others, it might strike one as the height of arrogance to ask for shared moral responsibility from those who were actively deprived of agency.  The "answer" or the "reconciliation" that needs to happen is the reconciliation of church authorities that they are not the church and that for actions to be fully the responsibility of the church including its members means those members have to be given shared agency in the decisions that are made on behalf of the church.  This is not something the hierarchy is prepared to do and I would bet real money that they are only too happy to absolve parishioners of blame in order to maintain authority.

Jim Pauwels:  I think I'm being very civil.  

I just don't think we should adopt or accept attitudes and language that obfuscates the reality that our hierarchs have basically dealt with this whole abuse scandal more as the corporate hacks that they truly are rather than as the apostles of the Gospel that they claim to be.

I directly asked then SF archbishop Levada how he was going to finance all of the $millions in cash payouts to survivors and in attorney fees.  He soberly told me that the archdiocese was "self-insured" and that he had ordered a "preventive program" be established when he initially became archbishop.  Levada proclaimed that "no ministries would be curtailed" because of the pay-outs and legal fees.  Levada further opined that the SF archdiocese "would not have to consider bankruptcy" like other diocese had been forced to do.

That told me two things:

  1. Levada [probably with instructions from Rome because this corporatist never did anything where he didn't first check with the home office] had prepared and planned years ago for the eventuality of the day when all the archdiocese's legal liabilities regarding the abuse scandal would come home to roost.  [Probably that is why they made him a cardinal?]
  2. If $70 million doesn't make a dent in your bottom line, then how much more money must be salted away in the literally hundreds of bank accounts and investments?  We're talking big money here - and just how does that comport with the Gospel?

Haselberger's analysis and proposal is certainly welcomed.  I take no pleasure that it basically confirms many of my own positions that I have been talking about for years:  SEPARATE the MINISTRY from the MONEY!

IMO, Truth & Reconciliation will not be possible until we Catholics rid ourselves of our corporatists in the hierarchy.  That is going to take years of concerted action that will be resisted by the entrenched feudal hierarchy.  We'd better get ready for the long haul.

Papa Francesco can't do this on his own.  He needs us sheeple.  LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE! 

Barbara, I think you make excellent points. But your analogy also raises contrasting points that complicate your story. The sad fact is that "Americans are significantly more pro-torture now than during the Bush years..." ( And even having the right position (anti-torture or pro-transparency) does not absolve a person - whether in a democracy or an organization in which the sensus fidei is given even the least weight.

My concern is that we may let ourselves off too easily. While one reaction to Pres. Bush's torture might be to stop paying taxes and/or move to Canada, that hardly seems the most responsible approach to me. Instead, I would advocate *increasing* our involvement in our Church, through blog comments, yes, but also through parish involvement, letters to the diocesan paper, visits to the diocesan offices, and the much better ideas that I'm sure you can think of. I respect your decision to withdraw your donations, but in my view such a strategy is a blunt instrument unlikely to bring about the transformation we agree is needed. If you believe that such transformation is impossible, that's one thing, but I would talk to Catherine of Siena and others before you jump to that conclusion.

Tim, even when it comes to torture I feel like we citizens have more power (to vote, to donate money to candidates and advocacy organizations we agree with) and so on than I feel like church members have to influence the institutional Catholic church.  I read Jim J.'s last comment and wonder what  instruments he thinks the sheeple/people wield. 

Barbara, I see that you didn't take the time to reflect much on the experience of Catherine of Siena. We have it so much easier than she. Especially when you have the media on your side, not to mention prayer, impossibilities vanish. Catholics of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your resentment!

Here's a little known story about what happened in my own Diocese of Madison, WI a few years ago. The Diocese abrubtly shuttered our primary Diocesan ministry to the poor while the bishop was out of town: Here's what happened next: Basically, we said, "No, we want that to stay open." Lo and behold, the bishop apparently had a change of heart and publicly thanked us in the end. (The first link mentions me but I obviously had a tiny role relative to the people who did the heavy lifting behind the scenes, working out a new institutional arrangement for the Center.)

It is truly amazing to me to find well-informed yet despairing Catholics over a year into the papacy of Francis. Are you going to channel your energy into complaining and coming up with reasons why it is impossible for things to get better, or are you going to channel your anger into creativity.

A Salesian priest, when I first became aware enough of how the world works to become desperately angry, pointed me to the first books of Exodus describing the early life of Moses in a Busy Persons' Retreat. The people are being oppressed and "God heard their moaning." Moses at first strikes out violently in response to injustice, and ends up fleeing in fear and shame. It seems to take a wife and a child and many years to prepare Moses for his encounter with God, after which he returns to confront Pharoah.

@ Barbara:  Right now in most parishes across the US the sheeple are disorganized and dispirited.  The fact is that there is no "instruments ... that the sheeple/people weild" at this time.  The hierarchs have been working for centuries to make it that way.

Until the Catholic Church adopts real democratic reforms at the local level, the only real avenue of exerting any influence over the governance of the church is to control the collection and expenditure of money.

First of all, we Catholics need to ban cash donations, especially at the liturgy.  If we don't give specific direction to what we are contributing to, then we are just feeding narcissistic clerics to spend the money on whatever they choose - which as we have seen can be anything from lavish rectories or mansions to maintain tawdry relationships with lovers. 

My suggestion would be that each parish should begin by incorporating into non-profit trust or foundation that would be controlled completely by the people of the parish.  This would give people an charity-donation alternative where they could decide what ministry, what personnel, what property is funded.

Priest and bishops would have to come to the people and ask them to appropriate money for the various ministries of the church thereby giving the people a real say in the policies and procedures of the church.

It's time for a change in the way we organize and fund our common life as sheeple.

Among the original disciples of Jesus, many of whom became Apostles, the one who held the purse strings was Judas. We hear of only one "fundraising" project of his, and it is not generally accounted a success worth replicating. By that standard, things have only gotten better since. Now it's only buildings that are sold.

I am very much a lay person, not very well versed in legal matters.  But, it seems to me, there is something lacking when being 'accused' or 'credibly accused' becomes the equivalent of 'tried and convicted'.  It seems to me that if these events were occuring to any other large institution there would holy hell to pay for trampling on the Constitutional rights of the accused.   Someone please comment to help me understand if my observation is incorrect or not.  Does this not set a bad precedent?  Does this not violate the U.S. long tradition of protecting the rights of the accused?  Maybe I am expecting too much in an the era where the State of Minnesota is incarcerating people indeffinitely after their sentences are served or the Federal Government is holding people for years without charging them with a crime. 

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