Professor David K. Pooler, who has continued Garland’s work at Baylor by surveying 280 women survivors of clergy sexual abuse, has put together “A Guide to Best Practices” on how to prevent abuse and help those who’ve been victimized. “Critically, they will need to clearly understand the power structure in their organizations,” it says. “Survivors interviewed for this study agreed that appropriate power sharing can help make congregations safer. Thus, many of the best practices are embedded in a philosophy of shared governance, mutual respect, and conversation between congregants and church leaders.”
To get to the crux of the problem, the bishops will need to consider how something like this can be applied in the Catholic context. The meeting’s organizers plan to devote one day each to the themes of responsibility, accountability, and transparency; all of these topics apply as well to the abuse of adults.
The Baylor research is cited in a thoughtful fifty-six-page report that a task force of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of San Diego issued last November. Offering many specific proposals, the report takes on responsibility (“Bishops, as successors to the apostles, hold a particular responsibility”); accountability, and transparency (“In an era in which it is increasingly understood that openness and transparency promote accountability, there is very little transparency into this diocese’s record of response to incidents of clergy sexual misconduct, both historic and recent”).
The Rev. Paige Blair-Hubert, chairperson of the task force, said by email that the report has been well received and is beginning to be implemented. When the resolution to create the task force was put before a diocesan convention in 2017, it specifically dealt with the abuse of women as well as of children:
It has been 15 years since the Boston Globe exposed the horrific sexual abuse of children by priests within the Roman Catholic Church. There is now a general awareness that clergy sexual misconduct occurs in all denominations; however, it is a lesser-known fact that adult women are more likely than children to be victimized by clergy. In fact, based on the size of our own diocese, statistics would suggest that scores of women who are active members of our congregations have been or will be victims of clergy sexual misconduct in their adult lifetimes.
Similar acknowledgement needs to come from the Catholic Church, as with other religious denominations.
Ever since a new team took over the Vatican communication apparatus at the beginning of the year, the public has been told to lower any expectations it might have for the coming meeting for the protection of minors. But even if church authorities find it necessary to dash such hopes: one can always hope.