In these blog postings I continue my life-long journey of diagnosing and treating the pain and suffering of victims of clergy sexual abuse. I have been committed to this ministry since my initial involvement as a pediatrician caring for child victims and then listening to and helping give voice to victim-survivors of all ages. My work in understanding the systemic and cultural issues underlying this total contradiction to Jesus’ interaction with children has uncovered many issues including abuse of power, secrecy, silence, and denial which I explore in the Church and world today.
Almost fifty years after recognition of the extent and profound harms of the sexual abuse of minors in the Global West, and despite progress in policies and protocols for safeguarding, the pandemic produced an explosion of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children and women worldwide as well as human trafficking and child pornography. Tragically, the Church is not a credible force for the protection of children and prevention of abuse. The devastating spiritual harms when the offender is a “man of God” compound the pain and suffering.
In contrast to the pandemic, I have diagnosed the underlying pathology as endemic which is pervasive and multi-generational such that the community affected has no experience of health and vitality. It accepts the pathology as ‘normal’. We look for an easy to swallow ‘quick fix’ for our physical distress but the prescription for treating endemic pathology requires long term and demanding interventions, even changes in fundamental issues of attitudes and lifestyle. Assessing the prognosis for healing and renewal in this situation is even more risky than in acute care or pandemic.
From medicine, we know that the elements for healing are: a correct diagnosis, an effective and available treatment, a compliant patient, and a supportive environment. The prognosis is now profoundly affected by three factors: denial, polarizing divisions about the crisis, and tragedy fatigue from the ongoing vulnerability and sense of loss with its consequent compassion fatigue.
Denial of clergy abuse and the pandemic require faithful reflection on the Gospel call to protect the vulnerable. They also require accurate theological and scientific information and analysis of denial and its links to power and clergy identity.
The power of deep and polarizing divisions about God, discipleship, the Church of affluence versus the Church of the poor and marginalized and even the Eucharist needs to be confronted. It is a malignant force impeding healing and renewal.
The Church entered COVID-19 in a weakened and wounded state, which the loss of the Eucharist and spiritual supports has compounded. There is tragedy fatigue for all and evident burnout for Church leaders. If we share the burden of healing and pray for the humility to respond courageously to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the prognosis for healing is excellent.