This post was originally published on YArespond.
On August 28, more than 100 Catholic young adults gathered in the basement of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis to discuss the abuse crises in the Church. As we began our small group discussions, we asked each participant to keep in mind the diversity of the room. Some had very personal relationships to these crises. Some identified as liberal, others as conservative. We told everyone, “It’s very likely that people in here hold views that you find offensive, or that I do.” But we encouraged everyone to ask questions and to seek understanding, to resist the impulse to debate and correct others.
We often come back to the image of the need to “sit down in the living room together” and talk this out. Before we can respond, we need to know where everyone is at. These notes were taken during those conversations, and we are sharing them so that you can see the diversity, and also the unity, among the Twin Cities Catholic young adult community. The following is not meant to represent every Catholic young adult, but to provide you with some of the responses shared by those gathered.
Responding to abuse
In discussing clerical abuse, many argued for “higher standards” for the Church. Some expressed concerns about false accusations, but one person stated:
“The track record has been that accusations are not taken seriously, ignored, or suppressed.”
One person argued that every accusation and statement should be made publicly available so that people can decide for themselves based on the facts. Another looked to a Texas diocese that is now “treating all allegations as credible.”
Many stated that individual parishes are lacking in their responses to abuse. One person said that shock is seldom a good response to others’ trauma and that going into defense mode is not helpful either. Many emphasized a desire to hear from priests, particularly from their individual parish priests:
“How can this happen? Where is the accountability? Who knew? The secrets need to come out.”
Some expressed concerns about how reporting is done. One person brought up the issue of canon law, saying that there is no one to discipline bishops, cardinals, or the pope. Many agreed that the involvement of secular authorities is necessary, but one person expressed hesitation “to place all trust in government to fix this.” Another brought up concerns about handling the relationship between mandated reporting and the seal of confession.
Staying in the Church and lay involvement
Many argued for distinctions, separating faith, doctrine, and the sacraments from abuse. Others argued that “infallibility is now challenging to trust.” Many discussed the difficulty of remaining Catholic. One person said:
“People who have left the Church over this issue can’t be blamed for the problem.”
Many called for increased lay involvement in the Church, though some expressed frustration at the calls by clergy and Church leaders for lay responses. One person said, “Lay people haven’t really been involved, and now it’s been put on us.” One person recommended a committee of lay people similar to a grand jury to handle claims of abuse. Another person said that increased lay involvement and leadership may help the laity to better understand the Church, by giving them the experience and the burden of making difficult decisions for the Archdiocese.
Many expressed that change needs to happen from the top down. Some expressed that they saw no oversight for bishops and that they distrusted the bishops and the current “establishment” of the Church to handle these problems. One person expressed that she felt many clergymen still stand to lose a lot if the full extent of their roles in these abuses are made known, but that such concerns are unacceptable.
Many insisted that now is the time to “rip off the band-aid.” One person said that the Church needs to come clean now:
“It’s exhausting to do this every two years. What does it take for the Archdiocese to come clean?”
Another said, “When this came up in 2002, why were these things not covered?”
Many found the “defensiveness of Church leaders” frustrating, while others expressed that they were upset that many weren’t talking about it and “pretending it’s not out there.” One person said, “Out of respect for everyone, this needs to be addressed,” and another emphasized that it is healthy to have this discussion in parishes.
Many expressed a desire for increased financial transparency in the future. They called for a way to monitor the spending of the diocese, and also to monitor the donations. Many emphasized a need to “follow the funds as a way to monitor abuse.”
Knowledge of the laity
Many expressed a desire for more openness “from higher-ups.” One person said she found Pope Francis’ response unacceptable and that it was “not promoting a spirit of transparency. It sounds calculating.”
One group discussed the lack of openness to the laity concerning these issues:
“We kept coming back to the reality that we just don’t know what we don’t know.”
“The laity are incredibly frustrated at being shut out of the full knowledge of this.”
Many said that it simply doesn’t make sense to not be transparent now and emphasized the need to “just come clean.”
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