NRB Chair Speaks with VOTF
VOTF representative Jane Merchant, Maine

On April 4 Dr. Patricia Ewers, the current chairperson of the National Review Board (NRB), spoke at a VOTF Southwest Florida gathering in Naples. Ewers agreed on short notice to speak to the VOTF affiliate in an open forum and to answer questions.

Ewers noted three factors in consideration of the incidents of abuse: the abusers, the victims, and the environment. Of those who abused, 40% did it only once. [See letters below that challenge this figure.] The other group, the serial abusers, will not be stopped; they are clever and know how to hide. A substantial number of victims were troubled children from troubled homes. The environment in which abuse takes place is a critical aspect of abuse prevention and needs careful assessment and understanding.

Again, Ewers noted that not enough has been done and said that the present audit process is inefficient. Cardinal George called for an outside audit after the failure in the Chicago diocese. That audit, the Defenbaugh Report, is available on line at

One questioner asked, “When Keating left. he said it was like dealing with the Cosa Nostra. Justice Burke said it was ‘disgusting.’ What will you say when you leave?" Ewers said that in the beginning many bishops were “not on board” but acknowledged there has been an enormous change of attitude among the bishops; they realize they have a serious problem on their hands. The culture in which the bishops operate is another issue; they have a vow of silence. Rome treats abuse as a sin, not a crime. In non-English speaking parts of the world, it is treated as neither. The bishops since the 1980's have pled with Rome to remove bad priests and to act on bishops who won't act.

Another questioner suggested that gay priests were the cause of the problem. Ewers responded that research indicates no higher percentage of homosexual abusers than heterosexual. She cited sexual immaturity as the greater cause. There should be a psychological profile of those entering the priesthood, but there has been no training for it. It was interesting that her response to this question was greeted with significant applause.

" I see incremental change, not transformative change," she said. "The current bishops were selected because they believe in the culture. The clerical culture is the problem."

How can we impact the Vatican was another question. The voice of the people has little influence at the Vatican but Ewers noted that the presence at the Vatican of the newly named cardinal, William Levada (formerly of Oregon and California) could help this situation. She emphasized the need for respectful dialogue and expressed a hope for fraternal correction among bishops. She also noted that bishops have agreed to outside audits and that there is a call for standards that would allow auditors access to personnel files, currently not available to them.

I asked about the Chicago situation and the outcome she expects. She believes that the Cardinal George situation could be the impetus for profound change. She is hopeful that if Cardinal George follows through, it will be transforming. Ewers noted that at every step along the way, the situation broke down–everything that could go wrong did.

[The March 25 and April 6 issue of the Vineyard have additional coverage of the breakdown in Chicago.]

RESPONSES to Jane’s recap of Dr. Ewers’ talk:

Carolyn Disco, VOTF Manchester, NH:
One thing that stands out to me in Ewers’ talk is her reference, “Of those who abused, 40% did it only once.” All that I have learned in the last four years calls me to question if that is really true. It may be that only one victim/survivor came forward, and others have not. Survivors I have met tell me they know of additional victims who will never come forward, and the profile of an abuser with just one victim is not the typical one in the psychological literature.

Note how often when a priest is accused, it brings forward additional victims. The bishops refuse to release all names, so how can a survivor know whether his or her perpetrator has been identified?

From Donna Doucette, VOTF Boston, MA:
There is a caveat here that should be addressed, however. We do not actually know if a priest abuser is a "typical" abuser. Calls have been made, more than once, for the bishops to finance studies that would tell us if a priest abuser is typical of pedophiles and others who sexually abuse minors or actually differs in some ways, whether the "culture" in seminaries or parishes somehow attracts/enables/supports such abusers, whether Church structure provides a haven/attraction for such abusers (much as abusers in the larger community are often drawn to playground and school settings because victims are so easily accessed there), and so on. I do not know if such studies have been mounted. If they have not, this might be an area to spotlight -- keep calling for the study, for example, or offer to set up funding for it.

In the Vineyard
April 20, 2006
Volume 5, Issue 8
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