In the Vineyard :: April 19, 2021 :: Volume 21, Issue 8
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
Each year, the federal government promotes child protection throughout the United States by naming April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Voice of the Faithful has long promoted child protection. This spring that commitment encompasses a new project to review the websites of every U.S. diocese to determine the level of adherence to child protection guidelines. While you await the results of VOTF’s review, read the information and see what activities the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled to recognize April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also compiled a list of resources which can be found here.
Global Symposium on Faith & Flourishing: Strategiesfor Preventing & Healing Child Sexual Abuse
Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program fostered the organization of a virtual three-day global symposium on the issue of child abuse. VOTF trustee and co-chair of our Protection of Children Working Group Dr, Pat Gomez, along with other working group members, tuned in for the streamed videos. Here is Pat’s summary.
The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University and their partners, including the Catholic University of America and the Interfaith Alliance for Safer Communities, presented a three-day international Symposium, earlier this month. Keynote speakers and small-session speakers focused on topics relating to sexual violence against children: in particular, prevention, healing and justice. Multiple voices of victims-survivors echoed a call to access the needed resources to rebuild their lives with dignity. Various international support groups called for religious communities to care well for survivors of abuse. Prevention of abuse was discussed as an important way to support survivors as it provides power to change the cultural, social, and religious barriers that currently exist.
The Keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Denis Mukwege, is an OB-GYN physician in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a human rights activist, and the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He spoke eloquently of creating a clinic for women and girl-victims of war-related abuse. Those experiences informed his international campaigning against the use of rape as a weapon of war.
Healing and hope were threads running throughout the majority of presentations. Some talks appeared to be conversations between presenters even though each presentation was recorded independently of other presentations. For example, Dr. Elizabeta Jevtic-Somlai, Director of Strategy for Their Story is Our Story, a refugee advocacy group, points out that violence suffered during war is often related to violence in victims’ lives during peacetime. The World Council of Churches advocates for ending harmful traditional practices and non-violent discipline of children. Remarkable to know that this Symposium greatly expanded conversations on child abuse across country and continent boundaries.
Participants had the opportunity to join small, virtual discussion groups each day. I learned about current abuse prevention efforts happening in Italy, among Muslim communities in Kenya, in Ireland, and in diverse US states. I discovered that those efforts resonate deeply with the current VOTF Protection of Children concentration on documenting prevention efforts in all U.S. dioceses.
In the U.S., widespread clergy sexual abuse revelations came to light more than 19 years ago. In response, Catholic and other faith communities worked to create and maintain safe environment protocols in parishes. This global symposium was a reminder that our prevention efforts must continue to expand into our wider social communities.
Cardinal Blasé J. Cupich presented the outreach and prevention measures followed in the Chicago Archdiocese, tracing the history of diocesan policies and procedures back to 1992 when Cardinal Bernardin took the Chicago policies to the annual USCCB meeting. Cardinal Cupich said that the bishops’ reaction at that time was “decidedly mixed.” I wondered how many children could have been spared sexual abuse by clergy and subsequent suffering IF the urgency of those policies and procedures were understood at that time and immediately implemented in ALL dioceses. Ten years later, the principles of the Chicago 1992 policies and procedures did form the basis for the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children approved in Dallas at the bishops’ 2002 general meeting.
Jewish therapist Dr. Asher Lipner addressed the impacts of psycho-spiritual healing of those who suffered childhood abuse: changes in belief systems; some victims lose their faith; and some are left feeling “soul-less.” He spoke to the role of the therapist in promoting healthy religious experiences, quoting research that indicates religion and belief in God can help people cope through trauma and stress. Msgr. Stephen Rosetti, D.Min, PhD of The Catholic University of America, sent out the call to develop positive spiritual support programs for those victimized as well as for their families.
Jesuit Hans Zollner, Ph.D., President for the Centre for Child Protection, Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, shared learning about education and prevention efforts garnered from his travels to 70 countries. He expressed belief that faith communities can have a huge impact on healing from and prevention of sexual abuse.
Although Fr. Zollner found varying levels of awareness of abuse in different countries, cultures, and continents, he expressed hope that nations come to a common understanding and collaboration in education, prevention, and safeguarding measures. He promotes awareness and education: that individuals come to understand the signs of abuse, learn how to intervene and report abuse, and how to help survivors in our communities by providing resources that help to heal.
Voices from around the globe spoke to the vital role of faith in healing from childhood sexual abuse. Voices from Muslim and Christian communities stressed the importance of faith leaders in prevention and healing from child sexual abuse. Speakers from diverse faith communities recommended sharing resources and learning from others as well as encouraging others in prevention and healing measures. One Muslim leader in Nairobi, Sheikh Ibrahim Lethome, suggests that faith leaders are gate keepers in the community and must use every opportunity to address the problem of child sexual abuse with the goal of prevention.
After a few such presentations, I thought, what about the cultural differences in how children are viewed, how abuse is understood? But I soon remembered that every child, no matter culture of origin or faith tradition, suffers gravely from sexual abuse.
Victor Vieth, JD, the Director of Education and Research at the Zero Abuse Program, presented a large body of research on the spiritual impact of childhood abuse. He recommends that Child Advocacy Centers in the U.S. address the spiritual effects of early childhood abuse by utilizing trauma-informed clergy in treatment programs. He urged increasing seminary education on the processes of healing from abuse and coordinating mental health, medical, and spiritual care for all victims of childhood abuse.
How then do we progress through the dimensions of a perpetrating faith community into a healing, dynamic faith community? How can we transform communities that have been sites of trauma into sites of healing?
Gerard McGlone, SJ, PhD, a Senior Fellow at the Berkeley Center at Georgetown University, suggests that forming a path to create a healing faith community requires ongoing work and vigilance. He urged a communal transformation into a culture of safety and protection. His observations resonated with a frequent theme in other presentations: the importance of having sustainable, locally owned processes for child protection.
Prevention of and healing from childhood sexual abuse, then, is a challenge that faces humanity and requires ongoing attention. As unifying factors, religion of any belief and a healing community can be powerful tools, if used properly, to address the evils of abuse so that the lives of those who experienced childhood abuse are not swallowed by the trauma.
The following link to videos from the symposium will remain active for 90 days: https://hfh.fas.harvard.edu/video-presentations
How a Bird’s Nest at the Vatican Led to theGlobal Symposium on Child Abuse
“The Vatican has teamed up with Harvard University to host a virtual Symposium on preventing and healing child sexual abuse, an event which grew out of a bird’s nest presented to Pope Francis, according to Jennifer Wortham, Ph.D., of Harvard. A bird’s nest can carry a powerful message: ‘All children deserve a safe and nurturing environment in which to grow.’ That simple, yet important, aim lies at the heart of this global symposium entitled ‘Faith and Flourishing: Strategies for Preventing and Healing Child Sexual Abuse.’
Dr. Wortham says she hopes April 8 will become the World Day for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Healing, and Justice, a proposal which she is launching at the United Nations in September.” By Devin Watkins, Vatican News
- ‘Profound evil’ of abuse must be eradicated, Pope Francis tells symposium, By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, in National Catholic Reporter
- Catholic leaders tell Harvard panel victims are ‘true north’ of anti-abuse fight, By John Lavenburg, Cruxnow.com
- Pope supports multi-faith efforts to eradicate child sexual abuse, By Independent Catholic News
Mark Your Calendar for Oct. 22-23: VOTF Virtual Conference
Save the dates! October 22-23 is VOTF’s 2021 Conference, Re—Membering the Church: Moving Forward. The virtual conference will avoid any potential conflicts with pandemic-related restrictions. Here’s our announcement and registration details. Keep checking the website and your emails from us for more infornation.
A Dangerous Loophole
On Wednesday, April 14, a former Catholic priest was arrested in Newport RI on charges of sexually abusing at least six children in California between 1995 and 2001. Christopher John Cunningham, age 58, was charged with 12 counts of “lewd acts upon a child under the age of 14.” He is accused of abusing boys between the ages of 10 and 12 while at several parishes in California, including Palmdale, Redondo Beach, Covina at St. Mary’s and Saint Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church. It is unclear if he also worked at other parishes.
Since 2013, Cunningham has been licensed and has practiced in Rhode Island as a clinical psychologist. Although the arrest came in Rhode Island, it is not the only state where former child abusers have been located in programs where they have direct access to children as counselors or therapists. Some state licensing boards lack the statutory tools to deny “credibly accused” abusers a civil license. Most simply are not aware that such allegations exist: because the Church was slow to publish lists of credibly accused clergy, because statutes of limitations in many cases led to no charges being filed, because followup of those dismissed from ministry was inadequate, and so on.
Cunningham was arrested at a home in Newport by the Rhode Island State Police Violent Fugitive Task Force. He was wanted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for his crimes, and the Rhode Island State Police worked with the request from California and the U.S. Marshals Service Pacific Southwest Regional Fugitive Task Force.
In 2017, Cunningham faced civil lawsuits but denied all charges at the time, according to his attorney. Cunningham will be returned to California to face these new criminal charges.
To read more about VOTF’s position on child protection, please see here.
For survivor support resources, please see here.
Better Protections Against Clergy Sexual AbuseRequire Changes
In December 2019, a seminar sponsored by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors convened to address safeguards for minors and other vulnerable members of the Catholic Church. Their conclusions indicated that more transparency, better accountability, and the implementation of due process were necessary to handle abuse allegations.
Pope Francis’s removal of the “pontifical secret” in cases involving sexual abuse of minors by clerics should provide better and more timely information to victims and those in affected communities “about the status, progress, and outcomes of cases, while maintaining due confidentiality about matters that might jeopardize reputations or the progress of process,” writes Father John P. Beal, a professor of canon law at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Priorities should also include informing victims of the outcomes of their cases, explaining why cases were decided in the way they were, and “build a basis upon which similar cases will be decided in the future.” The seminar also advised that the names of those found guilty of abuse should be published.
Last month, in France, the plenary assembly of the French Episcopal Conference (CEF) decided to establish an “interdiocesan canonical criminal court” in response to the crimes of sexual abuse of minors.
Ecclesiastical courts in France have been overwhelmed with other responsibilities; for example, they handle marriage annulments and are often short on resources and staff. Because they also were to handle sexual abuse cases, CEF president Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort said, “Many people suffer from the slowness of canonical procedures because officialdom is often overwhelmed.” The CEF hopes that the new canonical criminal court will provide swifter justice.
For survivor support resources, please see here.
Pope Francis’s Message of Prayer and Learning
At his weekly Wednesday audience, Pope Francis delivered a message of prayer and teaching. He began with a memory of how many Catholics learn to pray: on the laps of our grandparents, beside our childhood beds under the instruction of our parents. The growth of faith is dependent on moments of crisis, challenge, and resurrection, he explains. Prayer is the primary medium through which we learn and change, what gives us strength as individuals and as communities, supporting and accompanying one another.
“Communities and groups dedicated to prayer flourish in the Church,” he explains. Centers of community prayer “radiate spirituality,” and “are vital not only for the ecclesial fabric, but that of society itself.” The Church’s essential task, therefore, is to pray and to teach how to pray. Pope Francis closed his remarks by explaining the power of prayer.
“Holy women and men do not have easier lives than other people. Even they actually have their own problems to address, and, what is more, they are often the objects of opposition. But their strength is prayer. They always draw from the inexhaustible “well” of Mother Church. Through prayer they nourish the flame of their faith, as oil used to do for lamps. And thus, they move ahead walking in faith and hope. The saints, who often count for little in the eyes of the world, are in reality the ones who sustain it, not with the weapons of money and power, of the communications media—and so forth—but with the weapon of prayer.”
For the Pope’s full message, please see here.
Pope asks U.S. bishop to resign after cover-up investigation
“Pope Francis asked a bishop in the U.S. state of Minnesota to resign after he was investigated by the Vatican for allegedly interfering with past investigations into clergy sexual abuse, officials said Tuesday (Apr. 13). The Vatican said Francis accepted the resignation of Crookston Bishop Michael Hoeppner on Tuesday and named a temporary replacement to run the diocese. Hoeppner is 71, four years shy of the normal retirement age for bishops.” By Associated Press
- Pope Francis accepts resignation of U.S. bishop for the first time under new sex abuse protocols, By Catholic News Service in America: The Jesuit Review
- Bishop accused of coverup resigns, By Catholic Herald
Woelki calls for stronger law on clerical sex abuse
“The Archbishop of Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki has called for a tightening up of Canon law on clerical sex abuse. ‘Canon law on how to deal with priestly sexual abuse must be changed. It needs tightening, that is, the rulings must be made clearer and more explicit,’ he said. For example, the statute of limitations for sexualized violence must be extended and the ‘contradictions in canon law and in the German bishops’ conference’s guidelines on priestly sexual abuse must be eliminated,’ he added.” By Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, The Tablet
Dominicans in Poland launch investigation of abusive priest
“The Dominican province in Poland has started an independent, lay-led investigation of a sect-like youth ministry ran by Dominican Father ‘Paweł M.’ between 1996-2000 in Wrocław. The Dominican friary in Wrocław released a statement on March 7 apologizing for the abuse. ‘We turn to you with great pain and shame. We stand before you in the truth that, despite the passage of years, is revealing its terrifying face more and more clearly,’ the statement said.” By Paulina Guzik, Cruxnow.com
Legal lessons: Past sexual abuse cases help train canon lawyers, according to Pope Francis
“When Pope Francis abolished the ‘pontifical secret’ covering the church’s judicial handling of cases of the sexual abuse of minors, it was hailed as a major step forward in promoting greater transparency and accountability. At first glance, it means victims and witnesses are free to discuss a case … But an additional consequence of this landmark change, enacted in mid-December 2019, will be its potential to provide much-needed practical training and multidisciplinary studies for those involved in the handling of abuse cases.” By Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, on TheDialog.org
Who to Obey: the Law or the Prophets? Thursday, April 22, 7 to 8:30 pm
This webinar, sponsored by the Aquinas Center in partnership with the Atlanta Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women and Commonweal magazine, features Dr. Phyllis Zagano. It’s the Center’s annual Catherine of Siena lecture and a part of their “What’s Next?” lecture series. The webinar will explore questions related to lay participation in governance and the ordination of women as deacons.
Registration & Webinar Link: emory.zoom.us…
The Adult Education program at the Paulist Center in Boston is sponsoring a panel discussion we mention in the interests of fostering progress towards justice in the Church and in support of the long history of Catholics working for social justice. The discussion–entitiled “How Are President Joe Biden’s Policies Reflective of Catholic Social Teaching?”–via Zoom takes place Thursday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m.
Facilitated by community member, Mary Jo Bane, political scientist and currently Thornton Bradshaw Professor at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, the panel includes John Carr, Co-Director, Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, and J. Bryan Hehir, Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Religion and Public Life at Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. Following the presentation, there will be time for questions from the audience.
AUSCP (Association of U.S. Catholic Priests) is providing highlights from their annual Assemblies on Mondays, April 12 – June 14th, 2021, from 3:00 – 4:30 PM EDT. Each session includes one hour of keynote speaker highlights from the given year’s Assembly, followed by discussion. The last session on June 14 will offer an opportunity to begin a conversation around this year’s Assembly theme, Where Do We GO from Here?, scheduled for June 21-24, in Minneapolis, MN.
Fr. Bob Bonnot will be the host for the sessions. Your webinar registration will trigger an email reminder 1 day prior to each session with the Zoom log-in credentials, which will be the same for all sessions. You can register for the webinars by clicking HERE.
April 12 – 2012 Assembly – Our Passion for the Vision of Vatican II, speakers: Msgr. Michael Ryan and Dr. Richard Gaillardetz
April 19 – 2013 Assembly – Our Church as a People of God, speakers: Robert Mickens and Dr.Catherine Clifford
April 26 – 2014 Assembly – Dei Verbum, Revelation in Our Lives and Times, speakers: Sr. Diane Bergant, Fr. Donald Senior, Fr. Michael Crosby and Fr. James Bacik.
May 3 – 2015 Assembly – Gospel Joy in the World Today, speakers: Fr. Greg Boyle and Sr. Simone Campbell
May 10 – 2016 Assembly – Proclaiming the Gospel of Joy in a Year of Mercy, speakers: Dr. Massimo Faggioli and Sr. Carol Zinn
May 17 – 2017 Assembly – Addressing Racism in Our Fractured Society, speakers: Fr. Bryan Massingale and Cardinal Wilton Gregory (then Archbishop of Atlanta)
May 24 – 2018 Assembly – The Church in a Post-Modern World: Spirituality and Ministry in a Secular Age, speakers: Bishop Robert McElroy and Fr. Richard Rohr
May 31 – 2019 Assembly – God’s Priestly People: The Baptized & Ordained, speakers: Cardinal Blase Cupich, Dr. Richard Gaillardetz and Sr. Norma Pimentel
June 7 – 2020 Assembly – Our Catholic Faith in the Political World, speakers: John Carr, Sr. Carol Keehan and Archbishop John Wester
June 14 – 2021 Assembly (preview)- Where Do We Go From Here? The speakers in this session will be all those who help begin the conversation toward answering the question.
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