Feb 7, 2012

Uphill Struggle for Bishops at Abuse Summit

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Last night the four-day "Towards Healing And Renewal" summit at Rome's St. Ignatius kicked off with a lengthy liturgy of penance.

Held tonight at Rome’s Church of St. Igantius, the liturgy was presided over by Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who serves as Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. His participation was seen as significant, because it implicitly acknowledged that the church’s shortcomings are not limited to priests who committed abuse, but also include bishops who failed to act.

. . .

In his reflections during the liturgy, Ouellet called the crisis “a source of great shame and enormous scandal,” saying that sexual abuse is not only a “crime” but also an “authentic experience of death for the innocent victims.”

The first step towards healing, Ouellet said, is to “listen carefully” to victims and “to believe their painful stories.”

. . .

Ouellet said that in many instances, abusers in the clergy should have been identified and removed much earlier, but instead were left in place.

In a stunning counterpoint, comes a report of statements from the retired Cardinal Edward Egan. Demonstrating a continuing lack of repentance and humility Egan has publically recanted his 2002 apology. What manner of man takes back an apology?

Retired New York Cardinal Edward Egan is facing criticism from representatives of clergy sexual abuse victims for a recent interview in which he said he regretted apologizing for the priest abuse scandal in 2002 when he was bishop of Bridgeport.

In the interview with Connecticut Magazine, Egan said "I don't think we did anything wrong" in handling abuse cases. He said he was not obligated to report abuse claims and maintained he inherited the cases from his predecessor and did not have any cases on his watch, according to the magazine.

Clergy in Connecticut have been required to report abuse claims to authorities since the early 1970s, according to attorneys who represented numerous abuse victims.

"Egan never did so and his failure to do so constitutes a violation of the law," said the attorneys, Jason Tremont, Cindy Robinson and Douglas Mahoney.

Egan's apology was conditional. If they'd erred, he was sorry. But he's convinced now that they "got rid of" those bad actors they could prove were guilty and kept "control" of those they couldn't prove. Wouldn't it have made sense to let the authorities investigate and prove the guilt or innocence of those the church couldn't prove? Egan says he doesn't think Connecticut law requires it even now, despite the fact that it does and did then. He put suspected abusers in treatment, and that was sufficient.

Experts who have treated abusive priests, however, report that the majority of abusers lie.

Priests who rape and molest children lie when confronted with an accusation but victims usually tell the truth, psychologists told Catholic bishops at a symposium Tuesday, advising them to listen first to the victims.

. . .

Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a psychologist who for a decade ran a U.S. treatment center for abusive priests, told the conference Tuesday that just like alcoholics or drug addicts, sexually abusive priests often lie when confronted with allegations. They manipulate, they con, they deny, he said.

"There are false allegations to be sure" and it's critical to restore a priest's good name when he has been cleared, Rossetti said in his prepared remarks. "But decades of experience tell us that the vast majority of allegations — over 95 percent — are founded."

This, of course, is the exact opposite of the way church authorities have handled abuse claims through the years, putting their "brothers and sons" ahead of their victims in case after case. Rossetti has no illusions that the culture of the Church is going to change any time soon and the stunning recalcitrance of Cardinal Egan stands as a case in point.

The Vatican backed summit will continue to run through the 9th with workshops focusing on bishop responsibility and psychological toll of sex abuse on victims. They clearly have their work cut out for them.

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