Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Father Tom Doyle on What He Has Learned in Thirty Years of Advocacy for Abuse Survivors: "With Bishops Yes and No Are Interchangeable Terms"

Father Tom Doyle, OP

Another excellent article I'd like to recommend to readers today: Father Tom Doyle's recent statement about what he has learned in thirty years advocating for justice and a pastoral response from the Catholic church for victims of childhood abuse by Catholic religious authority figures. Frank Douglas published Doyle's valuable reflection this week at the Voices from the Desert blog site.

This powerful essay is so full of important material that I find it a real challenge to excerpt any particular section of it, or to summarize its argument. I encourage readers to go to Voices from the Desert and read Doyle's statement in its entirety. As a teaser, though, I want to highlight the following passage illustrating how Doyle frames his argument: he notes that when he began to address the abuse crisis in his own ministerial life, he had hope that pastoral officials higher in the ruling echelons of the church would respond with the same concern for justice and pastoral outreach.

But he was quickly disabused of his notion that the top echelons of the church's governing structure intended to respond to abuse survivors in any pastoral way at all. The thirty years since then have been a long, painful lesson in learning to deal with disenchantment--on Doyle's part and on the part of many Catholics who want justice and mercy for survivors, and not what the hierarchy keeps dishing out. 

And so Doyle's framing passage, which explains why things have been so dismal for abuse survivors and those standing in solidarity with them in the Catholic church:

Back in 1985 the transformation of the Catholic Church back to a medieval monarchy was underway but not yet in high gear. There were still some good men holding down the office of bishop, most of them remnants from the Vatican II era of hope. John Paul II, soon to be canonized, set about changing the Church by appointing men as bishops who had replaced pastoral compassion with unthinking obsession with orthodoxy that was for most, a thin cover for soaring ambition and lust for power. The unified game-plan for confronting the “nuisance of pedophilia” as one bishop (A.J. Quinn, Cleveland) referred to it, was not so obvious in the first years of this era, but it certainly is now. 
The Church’s response is actually the response of the governing elite, the hierarchy, not the community of the faithful. It has been and continues to be shaped by a small number of celibate males, most of them bishops and above, none of whom have ever had any experience of parenthood and all who live in a monarchy significantly isolated from the real world.

And then, later in the essay, there's this:

Pope John Paul II ignored victims and openly sympathized with bishops and priests. In the years that intervened between his first known direct awareness of the serious nature of the problem in 1984 and his death in 2005, he never acknowledged much less responded to even one of the thousands of letters and pleas made by victims of sexual abuse. Requests for audiences were simply ignored with no response. At the regular world youth gatherings, the pope met with representatives of all manner of youth groups, but never the victims of his own priests. 
So, it is not difficult to understand why the lines are hardened and why trust simply does not exist even in minimal form . . . .

And this explains why, for many of us who have looked carefully at the highly ambiguous legacy of John Paul II, the decision to canonize this pope remains seriously scandalous. It is, if nothing else, a shocking slap in the face to survivors of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic religious authority figures.

And abuse survivors deserve something far better from leaders of a church who claims to stand in the place of Christ in the world.

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