Wednesday, December 27, 2017

"Bishops Like Curlin and Cardinal Law, What They Have Done Is Criminal": A Church That Wants to Be Pastoral Must Listen to Testimony of Abuse Survivors

In a 27 April 2002 letter to the Charlotte Observer entitled "In Eyes of Abuse Victims, Bishop Curlin Is No Hero,"* Neal Evans of Asheville, North Carolina, reports that after an initial 1995 meeting with Bishop William G. Curlin to discuss his abuse at the hands of a diocesan priest and after Curlin came to Asheville to issue a public apology to victims of clerical sexual abuse, Evans heard nothing — not a single word — from Curlin in the ensuing seven years. According to Evans, when Evans met with Curlin, Curlin made promises that he failed to keep, including a promise to form a lay advisory committee to advise him about clerical abuse of minors, a committee on which he would place Evans.

The committee never materialized.

Evans' letter notes that Curlin had been quoted in the press waffling on the issues of public disclosure and involvement of local law enforcement when clerical sexual abuse of minors was reported, and had relied on defensive, self-aggrandizing statements while privately doing little for victims who had suffered clerical sexual abuse as minors in the Charlotte diocese.

A 23 April 2002 article entitled "Priest Sex-Abuse Victim Says He Shares Story to Help Others" in the Asheville Citizen-Times provides the following report of the abuse Evans states that he endured as a boy at the hands of a priest in the Charlotte diocese:

It happened to him growing up in Asheville during the 1950s, Evans says, when a popular priest, the Rev. William Kuder, abused him for four years. 
"I thought I was the only one in the world," Evans, now 59, said Tuesday. "I've started to get a much greater picture of the abuse."  
In recent weeks, Evans has followed the news about pedophiliac priests being reassigned to unsuspecting parishes in dioceses across the country. And he has wanted to let others know his story. 
When Evans went to confession as a 9-year-old boy and told other priests about Kuder's sexual abuse, he was usually given a penance to say three Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition, but no support, no protection from Kuder. 
"I went to a number of priests in different churches, at St. Lawrence, at Immaculate Conception in Hendersonville," said Evans. "They thought it was no big deal. There was a wink and a nod to those kind of things in those days." 
Evans said the abuse lasted until he was 13 and moved to Pennsylvania to attend school. He now lives in Asheville. Father Kuder, who served at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, died in 1960. And Evans kept his story to himself for decades.

When Evans finally told his story and wrote a letter to Bishop William G. Curlin asking that Bishop Curlin hear the story, Curlin came to St. Joan of Arc parish and issued a public apology for Kuder's abuse of Evans and other boys. But, then, as the Citizen-Times article states, this happened:

Last month after the Catholic church's growing scandal made national news, Curlin had priests throughout the Charlotte Diocese read their congregations a letter in which he reiterated "zero tolerance for child sex abuse."
"Furthermore, at no time have any of our diocesan funds ever gone to another diocese for payments related to pedophile cases," Curlin wrote in the letter. 
But the bishop didn't mention that money was paid in 1996 to a family in Watauga County, inside the diocese of Charlotte. 
According to records in Watauga County Superior Court, the diocese in 1996 paid $77,489 to a Boone family after they complained a priest had fondled their son as a teen-ager. 
A second payment of an undisclosed amount came three years later after the family filed a lawsuit charging that the priest, the Rev. Damion Lynch, had also abused the boy's twin brother. 
"We have used both diocesan funds and insurance proceeds to help meet the personal needs of victims," said Joann Keane, a spokeswoman for the diocese. 
Evans was outraged by that news. "The secrecy thing has got to stop. Bishops like Curlin and Cardinal Law (of Boston), what they have done is criminal. It's outrageous," he said. "I think there should be criminal prosecutions when these men have put priests with known criminal behavior in new positions."

In a 21 April 2002 article in the Charlotte Observer by Diane Suchetka entitled "Disclosure Was Way to Counter Praise for Priest [William Kuder]," Evans states that he was prompted to contact Curlin in 1995 after his sister had gone to an event at the Catholic basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville in 1993 honoring those who had made significant contributions to the church, and she saw, on a plaque presented that day, her father's name followed a few names down by the name of Father William Kuder. The plaque honored those who had shown "dedication to the word of God" in the Asheville Catholic community. Evans' parents were close to Kuder and thrilled that he gave attention to their son — never dreaming that Kuder was sexually molesting their child. 

1993 was the year in which Belmont Abbey College presented me with an unexplained terminal contract as I taught theology at that college and chaired its theology department. It was the year in which I began pleading with Bishop Curlin to meet with me and discuss what was being done to my career as a Catholic theologian — how it was being shattered, with no explanation provided to me. 1993 was the year in which Bishop Curlin began refusing repeatedly to meet with me. He never, in fact, met me. Though he's now being praised as an eminently pastoral bishop by a leading Catholic figure in the U.S. who claims to be all about building bridges to the LGBTQ community . . . .

After having read Neal Evans' letter to the Charlotte Observer, I composed a letter to Bishop Curlin which I sent to him on 6 June 2002. In the letter, I told Curlin that  after having read Neal Evans' 27 April letter in the Observer and after the story about the hiring of Rev. George Berthold by Belmont Abbey College with Curlin's full knowledge of Berthold's past had broken, I had thought of him often.  

My letter asks Bishop Curlin the following questions:

What do you think of yourself now that the Berthold story has been made public, Bishop Curlin? Do you regret your role in what has been done to us? You are clearly willing to side with a clerical system that will promote a known sexual predator, while destroying the lives and careers of two lay theologians about whom there has never been any allegation of improper sexual activity.

My letter goes on to say: 

Your behavior is destructive to the church. You will have to answer for this behavior at the end of your life. It is not too late to begin the reversal; it is not too late to apologize. Do you think these days, Bishop Curlin, of the letter I wrote you as I left Charlotte? Do you recall that I told you I would pray that God would send you and your diocese holy troublemakers and outspoken truth-tellers? I continue to pray that prayer, very devoutly, and I continue to believe that God does hear the cries of the poor.

I never received a response to this or any other letter I wrote Curlin, with the exception of a letter I sent him before I moved from Charlotte asking him why he met freely with rich and powerful people but refused to meet with a hurting member of his flock. On that occasion, I had a voicemail from his priest-secretary informing me that asking that question of Bishop Curlin was disrepectful and Bishop Curlin was unhappy I had asked it.

Here's the thing: Catholic officials and their apologists keep saying that it's important to hear the voices of abuse survivors and LGBTQ people — that is, to do this if the church is going to craft any kind of meaningful pastoral response to these members of the human community.

But, given the chance to do just that, Catholic officials quite frequently refuse to meet with abuse survivors and LGBTQ people, especially those in the latter group when they are fired by Catholic institutions. Instead, when these folks provide their painful testimony of what has happened to them in a Catholic context — the very information that Catholic officials and their apologists claim they want and need to hear in order to learn better ways to be pastoral — those Catholic officials and their apologists characterize those providing this testimony as "uncharitable" and their testimony as "garbage."

Responses like this are hardly designed to promote better pastoral behavior on the part of church officials, are they? Unless what those officials and their apologists really want is a rhetorical and symbolic response to the pastoral needs of hurting human beings, which allows them (cheap grace) to claim the title "pastoral" for themselves and to claim to be engaged in "bridge-building" when they've really done nothing at all to respond to members of their flock in need (costly grace) — refusing, in many cases, even to meet those fellow Christians face to face.


"We need storytellers and mythmakers who can show us the way by finding a story that sees the planet as a holy place and includes everybody. The crucial question for the storyteller today is, What about the stranger, the alien, the poor, the weak—the other? What about the rage and pain of those who say No! to every attempt to tell a common story?

Our own reality depends on our being able and willing to include others. Thomas Merton wrote, 'The more I am able to affirm others, to say yes to them in myself, by discovering them in myself and myself in them, the more real I am. I am fully real if my heart says yes to everyone.' This, in fact, is precisely Dante's vision of heaven—the celebration of mutuality in a place where everyone is his unique self. I am reminded of James Joyce's famous definition of the Catholic Church as 'Here comes everybody!' . . . Denying the stories and presence of others is to be on the road to hell.

. . . Meanwhile, the others are crowding in and talking our space and demanding attention. The hitherto voiceless are demanding to be heard. Stories of heaven and hell revolve around our attitudes towards others. Jean-Paul Sartre’s famous phrase from No Exit is 'L’enfer, c'est les autres' (Hell is other people). But what will God say to us when we go to him without the others? What about the others with whom we share the world? Hell is other people! Heaven is other people! It all depends on the tales we tell—the stories that shape our experience" (Alan Jones, The Soul's Journey: Exploring the Spiritual Life with Dante as Guide [San Francisco: Harper, 1995], pp. 18-19).

* I cannot locate this letter online, and so cannot provide a link to it to you. I have a hard copy I clipped from the Charlotte paper in 2002.

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