Tuesday, February 6, 2018

As #ChurchToo Movement Blossoms, More Light Cast on Abuse and Its Cover-Up in Churches: A Gathering of Recent News (Including Latest on Pope Francis)

There's a plethora of stories about sexual of abuse of minors in church contexts — and the cover-up of such abuse — in the news lately. As Hannah Paasch tells Leonardo Blair in an article linked below, at least part of the reason we're hearing more such news is that the #ChurchToo movement is now giving more people the courage to speak out, and a venue to do so. People will no longer settle for silence and cover-up — though it's taking churches, which are dense, defensive, and generally well-heeled institutions with lots of legal and social protection, a long time to recognize this.

Here are some recent stories that I think are worth following: 

In an AP exclusive yesterday, Nicole Winfield and Eva Vergara report:

Pope Francis received a victim's letter in 2015 that graphically detailed how a priest sexually abused him and how other Chilean clergy ignored it, contradicting the pope's recent insistence that no victims had come forward to denounce the cover-up, the letter's author and members of Francis' own sex- abuse commission have told The Associated Press. 
The fact that Francis received the eight-page letter, obtained by the AP, challenges his insistence that he has "zero tolerance" for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy.

Christopher Lamb commenting for The Tablet on this same story:

"You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I haven't seen any, because they haven't come forward," Francis told journalists on the plane returning to Rome at the end of his six-day Latin America trip at the end of last month. He also said on the plane: "No one has come forward. They haven't provided any evidence for a judgment. This is all a bit vague. It's something that can't be accepted." 
But members of the papal child protection commission say they presented an eight-page letter written by Juan Carlos Cruz to Cardinal Sean O'Malley in April 2015. The cardinal is Francis' top adviser on abuse. In the letter, Cruz makes detailed claims of the kissing and fondling that Karadima subjected him to, which he stressed Barros was a witness to. The intention was for the cardinal to then hand the letter to Francis. 
"Cardinal O'Malley called me after the Pope's visit here in Philadelphia and he told me, among other things, that he had given the letter to the Pope — in his hands," he told Associated Press on Sunday.

Bishop Accountability shares Juan Carlos Cruz's 3 March 2015 letter to Pope Francis.

At the Australian Catholica discussion site, a fascinating discussion is underway about a Lenten statement by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference entitled "Days of Fasting and Reparation." The Catholica contributor initiating the discussion, Helen, zeroes in on the following statements from the bishops' letter:

With the Royal Commission concluded, our country and our Church enter into a new moment. We are calling upon the Catholic community in Australia to embrace this new moment by beginning the penitential season of Lent with four days of fasting and reparation. These are spiritual practices which express our desire for God’s reconciling and healing grace.

Helen's response to these statements: 

Excuse me, it wasn't the 'Catholic Community' who were found guilty of abuse but the 'Catholic Hierarchy'! 
Wear the sack cloth and ashes don't expect others to take the load.

In the thread that follows that opening statement, another contributor, Weliza, reports that she went to the webpage of the Australian Bishops' Conference and made the following statement about their call to fasting and repentance:

I am absolutely amazed and incredulous that LAY people be asked to undertake fasting and reparation for the crimes and sins of priests who sodomise and abuse children. It is the bishops who should be wearing sackcloth and ashes for their total lack of action and blindness to the effects that child abuse causes. It adds insult to injury to try and make the whole cesspool revealed in the Royal Commission the responsibility of lay and clerics. No wonder the churches are emptying at a record rate. Be men and stand up and be counted. Demand an end to the Pontifical Secret from Pope Francis. Make absolution for confessed child abuse by clergy conditional on the abuser going to the police. LAY people and the secular world are operating from a higher ethical standard than the bishops. 
You all still just do not get it. The reputation of the church does not come first. Children DO. When will the penny drop?

And then she shares the smug, snarky reply she received from the secretary of the Bishops' Conference — which I won't dignify by replicating here. You can click the preceding link and read it for yourself. (Hint about said reply: THEY STILL JUST DO NOT GET IT. NOR DO THEY INTEND TO GET IT.)

On her Facebook page, Rachel Denhollander, who is among the courageous women blowing the whistle on Larry Nassar, issues a public response to Sovereign Grace Churches, which have challenged statements she made in a recent Christianity Today interview. I shared an excerpt from that interview with you in a previous posting here. In it, Denhollander speaks about how she lost her church when she spoke up about her abuse by Nassar. She speaks about the shunning tactics churches use to shut down survivors and negate their testimony. She states that "[c]hurch is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse," and that "[t]here are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church."

Denhollander's CT interview specifically states that her church refused to support her as she dealt with "one of the most well-documented cases of institutional cover-up I have ever seen, ever" in the netowrk of churches affiliated with Sovereign Graces Ministry. She notes that the church she and her husband attended before they were shunned was not an SGM church, but was "directly involved in restoring" former SGM president, C.J. Mahaney, after he was accused in a 2012 lawsuit of covering up abuse in the SGM church network. Elsewhere in the same interview, Denhollander states that the SGM cover-up is "widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse."

In response to Denhollander's testimony, Sovereign Grace Churches states that Denhollander is making "false allegations" and is "mistaken." Her Facebook posting is a public response to these charges. Here's an excerpt from her lengthy statement, which I encourage you to read in full:

I am asking SGC to support their recent claim that I am making "false accusation", "mischaracterizing" and communicating things that "are not true and have never been true", and instead show true care for the victims by finally dealing transparently with these concerns, through taking one specific step: 
Allowing GRACE, an Christian organization whose expertise is sexual assault and institutional dynamics, to do a thorough independent investigation of the organization's historical and current handling of abuse complaints, which will be released to the public. GRACE has no affiliation with SGM or any survivors and therefore is in a unique position of approaching such an investigation with objectivity and independence. GRACE is founded and organized by Boz Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham and is comprised of a team of mental health experts, former prosecutors, and pastors who have a combined experience of over 100 years of addressing sexual abuse related issues. Their legal knowledge, investigative abilities and character is of the highest caliber. I will personally spearhead fundraising efforts for such an investigation and donate myself, to ensure that this can be done with no extra burden to SGM, if the organization will pursue transparency and accountability through GRACE. I will also readily accept any conclusions GRACE arrives at, and personally and publicly apologize if I am found to be in error.

As Hannah Paasch, one of the co-founders of the #ChurchToo movement along with her friend Emily Joy, explains to Leonardo Blair of The Christian Post, the #ChurchToo movement is now turning a spotlight on long-hidden abuse in evangelical churches — that is, in churches that have for some time now been content to point the finger at the Catholic church as the primary locus of sexual abuse of minors and cover-up of that abuse: Blair writes,

The American church, particularly evangelicals, she [Hannah Paasch] said, need to understand that sexual misconduct is a big problem with leaders in the church too. 
"As a person of faith, it seemed important to create a space that was specific to the church, that called out the American evangelical church specifically because I know how evangelicals love to think that widespread societal ills somehow don't apply to them, because Jesus," she said. 
The space created for survivors by the #ChurchToo campaign has broken the silence on the issue in churches. 
"The biggest impact of the movement, in my opinion, has been connecting other survivors with each other. The evangelical church does a good job of hushing up instances of abuse within its walls, so Twitter has actually given us the tools to make space for survivors to share their stories and to meet one another. It's been beautiful to watch," Paasch said.
And then there's this report, from John Monk of The State (Columbia, South Carolina):

Columbia’s First Baptist Church and its longtime minister, Wendell Estep, are apologizing to a child who was sexually abused by a former church volunteer and have agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the youth and his parents for $300,000. 
The apology and $300,000 payout are laid out in an eight-page settlement agreement. In the settlement, the landmark downtown church accepts responsibility for the abuse and pledges to reform its child-safety practices. 
"We want to offer an apology for the inappropriate and unacceptable conduct this young man endured and express regret for what we failed to do to prevent it," says part of a statement, which will be read to the congregation after a Sunday church service.

(I'd like to acknowledge Steve Sheehan's NSAC News as my source for a number of the links provided above. The National Survivor Advocates Coalition produces an e-newsletter of links about sexual-abuse stories on an ongoing basis. If you're interested in being on its mailing list, here's a link that permits you to sign up.) 

I find the graphic at the head of the posting used at many sites online; I have not been able to determine its original source. If anyone has that information, I'll gladly acknowledge it.)

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