Wednesday, November 28, 2018

German Catholic Bishops on Abuse: Church Is at "Point of No Return" and Has Been Exposed as "Perpetrator Organization" — What Now?

In a flurry of statements ahead of the first day to commemorate victims of sexual abuse ever held in Germany, on Sunday this week, the German bishops said the Church had reached "a point of no return" and needed to act with the utmost urgency. 
Bishops said the crisis was "of the most extreme dimension" and new approaches towards sexuality, gender equality, celibacy and the role of women had to be discussed. 
Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier, who is responsible for sexual abuse problems in the German bishops' conference, said it had become clear that the Church could no longer consider abuse an internal church problem and that dioceses must therefore open their archives for independent experts. "This means the bishop must give up his control and hand over all further investigations to independent experts", he told the German weekly "Der Spiegel". 
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen told that the crisis of confidence in the Church had now reached "the most extreme dimension" and a "point of no return" which meant that everything was completely different to what went before. "The Church must now discuss a new approach to those questions which stem from the abuse crisis, namely, the handling of sexuality, gender equality, celibacy and the role of women in the Church. We can and must face this challenge," he emphasised. 
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said the Church was a "perpetrator organisation" and must accept that it took no notice of the victims or of the systemic factors that promote sexual abuse. "There is no way it can carry on like this. Words alone are not enough. We must act." Open-ended discussion of the Church's sexual morality, clericalism, the role of women in the Church, power, priestly formation and the keeping of files was urgently called for, Bätzing told his diocesan priests on 16 November.

Two stories I read this morning tear at my heart, and demonstrate how right some of the German bishops are when they say that the Catholic church has passed the point of no return in the abuse horror show, and nice words will no longer resolve the crisis or restore confidence in the church and its leaders. The first is LindaLee Stonebreaker's gut-wrenching account of her sexual abuse at the hands of Father Louis LeBourgeois in River Ridge outside New Orleans when she was four years old.

She is coming forward with her story because the archbishop of New Orleans, Gregory Aymond, has released a list of names of priests credibly accused of abusing minors, and Le Bourgeois' name is not on the list. Almost all names on the list are of priests who are deceased, and Aymond claims that there have been no credible reports of abuse in the archdiocese in over a decade.

Survivors of abuse are making similar statements across the U.S. as bishops release list of abusive priests. One bishop after another is claiming that there have not been cases of abuse in his diocese for years now, and the lists being released are almost entirely names of priests who have been dead for some time. Many survivors are pointing out that they can testify that the lists being released are not complete, since they personally known of priests whose names are not on the lists being released.

I myself have received calls from people with information about my own diocese who have told me such stories, who have told me of names of priests who abused them or others, which are not on the list recently released by the diocese of Little Rock — priests still living, who are being paid retirement salaries by the diocese. I was interviewed by a reporter two weeks ago, and in the interview, she told me that the bishop of my diocese has assured her that there have been no new cases of abuse in this diocese since 2002, a statement Bishop Taylor of Little Rock also made when he released names of credibly accused priests some weeks ago.

LindaLee Stonebreaker is convinced that she is not the only victim of Louis LeBourgeois. She thinks other children were harmed by him, and may have come forward — and she is all the more concerned to have his name added to the list of abusive priests in the New Orleans archdiocese for that reason. Her story is here:

The second powerful report I read this morning is one in which Tim Bendig, Frank Labiaux, and Tucker Thompson tell their stories about the sexual abuse they suffered as boys at the hands of Father Anthony Cipolla in the Pittsburgh diocese. As Frank Labiaux asks in a video interview included in this article, How does an institution know that something like this is happening over and over and over, and it just goes on with business as usual, transferring abusive priests to new places where they prey on children all over again?

To which I'd say in response — addressing the bishops: We know too much now, bishops. We've heard stories like this too often to brush them off. We know what you've done.

There's no more hiding behind God and empty words.

The German bishops are right: we've passed the point of no return.

(As an addendum to this story, please see this subsequent posting about the breaking news — on the morning of 28 November — about the raid now taking place by criminal officials at the diocesan offices of the Catholic diocese of Galveston-Houston, Texas.)

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