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Please Proclaim from the Housetops

Aug 21, 2018 — Categories: , ,

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-7) This is what justice looks like. We are getting a glimpse of it with the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on child sexual abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses.

Please Proclaim from the Housetops

Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune

“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” (Matthew 10:26-7)

This is what justice looks like. We are getting a glimpse of it with the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on child sexual abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses.

The details are excruciating but very important. With so many stories of abuse over the last decade, it can be “easy” to read about sexual abuse and not get the full impact of the data; it has begun to seem like old news. The power of this Grand Jury Report spells out the particulars that reveal the profound misuse of the clerical office by predatory priests not only to gain access to vulnerable children, but also to distort the very fundamentals of the faith. The scale and scope of the crimes, and the utter perversion of sacred rites and rituals in the execution of the abuse, force us to look squarely at this suffering created at the hands of supposedly trusted adulst and sustained by a trusted institution. We dare not look away.

Finally, here in the U.S. we have an in-depth examination by the state into the actions and inactions of a religious institution that allowed sexual abuse to go on for years in Pennsylvania.  I dare say that every state in the U.S. could produce a similar report. (Australia has been working on this for over five years.)

Again we are reminded that there is double abuse here: first the individual abuse of a child by his/her priest and then, when reported to the church or law enforcement, the denials, coverups, and lies which sought to protect the church from its own people.

How different the outcomes would have been if, when first reported by child victims and their families, the powers-that-be had responded: “We hear you, we believe you, and we will move heaven and earth to insure that this person does no more harm.”

There will always be sex offenders hiding in plain sight in institutions, like the church, which give them easy access to vulnerable people. But if the institution really believes its own rhetoric and values, and responds to disclosures with compassion and justice, the institution fulfills its fiduciary responsibility to act in the real interests of its people. Trust is sustained and healing can come quickly.

A colleague of mine often said that you shall know the truth and the truth will make you flinch before it sets you free. Our religious institutions have more flinching ahead and need to confess at the highest levels. Bishops who knew and did nothing or who knew and protected predatory priests must feel the consequences of their complicity. Legislatures who refuse to do away with statutes of limitations for these crimes also bear responsibility. The call from lay Catholics for the mass resignation of U.S. bishops as  “as a public act of penance and a ‘willing abdication of earthly status,’” is spot on. But it would be only a beginning. There is something wrong with the structure itself that has allowed the abuse of the most vulnerable to go on so long. The wound needs to be completely drained; perhaps it is time for a new way to be the church.

This Pennsylvania Grand Jury report is painful for survivors to read but it is also a relief. Finally someone listened and acted. Finally someone with power believed survivors and drew the curtain back to allow the light into dark places. This is what justice looks like. Let us pray for some measure of healing to follow.

 

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and Founder of FaithTrust Institute.  She is author of the first book on sexual abuse by clergy, IS NOTHING SACRED?, published in 1989.

 

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pa report

Posted by lucille espey-francis at Aug 28, 2018 04:18 PM
I am from pa and was molested at 13 by a church leader who was also my father. He is deceased. The church was a protestant one. I am sickened to know this was actually going on. I have worked in the 1990's to set a clergy sexual abuse policy as a way to cure and heal, only to see the policy get watered down. I wish it was a simple fix. Fixing seems to go to the heart of the church or our feeble concept of the church. I took your class in tn years ago. The Boston Globe just scratched the surface, sad to say. Need a collection of memoirs by survivors. Thank you.