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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear Pope: Call Me

I know. I've given lots of air space of late to the Roman Catholic Church.

If I'm not taking a walk down Memory Lane with the Nuns of my youth, I'm lamenting the catholicity of the crisis of power and leadership that filters from the Vatican and around the globe.

Having said that, I want to reproduce here, on this blog, this open letter to The Pope from Marie Fortune the pioneer and undisputed expert in sexual & domestic violence - especially in faith-based settings.

In 1977, she founded something called The FaithTrust Institute which is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.

She's written several books and her institute provides training and seminars to help people make the connection between their faith tradition and the right of every human being to live without fear and threat of violence - especially from people they love and trust (like clergy).

The woman knows of what she speaks.

So, one would think that, when in a jam, a certain person in authority might call in a certain expert to help figure out how to get unstuck.

Like, say, the Pope might just call in someone oh . . .you know . . .someone like Marie Fortune, to . . . well. . . try to help him figure out how to handle the. . . um . . . "situation". . . in the Roman Catholic Church.

I know. But, hope does spring eternal.

So, just in case, Marie posted this on her blog. I'm reproducing it here not because I think the Pope or anyone of any importance or influence in the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy will ever read it, but because I think it's so brilliant it deserves as wide an audience as possible.

We all could learn a thing or two from this crisis. And, if we do, well, that's a wee small act of redemption.

She begins:
As the crisis erupts again in Europe and the U.S. with serious questions being raised about the Pope himself, one has to wonder if the men in charge have learned anything in the past 20 years. It would appear not. If the Vatican were to ask me for advice on how to handle this situation (which they will not), here are my ten steps to justice and healing.

Dear Pope: Call Me

In fairness to the Pope, there is probably nothing he could have said to the church in Ireland that would be sufficient to bring healing to the thousands of survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of pedophile priests.

Too little, too late.

I don’t think anyone ever imagined the numbers of victims, the numbers of abusive priests, and the material (not to mention the spiritual) cost facing the Roman Catholic Church. But as the crisis erupts again in Europe and the U.S. with serious questions being raised about the Pope himself, one has to wonder if the men in charge have learned anything in the past 20 years.

It would appear not.

If the Vatican were to ask me for advice on how to handle this situation (which they will not), here are my ten steps to justice and healing:

1. Words are important but actions are the real test. Anyone who knew and did nothing or knew and covered it up should no longer be in a position of authority in the church. Holding individual bishops and administrators accountable would speak volumes.

2. Stop expecting any sympathy from the flock; you don’t deserve it.

3. Stop being defensive and complaining that the media coverage is a “pretext for attacking the Church.” You created this problem by not responding to disclosures of abuse and by trying to hide them instead of dealing with them.

4. Stop empathizing with Bishops who hid the abuse of children because they wanted to protect the church’s reputation. They sacrificed thousands of children and set in motion an institutional failure that now threatens the future of the church.

5. Come clean and own up to the system’s failures and tell us what you are doing to fix it. Remember: repentance, according to Ezekiel, means to “get a new mind and a new heart.”

6. Don’t ever use the Gospel passage about the woman caught in adultery when Jesus said that anyone without sin should cast the first stone to discuss any of this. Instead check out Luke 17:1-2: “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come. It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown in the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Jesus was serious about accountability; you should be too.

7. If you are serious, establish a commission to really investigate and recommend structural changes because this is a structural problem. Be sure to include non-bishops and non-Catholics who actually have expertise.

8. Stop pretending to “protect” the institutional church by hiding from victims and survivors. Your first job is pastoral and they are your flock. All they are seeking is justice and healing, and they have a right to expect both from their church. In fact, your defensive, lawyer-driven responses have placed the institutional church in great jeopardy. You have compromised the integrity of the church and caused many to question their faith.

9. Remember: they don’t expect us to be perfect, just to be faithful.

10. “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12)

So Pope Benedict, call me. Let’s chat.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute


Joshua said...

Hi Elizabeth, my name is Joshua and I am a survivor of clergy sexual abuse (and recently a new Episcopalian as of Easter Vigil). Thank you for your posts, they have helped in the process of my coming to terms with this and my path to recovery. These 10 steps are exactly how this miasma should be handled, as if it were, I know it would make a profound difference for me. In fact out of all I have ever read from the Vatican (including the recent letter to the Irish Church-ad nauseum), nothing has been even close in an attempt by the Church to hold its leaders & clergy accountable for what has taken place. The "accountability" in my opinion, is the first step in the healing process.
I am not holding my breath and if they never step up to be held accountable, its ok, I found my spiritual home and I do not rely on the RC Church for spiritual nourishment. I have the fullness of the catholic faith now and thank God women priests who I can go to for guidance and feel totally SAFE.
For me this is really important.
At any rate you deserve a huge hug and many thanks!
Love in Christ,

Elaine C. said...

absolutely brilliant

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hi, Joshua. Your visit here - as a self-identified survivor and not a victim - and the words of your post honor this blog and the work of Marie Fortune. TEC is graced and blessed by your presence. May she always be deserving of your presence and may she return the grace and blessing to you seven fold, pressed down and overflowing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Elaine C - I thought so which is why I wanted to give this lots of air time.

Anonymous said...

Dear Elizabeth--
I've been trying to stay silent on this issue not out of "understanding" for the RC Church but so as to make sure I am not simply giving vent to my longstanding Protestant anti-RC prejudices. But what Marie Fortune has written is so simple, so true, so just, and so complete, that I must voice my loud "AMEN."
And to Joshua, please allow me, as a gay Episcopal priest, to echo Elizabeth's words. We are pleased and humbled to have you join us. I am more pained than I can say that any minister of any denomination saw fit to molest you, even using his spiritual power and authority to take from you what can never be given back, to damage your faith in a loving God, and to interfere with your appropriate sexual development. I rejoice that you have found a new spiritual home and a place of refuge and safety, and have not let that priest rob you of your Christian faith along with everything else. May you feel the love of God active in your life in the form of continued healing.

Anonymous said...

I am a cradle Roman Catholic who loves my church dearly, but finally realizes (after years of prayer and trying to "stay the course") that I cannot remain. So, I'm swimming the Tiber officially in November.

Marie Fortune's letter is simply brilliant, and I am so very pleased to continue to read such responses. I pray that the Pope reads these faithful folks, and implements their ideas as soon as possible.

In attempting to protect the church, these men are killing the relevance and validity of Roman Catholicism for many people. I am genuinely happy for my RC friends who can stay the course, but I'm just...done.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...


Between your and Joshua's honesty . . . well . . . you take my breath away. As you might be able to tell, I still have a place of deep affection for the RCC - there was so much good to it - but I have found a home in TEC which allows me the freedom to love TEC even while I continue to cherish the good memories and heal from the bad ones from RCC.

May it be so for you, my dear.

JCF said...

I absolutely welcome Joshua and Rachael, and any other RC who wants to "Swim the Tiber" (or, as that phrase usually conveys "Converting TO the RCC", "Swim the Thames") and formally join us in TEC (or the Anglican Church of Canada, etc).

At the same time, to RCs w/ an even STRONGER tie to the RCC, I pray

1) Encouragement in their staying RC and/or

2) a welcome to TEC as a temporary respite (for a service, a month, a year, a lifetime---till RC burial!).

Just because you don't want to formally join us ("be received") at this time, don't think we don't still VALUE your presence among us, at any time, for any duration (long or short).

JCF, grateful to RCs for the presence of their Adoration Chapel (Lansing MI) I pray in every week---while being a no less committed/grateful Episcopal lifer! ;-)

Ashley said...

Thank you for this post, and thank you for your comments, Rachael and JCF. I too am a lifelong RC, fully involved and passionate about my faith to the point that entering TEC is beginning to seem the only way to sustain it. I am tired of feeling willful or rebellious in the face of the hierarchy's constant harping and obsession with institutional authority; tired, also, of hearing that perhaps my conscience was not 'properly formed' if I have doubts or questions.

The irony is that I don't have a lot of serious disagreements with the RCC, but the preoccupation with authority at the expense of authentic Christian witness saddens me as just more man made distractions.

My parish priest tells me over and over in confession that God is all I have, and that I must stay close to him. It's precisely for that reason that I've been sneaking over to a 5.30 Wednesday Eucharist at one of the local Episcopal parishes.

Unlike Rachael, circumstances do not allow me to be 'done' with the RCC just yet (my husband is the principal of a local Catholic school), but in order to hang on, I'll keep dipping into the liturgy and sacraments at the TEC. It's what is keeping me going. Thanks again.

IT said...

To those swimming the Thames, or sampling the water:

My wife loves her RC Catholic folk choir and still jams with them at rehearsal. They are so upset with the Catholics. Several of them have askd her, independently, if they can come to church with us. JCF referred to it previously as a "sabbatical" and BP is offering it in that way.

Plus the incense and the show is MUCH better. Tho' she tells me Ishould stop referring to the congregation as the "audience". ;-)

Anonymous said...

I like what you said, and the structure is strong.

I believe Restorative Justice needs to be added to the healing list. Repentance, is not enough. There need to be facilitated Restorative Justice meetings, between perpetrators and all "victims", so the injured can safely communicate their experiences from their hearts. This would heal community, too.

There are aspects of this complex subject, that I admit I am having a hard time communicating, including societal denial, addressed in brief excerpts here:,
from, Trauma and Recovery, by Judith Herman, MD.
Thank you for cogently addressing what is going on, and giving us a chance to share.

Catherine said...

Clergy from all religious traditions would do well to read these words. Laypeople too. The self-protective behavior of congregations, denying the truth and shunning the truth-teller, can be as damaging as the abuse itself.

I speak, I regret to say, as a survivor of Episcopal clergy misconduct.

To "Anonymous": I believe in Restorative Justice, but not all survivors will feel safe communicating with the clergy who abused them, even with the protection of a facilitator. We are wounded by clergy who violate our boundaries. We don't need those boundaries breached again. Any healing process must respect survivors' right to say "no" to such a meeting.

Andy said...

I largely agree with Dr Fortune and others who have commented.

I do think, however, that the Roman Catholic Church has been unfairly singled out here. After all, repeated academic studies have shown that sexual abuse by ministers is more endemic in other denominations than the Roman Catholic Church (eg, Baptists). Further, sexual abuse is, relatively speaking, rife in other social groups (eg, Boy Scouts). But, most staggering of all, sexual abuse is most rife in families. A child is more likely to be sexually abused by their father, brother or other male relative than they are their minister (and before their minister statistically it will be their school teacher). Where is the anger about the prevalence of sexual abuse in places other than the churches? Where are the cries for inquiries, commissions, jail terms ... justice?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Andy - Marie Fortune and her institute are proof positive that domestic and sexual violence - even among clergy - are prevalent in all denominations and creeds. That's not the point. The point is that other denominations and creeds have participated in corrective action which has not, unfortunately, completely eliminated the behavior but has seriously curtailed it. The point is that the RCC has not done anything except cover up and move perpetrators around who then continue the abuse. They are not being "singled out" so much as they stand out as a denomination who has allowed the abuse to perpetuate world wide.

Andy said...

It's simply wrong to say the RCC has not done anything. I write from Australia - we have had various diocesan commissions, a new protocol and diocesan-based offices for processing abuse claims ("Towards Healing"), apologies at various levels, financial compensation, a meeting by the Pope with victims, bishops with victims, removal/defrocking of priests, etc, etc. Similar things have happened in the US and elsewhere.

I'm not suggesting this is enough, or that the Church is blameless. The facts do not permit such a conclusion (and I wholeheartedly agree there is much to make up for). But it doesn't help things to make simplistic assertions that the RCC has done nothing help either.

And one of the things I lament most of all in public debate is it's too easy just to focus on how badly the RCC has handled things and the sins of - to be objective - a small minority. Our inaction in relation to endemic abuse in other social and community groups, and most of all, in the home, singles us all out for special shame. That's the issue that we seem to be doing very little at all about. And the innocent children go on being abused. The righteous anger we direct towards the RCC is not misplaced, but it should be visited upon us all in relation to abuse in society generally. But it's easier to point to out the log in the other's eye than our own, I know.

On a more positive note, this is a really engaging blog and I value it. Thank you for providing such a splendid soapbox!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Andy - what "changes" the RCC church has made have been, for the most part, too little too late. Additionally, we are talking about necessary systemic changes, which the RCC has been unwilling to make. This is not just about covering the legal requirements. It's about true metanoia - true repentance - and change. The scale of abuse world wide has been breathtaking. This is why Dr. Fortune's advise is so important.

Thanks for your kind words about this blog. It's really amazing what can happen when you start to tell your secrets.