"Ever since the latest revelation of wrongdoing concerning Winona Catholic clergy this past week, I have struggled with how to best respond. I have prayed for all those involved, especially the victims, but it seems more is needed. My feeling and that of others within the Catholic community is that it is time that the hierarchy of the Catholic church finally become truly honest with the People of God in this diocese and in all the dioceses around the world. It is time!
At the outset, let me be clear; this letter is not so much about blaming individuals as it is about criticizing the system of clericalism that has allowed so much pain and suffering to continue for so long. Clericalism says that the clergy are better than the people they purport to serve. It gives them power over and above what the laity experience in our Church and in society. The most recent example is a case in point. The offending priest, through church lawyers initially avoided public shame, possible jail time, loss of a job and received advancement in the Church. This is clericalism. The common person would not have been treated in like fashion.
And what of the victims? First, the abused received hush money, no acknowledgement that a crime had been committed, and no possibility to adequately recover, because the Church’s reputation was esteemed above that of the young woman, barely an adult, in a vulnerable state, coming to the priest for counsel. You will notice that I said “victims.” The priest is a victim too, of a system that serves no one well. Jesus called those who would be His followers to be servants, not to consider themselves above those who they serve.
The defense given over time by Church hierarchy for the cover-up of this crime and the more heinous crimes against children was that they were trying to protect the Church. So in other words, priests and their “good” names are more important than children and others that they serve. To me and many others who I have spoken with, the clerical system and those who regulate it have done more to discredit the Church so many of us love than any revelations of misconduct could ever do!
It is in this light that I beg the hierarchy of the Catholic church in the diocese of Winona — priests and bishop to tell the truth, once and for all — to give us all the names, don’t wait for perpetrators to be discovered, but take responsibility for yourselves. It is time for the priests of this diocese to find their voices, to be true men, true servant-priests and followers of our brother Jesus; ask and even demand your superiors to change for the good of our Church, but for the good of yourselves as well.
In the much acclaimed film “Spotlight,” the story of the sexual abuse of children by priests in Boston that came to light in 2002, we are left with a quote: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” In Boston, as in Winona, as in any city in this country, or around the world, priests, even “the good ones,” knew that children were being abused and few said or did anything to protect them. It is time for something new. And part of the something new needs to be a heartfelt apology from each one who knew and allowed the abuse to continue, and a promise that never again will power and control stand in the way of caring for those who you are privileged to serve.
In fairness to the men, women are just as susceptible to clericalism. In the organization that I am part of, Roman Catholic Women Priests, I can see the danger of clericalism too. We all, women and men, priests and laity must root out this tendency whenever we see it. It is time — let us all begin."