Bishop’s apology welcome response to abuse victims

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“The church could take a giant step toward restored health if others found the courage to follow the example of Hanus. For all the hurt that had piled up between bishops and victims, Hanus’ simple remarks were met with a standing ovation.”

Bishop’s apology welcome response to abuse victims – clergy sex abuse;
Bishop Jerome Hanus – Editorial

Is there a Catholic in this country who has not wished, in recent years, that the whole clergy sex abuse scandal would somehow disappear?

We’ve all been ground down by the relentless tales of abuse by those in church positions of great trust. In this age of quick-hit news, stories this old are supposed to have faded by now from public interest.

But this story is different. With numbing regularity, another episode comes to light every time it appears the scandal has peaked.

We are in need of catharsis, some kind of purgation that can come only when church authorities, who too often acted to protect the abusers and the institution while shunning the victims, have a deep change of heart.

A hint of what can happen was revealed earlier this month at St. John’s Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn.

The Link-up – formerly called Victims of Clergy Abuse Link-up, or VOCAL – a group of clergy abuse survivors, was invited to meet in a facility of the institutional church, a daring move on both parts.

St. John’s, first of all, represents the institution that has caused so much pain – eight monks from the abbey have been accused of abuse – and could easily have been the target of a barrage of anger and frustration.

The victims, for their part, had to overcome an instinctive lack of trust to accept the invitation to spend four days in a Catholic setting. Writer Dawn Gibeau, who attended the session, noted that while 200 attended, 20 others called The Link-up to say they would not attend in a church setting.

In those four days, Benedictine Abbot Timothy Kelly and Benedictine. Bishop Jerome Hanus of St. Cloud, Minn., provided a wonderful example of how the wider church might begin the healing process in earnest.

“I have suffered this weekend. You have, too,” said Kelly at the end of the meeting. “I don’t ask you to forgive me. I don’t ask you to forgive your perpetrators. I don’t ask you to forgive the church or the churches. I simply ask that together we grow, together we let happen what needs to happen.”

Both Kelly and Hanus had sat through the wrenching retelling of tales of brutal abuse. They had allowed themselves to be moved by stories of psychological pain and years of therapy. They listened.

When they spoke, it was not to prescribe, as is too often the case, how victims might act or view the church, or to explain how the church was justified in acting as it had.

Instead, Hanus took the unusual step for a bishop of apologizing. “I’m sorry for each instance of clergy abuse. I’m angry, with you, at the broader church, at the perpetrators. But I’m also resolved to act.”

He has promised to go back to his brother bishops and encourage them “not to be paralyzed” and to work to move the institution beyond denial and cover-up.

St. John’s has also taken an admirable step toward a broad assessment of sexual abuse with the establishment recently of an Interfaith Sexual Trauma Institute.

The church could take a giant step toward restored health if others found the courage to follow the example of Hanus. For all the hurt that had piled up between bishops and victims, Hanus’ simple remarks were met with a standing ovation. Other bishops who allow their pastoral instincts to move them from behind all the legal shields might discover victims who are surprisingly willing to forgive and to “let happen what needs to happen.”

Bishop’s apology welcome response to abuse victims – clergy sex abuse;
Bishop Jerome Hanus – Editorial
National Catholic Reporter
August 26, 1994

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Topics: Jerome Hanus, LINKUP, Timothy Kelly

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