Vatican Commission on Child Sexual Abuse

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‘Being Positive- Building Trust’
My first ‘reaction’ to this commission was a gut wrenching ‘oh no!’, a visceral feeling of ‘not again’. This stems from my 25 years ‘working with’ the Catholic Church in the UK first with CSSA (Christian Survivors of Sexual Abuse) which I set up and then with MACSAS – Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors, which I also set up.

As a committed Catholic when I set up CSSA in 1989 I focused on meeting Bishops and those in ‘authority’ who could listen to what victims of abuse were saying. In 1989 I had the privilege of having as my Bishop, Bishop Victor Guazzeli, in East London. He was naïve about the issues but tried to ‘reach out’. Coming to our first survivor conference, attending our first survivor’s liturgies and generally being a kind and supportive Bishop. It was he who facilitated with Cardinal Hume that CSSA have an interdenominational National Service in Westminster Cathedral in September 1994. This service, entitled ‘Why Do You Weep’ was the first and last of it’s kind in a Catholic Cathedral. It was written by survivors for survivors. All the Bishops present and Cardinal Hume were in the front row of the cathedral congregation, whilst we, survivors, wrote and produced a beautiful service. Only WE were on the sanctuary. 600 people attended.

About this time Bishop Budd in Plymouth was spearheading policies for safeguarding children (this before Nolan). After the Nolan Commission; to which CSSA survivors contributed and gave evidence a safeguarding team was set up with Eileen Shearer, a child protection specialist as head. CSSA was often in communication with Eileen, often on committees, often sharing our situation. Eileen had full communication with us.

Then she resigned, ostensibly for ‘personal reasons’. After this a lay man took over and thereafter communication with CSSA was ceased.
All this time I remained a solid Catholic, I was Eucharistic Minister, Catechist for first communions, was secretary to my Church SVP conference and President of another SVP conference for Deaf People. I was in a full time work as a social worker and lecturer. So I was an active Catholic survivor. Very active.

However as CSSA’s was repeatedly rebuffed and battered in our attempts to communicate with the Church officials my heart and love for ‘Church’ diminished. Not my faith, my faith was very strong, and remains so today.

This got worse when MACSAS – ‘Minister & Clergy Sexual abuse Survivors’ was formed. We never set out on an adversarial route. We always wanted a ‘working relationship’ but it was simply a steel door defensive position which we could not break through. Everything we said was perceived as ‘attacking’ the Church.

Victims of Clergy sexual abuse came to us with horrendous stories of what can only be described as disgraceful behaviour from the Church officials. Who took a position of denying allegations, refusing to meet victims and when they did humiliating them or frightening them , even emotionally ‘blackmailing them’ that they would ‘destroy the Church’, ‘destroy a priest’, ‘destroy their own family…’, victims were made to feel THEY were the cause of such a terrible act and even worse was complaining about it.

After years of hearing victims stories and years of attempting to be on working parties and groups, we decided collectively the Church Hierarchy had really no intent on allowing us ‘in’ in any shape or form. Facing what was going on was simply a non-starter.
This is why I react with scepticism to the Vatican Commission. If victims could not be heard locally how can they be heard at the ‘head office’ so to speak?

But I have always wanted MY Church to do better. I have longed to see change; longed to see victims loved and supported. So I cannot, if my own faith means anything, deny that there might be something about to happen.

But if truth be told…this has to be proven. I am like doubting Thomas…show me…show me…
I feel for Marie Collins, the only victim-survivor commission member. Many survivors are already arguing “she doesn’t represent us”, others saying “Great Marie, tell them to do this, that …”, while she is lauded as being almost single headedly likely to achieve what most victims groups worldwide have not, after 30 years, managed to achieve – i.e. change the way the Church treats victims. This is a terrible burden.
Because I respect and admire Marie Collins I hope not to burden her with any such expectations. Precisely because I know how hard her task is going to be.

But can I offer anything in my ‘sceptical mood’; can I help at all?
I decided one thing I could do was encapsulate as best I can what victims seem to want of the Church Hierarchy.

· Who takes the centre stage?

· Humility
· Truth
· Honesty
· Transparency
· Accountability
· Reparation
· Action
· Pastoral Care

Who takes the centre stage?

It must be shown that the person at the centre is the victim. Not ‘the church’, not ‘the Pope’, not ‘the Vatican’, not clergy, not Bishops, not Cardinals, not the commission members.

Victims must have input to the commission. Victims must be heard. The Pope should invite survivor groups to Rome. We should sit around the table of Rome, we should tell Pope Francis the pain we feel and the harm done. The ‘father’ of our Church must become ‘mother’. With a nurturing and willingness to bear that pain we will bring. Victims should be centre stage.

This, of course requires humility, the humility Jesus showed, the respect Jesus showed. Power must diminish in our presence. Victims must express their anger, hurt and pain in Rome. Not just one victim, but many.

In 2010, 200+ victims were corralled by armed paratroopers and prevented from entering St Peters, some who individually ‘escaped’ and entered St Peters were surrounded, detained and passports removed for over an hour. I was one of them. Sitting in my wheelchair in St Peter’s, freezing cold, for over an hour, surrounded by intimidating police, I looked at St Peters and could not find Jesus. My heart sank so very low that day.

This shames Rome. The whole of St Peters should be filled with victims. We should be invited to Rome, we should be there….

There can be no movement unless Rome through this commission somehow demonstrates, and by that I mean, proves, it is telling ‘The Truth’. Victims, solicitors, courts and enquiries have all experienced and can document, prevarication, lies, cover-up, movement of offender clergy, destroying of files and a deliberate effort by Church Hierarchy to hide the TRUTH.

It is going to be a monumental task to persuade us that now, in the year of the Lord, 2014 that ‘Truth’ will at last prevail.

So how can the commission begin? At the very outset the commission must confess this lack of truth. There must be a firm ‘confession’ to the people who have been directly harmed that they, the Church Hierarchy, covered-up.

No more excuses, no more denial. When every statement is pre-fixed with “we didn’t understand sexual abuse in those days”, or “we are on a steep learning curve”, or “this was a long time ago”; we hear denial, a lack of admission/confession of ‘The Truth’. The rhetoric will have to change.

Unless this ‘confession’ is made, then victims will know that ‘Truth’ is being compromised and trust cannot be built.

This is, of course, how Truth will be heard. Honesty requires a deep commitment to Truth. A deep belief that NOTHING can be, should be, will be, hidden. The commission must ensure that all ‘lies’ of the past be confessed as a way of proving a renewal of ‘honesty’. There can be no dialogue without honesty.

The commission cannot work knowing that files of alleged clergy sex offenders are under wraps in Rome. It cannot work knowing that there are still clergy sex offenders in Ministry, (many in foreign deprived areas of the world, such as Africa, the Philippines, and South America).
Every ‘hidden’ clergy sex offender must be brought back for full investigation.

Every Vatican held ‘secret’ file must be given to solicitors, police and victims who are taking civil action.
The commission’s deliberations, recommendations or any advice will not bear fruit on a barren tree. The Tree of Rome is not healthy, not alive, whilst the poison of secrecy fertilises its roots.

The acknowledgement that Truth was not paramount in the past must be joined with accountability. Those who held the secrets, forced the secrets, denied the truth, hid sex offenders, moved sex offenders, denied reports from victims, threatened victims, intimidated victims, frightened victims must be held to account. They must go. A clean sweep of the ‘stench’ of cover-up must be visible and thorough. Nothing short of this will allow the Commission to achieve goals of change.

Furthermore every hidden clergy sex offender must be brought to account. Every clergy sexual offender must never be allowed back into ministry. There can be no room to allow ‘risk’ to another child. Even if perceived ‘small’, this is risk. No risk is the bottom line.

Now is the time to consider victims as ‘centre of the stage’. The Church must show its full aims and objectives are entirely focused on the victim. This means the Church must reconsider every court case that has been taken and fought (often viciously and harmfully against the victim) despite them knowing a priest was, in Truth, a sex offender.

It must cease these legal shenanigans, these farcical charades which are only designed to humiliate victims and save the Church.
If there is credible evidence a priest was/is a sex offender than reparation is due. Period.

‘By your actions you will be known’. ‘Action not words’
ACTION has been delayed…for too long have victims laboured for ACTION.
Words of condemnation or promises of Action; are not enough.
Services and apologies are not enough.

It’s time to DO what needs to be done. The commission must not delay. Time is of the essence both for protecting children and reparation for victims.

Too many victims have committed suicide, died or given up under the onslaught of Church in-action.

There’s no denying ‘safeguarding of Children’ within the Church is better than it ever was. However now’s the time for Victims to be ‘centre stage’. Their needs are paramount too.

Pastoral Care
Many victims have left the Church. We no longer attend. Sometimes this means faith in God has been lost, sometimes faith in God is still strong (my case) but we are ‘homeless’ because of the hurt. This does not mean the Church can abandon them. They are still the responsibility of the Church.

I was not abused by a Catholic Priest, my sister was. I was abused as a child by a family member, we were Mass going, practicing Catholics. When I went to a priest to talk about my childhood as an adult, the pastoral care I received from Catholic Priests was humiliating, judgemental, blaming.

Though I sought help when an adult woman, I was blamed for being abused when I was 12.

So Pastoral care of ALL victims of Child Sexual Abuse must be ‘Christ-like’, ‘affirming’, ‘caring’ and non-exploitive.

My Doctorate research on ‘Clergy sexual abuse of adult women’ (2009) found Catholic Clergy deliberately choosing and manipulating adult victims of child sexual abuse into sexual contact with the priest they sought help from.

Research shows nuns at the mercy of marauding Catholic priests worldwide.

If the commission is to have value then ALL sex offending by clergy needs to be addressed.
For every person who seeks pastoral care from a clergyman must be safe.

Pastoral Care therefore must have policies and procedures guaranteeing safety from sexual exploitation, safety from emotional harm, physical harm, financial harm and spiritual harm.

That is the task of the Church.

There is a lot more I could add but this is written from my heart. As a way of trying to envisage ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. Trying not to be negative. Trying to HOPE that the hour and the day has come.

I will do everything I can to support Marie Collins. I know she will be doing her best on the Commission. I trust her heart.
Now it’s up to the commission to allow me and others trust their hearts.

Dr Margaret Kennedy PhD
Author of ‘The Courage to Tell’ - CTBI 1999
Founder of CSSA & MACSAS (UK)
Doctoral Thesis ‘The Well from Which We Drink is Poisoned – Clergy Sexual Exploitation of Adult Women ‘