Archdiocese shares expertise on healing from clergy abuse

| April 16, 2019 | 0 Comments

Kathleen McChesney makes a point April 8 at a conference in St. Paul on the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Groups discussing best practices for legal and pastoral approaches to the national clergy sexual abuse crisis are reaching out to officials with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Organizations seeking their faith-filled expertise, perspective and experience recently included an April 9 panel discussion at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on the role of civil law and the action of lawyers in hiding and uncovering the abuse crisis. Sponsored by the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life, the event included Thomas Johnson, a former prosecutor who is ombudsman on sexual abuse matters in the archdiocese.

On April 8, a conference on the clergy abuse crisis held at the University of St. Thomas law school in St. Paul included Johnson, Tim O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment for the archdiocese, and Kathleen McChesney, former executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child Protection. Currently, McChesney is a consultant who in 2013 helped the archdiocese conduct a review of its files related to clergy sexual abuse.

Titled “What is the Role of Law in Addressing the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis?” and sponsored by the Terrence J. Murphy Institute, a partnership of the law school and the Center for Catholic Studies at St. Thomas, the conference in St. Paul drew more than 60 law students and professionals. It explored how attorneys can work with abuse survivors and the Church to gain the best outcomes.

McChesney said Catholic law schools and colleges can play important roles in helping address the abuse crisis.

“I can’t emphasize enough that these entities can be very instrumental in providing research that needs to be done,” she said. “They need to keep the conversations going about these issues.”

In 2015, the archdiocese entered bankruptcy in response to mounting claims of clergy sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s. In December 2018, it reached a settlement that included $210 million for remuneration for 442 victim/survivors of abuse.

The archdiocese’s clergy sexual abuse scandal culminated in December 2018 with a bankruptcy settlement that included $210 million in remuneration for 442 victims/survivors of abuse dating back to the 1950s.

At the conference in Washington, Johnson said bishops, attorneys and others involved in addressing clergy sexual abuse must adopt “the approach and lens … from the perspective of the victim/survivor and from the perspective of those who we don’t want to be harmed in the future.”

Attorneys have played a large role in providing local bishops advice on responding to the crisis, and that advice has depended in part on the era in which the advice was given, Johnson said.

In some cases, he said, attorneys called for secrecy and protection of the Church’s reputation, while others urged full disclosure in addressing the problem of abusive priests.

Lawyers who advised keeping abuse under wraps should have realized “it would blow up” and create “the worst nightmare,” he said.

Johnson’s view of putting victims first was shared by Barbara Thorp, a social worker who formerly led the Archdiocese of Boston’s office that supports and cares for abuse survivors. Thorp said pursuing healing among survivors is a more important path to pursue than legal wrangling.

Greater transparency related to Church procedures and changes in canon law to focus on the needs of victims will demonstrate that the Church truly cares about survivors, Thorp said.

Catholic News Service contributed to this report



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