| Father Charles Lachowitzer | October 12, 2017 | 6 Comments

Four years ago in September, I sat at the kitchen table in the rectory reading the newspaper. I was a parish pastor and had been serving parishes and schools for over 23 years. I saw the headlines and was disturbed. There was yet another story on clergy sexual abuse. I felt angry at Church leaders and fighting attorneys. I felt frustrated that this issue had been going on since before I was ordained. I felt sadness and compassion for victims and their families.

I was clueless that in less than a week, I would be named vicar general and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese.

When I walked into my new office in the chancery, I entered a world flooded by a tsunami of media attention. The statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims had been lifted, and all of the dioceses in Minnesota were affected by scores of people coming forward with some of the most heartbreaking stories.

After four years, I am sympathetic with all those who want this all to go away. Yet I know that it never will go away and should not go away. The bankruptcy case, now in its third year, is only a step toward restitution and only one part of the work necessary for reconciliation and healing. Eventually, the archdiocese will emerge from bankruptcy, but we cannot just dust off our hands in that familiar gesture of finishing a project. When civil justice has run its linear process, then the virtue of justice must continue to direct our path.

The iconic symbol of civil justice has a blindfold and a set of scales. The virtue of justice is served when the blindfold is removed, and the scales are tipped to favor those without power. This is why we cannot be done when our Chapter 11 bankruptcy case is completed. To be a people of reconciliation and healing, we must see and listen to those who have been so traumatically harmed, through no fault of their own. We must work on their behalf not only to complete civil restitution, but also to do all we can to restore trust and, wherever possible, restore faith.

Awareness is a painful process, and this has been a painful time. Yet our pain pales in comparison to the suffering of people who have had to live their lives as victims of clergy sexual abuse. This trauma also extends to their families and friends. For all of us who have listened to victims and survivors, reviewed documents and transcripts, and read police and court reports, the stories disturb our consciences and grieve our hearts. No dollar amount can erase what has happened, and there is no excuse. For all, the pain is real and the wounds are some of the most serious in the body of Christ in our time.

I cannot say that victims and survivors should be patient until we have completed the bankruptcy proceedings. That would be wrong. I write this because I do not want the survivor community to lose hope. We will continue to cooperate with the bankruptcy court with a humility that comes from humiliation. We will continue, at great financial cost, to be the debtor who pays for everything — including attorneys on all sides. We depend on the judge to keep things fair and to point our way to our last chapter in his courtroom. From there, the archdiocese will proceed to put our heart where our money has been. With great compassion, we will continue to be led by the survivor community to steps of reconciliation, restoration and healing.

When I used to meet with survivors before there was a wall of attorneys, it was a common request that no child will ever have to go through what they have gone through. Our policies and procedures for safe environments are not just compliance requirements — they are our commitment to our children, and to victims and survivors who want children to be safe. Every parishioner, every member of parish and school staffs, and everyone in archdiocesan and community leadership are the open eyes, open ears and ready voices for the well-being of our children and youth.

To the silent sufferers, we offer an open door to reconciliation and healing. We assure you of our sorrow and daily prayers. As long as there is one person still bearing wounds of clergy sexual abuse, we must keep the candle lighted. As disciples of Jesus Christ, this truth is proclaimed in the opening prologue of the Gospel of John: “and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it.”

We do believe and profess as people of faith that the light of Jesus Christ is the greater light over all powers of darkness, including death itself. Just as the community of survivors has found in its own healing a light greater than the darkness, so too must we be bearers of the light.

My sisters and brothers in Christ, may we be true to our Church and never end our responsibility to bring the light of Christ to every
darkness — and not just pray that it all goes away.


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Category: Only Jesus

  • Mari

    Oh how I wish this could all go away. Some of us may never, ever heal from the wounds of the past. God help us.

    • Dominic Deus

      Dominic Deus here. Mari, your sentiments are shared by so many that I believe the collective memory of this sin will be with us for at least another generation. Victims of priestly sexual abuse have told me, for them, it will never end. I imagine the same is true for their families and closest friends. In that context, to be quite candid, I believe the rest of us should suffer, too. Not that our suffering can match theirs but because we should not seek to say, “It was terrible but I’m over it.”

      I don’t really regard suffering as atonement. I see it as burden we–all of us together– should lift from the shoulders of others. It is no one’s cross to bear alone, that having been already done, but it is ours to bear together. That is what we should pray for–the ability to lessen the suffering of others.

      It’s Friday and I am alone with the dog, JoAnn of Arc having gone away–to be a comforting mom to one of our sons. The only fish in the house is canned tuna. I could follow my own gospel of righteous suffering and eat it cold OR I could go to the fish fry. WWJD?

      Mari–have good weekend. 🙂

  • Paula Ruddy

    “From there, the archdiocese will proceed to put our heart where our money has been. With great compassion, we will continue to be led by the survivor community to steps of reconciliation, restoration and healing.”
    Fr. Lachowitzer, do you mean this compassionate action will happen after the bankruptcy case is settled? I appreciate your heartfelt words, but I wonder if there are concrete plans for reconciliation, restoration and healing? Do you mean these compassionate steps for healing will be with the survivor community or with all of us? How many of the survivor community want anything to do with the Church? Could you tell us something concrete about the survivor community, what can we do to be responsive, what plans are in the works for the future? Thanks.

    • M MJD

      I am a survivor of clerical sexual abuse originally from Minnesota and now living in oklahoma. Here in oklahoma I was told to report the abuse from years ago when I was studying for my second career as a chaplain. I was very involved with the church with three kids in catholic schools. But none of the clergy here would support me in my theology studies. Instead they made me go to confession repeatedly until I overcame my mental illness of PTSD I suffered in the confessional from past abuse. They wouldn’t offer me ecclesiastical endorsement until my husband pushed them to. I went to counseling with catholic charities so I could reintegrate into the parish community but the nun with catholic charities told me to “just take a bulletin and leave at this point in your life and don’t go to confession or you’ll just do it again.” The parish priest and catholic charities and the archbishop and the chancellor were not at all in the same page. The more I tried to seek help from anyone with the archdiocese the more I was rejected and labeled as crazy or given the silent treatment from the archbishop. I asked to talk to the archbishop four times and I’ve been rejected every time. This is how survivors are treated in the Catholic church after reporting abuse. We are spiritual lepers.

  • Ed Walsh

    Fr. Lachowitzer gives us a
    heartfelt insight into the long path of healing that lies before our Catholic
    community. He rightly points out that it
    goes well beyond the legal and compensation issues. It goes to the heart of our community. As such, it needs to be actively addressed by
    us in the local Catholic lay community.
    If we remain as spectators to the court proceedings and the efforts of
    the archdiocesan corporation to address this issue, we will be shirking our “responsibility
    to bring the light of Christ” to this darkness.

    For too long, we lay Catholics
    have expected the clergy and hierarchy to take on our Christian responsibilities
    for us. This has led to the clericalism
    that has made our community vulnerable to the clergy abuse and caused our
    institutional leaders to mishandle the abuse.
    With all of its corporate concerns and institutional baggage, the
    archdiocesan corporate leadership has no more chance to bring healing to this than
    the camel has “to pass through the eye of a needle”. We in the lay community as “brothers and
    sisters in Christ” need to step up.

    Our archdiocesan
    corporation has been consumed with the legal issues and with developing
    corporate processes and structure to address this issue. How
    can it now engage us in the lay community to answer Fr. Lachowiter’s call to participate
    in this healing process? I have heard
    some suggestions that I think should be seriously considered by Fr. Lachowitzer,
    Archbishop Hebda and the archdiocesan leadership team.

    Archbishop Hebda needs to speak up to address
    the cancer in our community that has members saying that the survivors “just
    want the money” or “are trying to hurt our Church”. Fr. Lachowitzer compassionately refutes those
    thoughts; but, as our leader, the Archbishop needs to speak directly to it in
    order to clear the air within the community.

    The archdiocese needs to create a structure
    through which we in the lay community can select leaders who can come together to
    discuss and act on this and other community issues.

    Consider another round of archdiocesan listening
    sessions through which we can speak to each other as “brothers and sisters in
    Christ” about the pain we have experienced or seen that needs to be addressed
    in our local Catholic community.

  • Bill

    If reports indicate that the Catholic Church has lost nearly 50% of the faithful as a direct result of the sexual scandal, it behooves the Catholic Church to undergo a thorough and excruciating investigation of all priests, holding them to the fire so to speak to vouch for the integrity of the entire priesthood. Parishioners will not return to the fold until they are convinced that the priesthood is squeaky clean. There is much more work that needs to be done to remove the temptation for sex by “celibate” priests. Allowing more priests to be married is the healthiest remedy to this problem.