Young adult Catholics consider their role as Church addresses abuse cover up

| August 30, 2018 | 0 Comments

Chris Damian (right) and fellow young adult Catholics followed up on their Aug. 20 prayer vigil at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul with a discussion on the clergy sexual abuse scandal and cover up. Damian helped organize the Aug. 28 event at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, and he presented the history of clergy sexual abuse locally and in the U.S. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Every table in the Basilica of St. Mary’s basement hall was filled Aug. 28 as about 100 young adults gathered in Minneapolis to discuss the scandal of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up.

The evening event, which lasted nearly two hours, included a presentation on the national and local history of clergy sexual abuse, small-group discussions, large-group sharing and concluding remarks.

Organizer Chris Damian, 27, told The Catholic Spirit that the event aimed to broaden ongoing discussions among young adult Catholics about recent sexual abuse revelations and to get a sense of where his age demographic is at in processing the crisis. He led the event, outlining a detailed history of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. and Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which entered bankruptcy in 2015 to address what would amount to about 450 claims of clergy sexual abuse.

“A lot of young adults have different positions, different views and different approaches to these problems,” Damian said. “I think one of the things holding us back from really resolving them is that we tend to stick with our own little camps.”

The discussion was broad and emotional, with attendees expressing frustration, disgust, and emotional and spiritual exhaustion from the crisis. Many called for complete transparency from Church leaders.

“I think there is a remaining, profound ignorance about sexual abuse, and I think because the abusers that we’re discussing are priests, they’re able to hide behind a collar,” attendee Rosa Edholm, 27, told The Catholic Spirit.

“‘Abuse’ is an easy word to say. ‘Rape’ is a harder word to say, and the graphic description of the rapes and molestations that happened, which were detailed in the [Pennsylvania] grand jury report are much harder to go into and much less pleasant [than ‘abuse’],” said Edholm, a parishioner of St. Patrick in Oak Grove and a public middle school teacher. “They [clergy guilty of abuse] should be going to jail.”

While allegations of child sexual abuse against former-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick became public in June, it was the Aug. 14 release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing the abuse of about 1,000 children by more than 300 clergy over the span of 70 years that was the tipping point for Damian, a parishioner of St. Thomas More in St. Paul.

He met with several friends to discuss the scandal, and they found their discussions insightful and continued to meet. Their study of the 2004 John Jay report prompted interest in a large-scale discussion among their peers.

The discussions also led to a prayer vigil in front of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul Aug. 20.

The John Jay report is the findings of a research study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York following the Boston clerical sexual abuse scandal in 2002. It provides a foundation for understanding the issues of clergy sexual abuse, Damian told the attendees at the Basilica. It states that from 1950 to 2002, there were 4,392 American priests accused of sexual abuse — 4 percent of all priests in the United States during the years studied — and 10,667 individuals who made clergy sexual abuse allegations.

Damian said that the problem can’t be pinned on one kind of sexual orientation or type of abuse. He also said the study suggested priestly celibacy isn’t a central factor to the issue, as some commentators have suggested.

He identified four aspects to consider in facing the clergy sexual abuse crisis: prayer, education, dialogue and action. In facilitating the discussions, he acknowledged that people in the room had different viewpoints — politically and theologically — and encouraged attendees to be open to hearing various perspectives as they brainstormed how the Church can move forward.

Ideas shared included increasing dedication to safe environment training, supporting faithful priests, requiring clergy to undergo regular mental health evaluations, improving checks and balances within the hierarchy, offering pastoral opportunities for reconciliation for victims/survivors with their abusers, ensuring financial accountability on all Church levels and committing to prayer.

Damian said that the event’s organizers plan to continue to organize discussions on the topic, and he directed people to connect through a website,

Fellow event organizer and Cathedral of St. Paul parishioner Wes Sandholm, 24, called for efforts at the grassroots level by encouraging fellow young adults to officially join a parish.

“Do what you can to get involved, volunteer and hold those around you accountable,” he said.

In closing remarks, Sandholm said he considered it providential that the discussion fell on the feast of St. Augustine.

“What he did through writing his ‘Confessions’ [and] everything that he preached, is [that] he put his life in full display to the public — the good, the bad, the proper, the improper,” he said of the fifth-century bishop, who is now designated a Doctor of the Church.

“The best thing that we can do now, just like Augustine did in his own life, is to put everything that’s true on full display and trusting in God to take care to take care of this,” Sandholm said.


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