In #MeToo movement Catholic Church can play role in discussion, healing

IMAGE: CNS photo/Lucy Nicholson, Reuters

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The wave of accusations of sexual harassment,
misconduct and assault from Hollywood to Capitol Hill and many places in
between in recent months has been described as a revolution, a moment and a time
for national reckoning.

accused — abruptly fired or resigned — have issued apology statements or denied
wrongdoing. Those who have come forward — predominantly women, but also some
men emboldened by the solidarity of the #MeToo movement — were named “Silence
Breakers” by Time magazine and honored as its 2017 Person of the Year.

still at the bomb-throwing point of this revolution,” the Time article
points out, stressing that for true social change to happen, private
conversations on this issue are essential.

that’s where some say the Catholic Church has something to offer both from its lessons
learned — and how it could do more — to support victims and foster healing.

The U.S.
Catholic Church — tarnished by the clergy sexual abuse scandal that made
headlines in 2002 – has taken steps in all of its dioceses to address and
prevent the abuse of young people and will keep doing this forever, according
to Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat
for Child and Youth Protection.

As it
continues its training, education, background checks and reporting, the church must
similarly “face the reality of sexual harassment,” said a Dec. 11 editorial
in America magazine, pointing out that what the church went through with the
abuse crisis shows “it is possible to begin turning even an organization
as large and as old as the church toward primary concern for victims. “

But the
church faces hurdles in just getting into this discussion, acknowledged Helen
Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School
and consultor for the Pontifical Council of the Laity, noting that people can
accept church teaching on global warming or refuges but its teachings on
sexuality “is the thing that gets people mad.”

papal encyclicals such as “Humanae Vitae” (“Of Human Life”), she said
the “church was onto something” when it spoke of what would happen
when sex was separated from love and responsibility, stressing that if “sex
is robbed of its full meaning, it is bound to hurt someone.”

that’s what the country is seeing now. As she points out: “We are not
talking about women complaining that men stomped on their feet or slapped them
really hard, it’s sex,” which explains the “depth of humiliation and anger”
these women feel who have come forward.

is not a moment for triumphalism. I don’t see anyone in the church taking that
approach,” Alvare said. “What I do see is people saying: ‘Let’s look
at what’s happening, let’s name what we’re seeing and think about how to fix

part of that solution,” she added, noting that the experience of the
church reaching out its hand and saying: ‘We’re here if you’re suffering,’ is
very powerful.”

Part of the
church’s role can’t help but stem from lessons learned in the abuse crisis.

Deacon Nojadera said: “Clergy sexual abuse should not have happened, but
it is part of our history and our landscape” and the church is
“healthier and holier” for taking stock of what went wrong and
learning to “listen intently” to victims, something he said it didn’t
do initially.

He also knows
the current abuse allegations go beyond the worlds of entertainment and
politics and are closer to home with people coming forward in recent months under
the tagline #ChurchToo to share their experiences of abuse in church
environments of all faiths. These victims have often expressed the added pain of
being told they did something to bring about the abuse.

He said
the Catholic Church needs to help all who have been abused, not just address
wrongs of its own past. When he gives talks around the country, people
often pull him aside to talk about spousal abuse, domestic violence and

He told
Catholic News Service that the church’s policies, adopted across the board in
2002 in its “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”
put protocols in place for anytime someone calls a parish or diocesan office
seeking help with ongoing or previous abuse or assault. For starters, they are
offered resources and contact numbers to report the problem.

Eden Goldstein, an author who has written about finding healing after abuse,
said some dioceses and parishes need to do more.

She said
if someone contacts a parish priest to say they have suffered abuse, they should
not be immediately given a list of local therapists which they could find on
their own, or books with “vague platitudes.” Instead, she said,
victims need clear spiritual guidance and reading recommendations tailored to
their specific needs. Most of all, Goldstein said, “they need someone to
listen to them with an open heart and say: ‘I’m very sorry to hear what was
done to you. It wasn’t your fault.'”

short, there needs to be more collaboration, to connect those who’ve suffered
with spiritual care and with priests who are specifically able to help. Victims
also need community, she said, pointing out the importance of Catholic outreach
groups like the Maria Goretti Network,

who goes by the pen name Dawn Eden and is an assistant professor of dogmatic
theology at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, speaks
from experience. She was sexually abused as a child and when she became a Catholic as an adult, she said, she was “carrying all of this misplaced
guilt,” imagining that she should have done something to stop it.

Part of
her own path to healing came from the examples of the saints, which she writes
about in her book: “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the
Help of the Saints.”

She told
CNS that the saints model a path forward for the country’s current crisis because
they were “bold and courageous in speaking the truth and speaking when
they saw people being abused and oppressed in any way.”

also practiced mercy and justice and didn’t see a conflict between the two.

example, St. Maria Goretti — an 11-year-old Italian girl stabbed in 1902 while
resisting a sexual assault — forgave her assailant on her death bed, but she
also gave a detailed description of what happened to her to the police.

As Goldstein
sees it, St. Maria Goretti, canonized in 1950, is the “model we need to
follow” because she shows those who suffer “that to forgive is in no
way to excuse the abuser.”

– – –

Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

– – –

Copyright © 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at

Original Article