A Brief History of Sexual Abuse in the Church draws on all documents of the Church in which reference is made to abuse, from early centuries through the turn of this 21st century. This study presents a recurring problem, acknowledged in conflict and reform efforts by some leaders, in a Church that already reached most or all of the world's regions and cultures. Fr. Steve Rossetti is a bestselling author and speaker, and a professor at the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America.
A Brief History of Sexual Abuse in the Church is the third of three broadcast episodes in the theme of A GLOBAL CONTEXT. In this module we place the failures, challenges, and progress found in the U.S. Catholic Church in a global historical and contemporary context where the dignity and safety of children and vulnerable adults was and remains a dominant factor in the human experience.
Gain working knowledge of global issues, obstacles, and approaches in promoting child safety in the Universal Church
1: Across the Globe: The Advance of Human Rights in the Digital Age
2: Safeguarding in the Church Universal
3: A Brief History of Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church
Two Documents Are Attached.
(1) Document list adapted from Sex, Priests and Secret Codes: The Catholic Church’s 2000-Year Paper Trail of Sexual Abuse, by Thomas P. Doyle, O.P., A.W. Richard Sipe, and Patrick J. Wall, III (Los Angeles, Volt Press, 2006)
(2) "A New Alliance," by Rev. Msgr. Sthephen J. Rossetti, Phd, DMin (Alexandria, Virginia: The Healing Voices Magazine Special Issue, 2017) which refers to Msgr. Rossetti's idea for survivors and Church alliances.
Msgr. Rossetti is s a bestselling author, educator, and licensed psychologist with expertise on psychological and spiritual wellness issues for Catholic priests and survivors of abuse. Since 2010 he has served on the faculty of The Catholic University of America, teaching at the School of Theology and Religious Studies, and most recently launching the American-based degree programs in child protection and survivor ministries. He is the chaplain of the Washington Nationals.
Spirit Fire's work with Msgr. Rossetti, who is considered the leading expert on priestly formation for a fulfilled and thriving life, includes fostering a collaboration with priests. This may seem counterintuitive. Yet, often the abuse scandal is linked, in statements of outrage or in various studies, to some inherent flaw with the priesthood -- or priests. Other activist groups acknowledge a difference between holy and failed priests. In any event, the reflections stop there, stop at (important) institutional thinking and discussion, stop short of healing as a family. Spirit Fire considers priests to be important partners in restoring well-being in the Church family and also to be our friends in helping the Church heal. Msgr. Rossetti's "A New Alliance" (see handouts above) reflects our shared vision.
Msgr. Rossetti teaches this history and other courses at The Catholic University of America's School of Theology and Religious Studies and also its Certificate in Child Protection and Safe Environments. (Trailer)
This compilation of letters to brother priests by Msgr. Rossetti acknowledges the heavy demands priests face and the negative opinion many have of the priesthood in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal. He describes an encouraging process for self-care and reminds his readers that priests are living happy and fulfilled lives in their vocations.
This book invites priests to recognize the dignity of their calling through honest and psychologically based self-assessment, relating how happiness in the priesthood flows from wholeness and holiness which integrate all human dimensions, including psychology and spirituality, in a rich, joyful life.
"Mystics are not part of a small elite society.... Rather, they are people who have come to experience the intense, personal desire God has to share himself with us." Becoming a mystic is not a matter of learning some "mystical secret," but of entering into the divine simplicity of God's unbounded (and safe) love. This book is a great read for survivors grappling with a deep spiritual life forged in surviving but suffering now with self-doubt. Too often survivors feel marginal, this book makes a strong case otherwise.
This unusual book is talking about a renewed theology of priestly blessing, that is the tradition of priests blessing people, objects, and events. This simple practice reveals the rich tradition of Church blessings and grounds the identity of priests, too. It can be an important read for grieving priests and for those questioning who priests are. For survivors who still struggle with emotions related to this practice, reading may be a trigger to avoid or an antidote to distinguish the good from the unholy which we knew.
Any timeline of abuse is affected by two distinct dates and the time difference between them -- dates when abuse occurred and when abuse is reported (and not denied and buried away). The most comprehensive list, which is fitting for A GLOBAL CONTEXT we are providing here, may be open-sourced. So, it should also be read with awareness of the (often just slightly) variable accuracy in open-sources content. However, this is an excellent first look at the global status.
The above tally of incidents shows a harrowing global reach of abuse in a Church which is, unlike many religious institutions, global. Another way to observe the far-reaching and lasting impact of abuse can be observed in the now-ubiquitous theme of Church and abuse in worldwide literature, film, and other creative production. Some will discount this trend as merely anti-Catholic propaganda and long for the day when movies like The Bells of St. Mary's were normative. Others will see in the trend a world - which even as it rejected the Church for years - needs to process the impact losing the bulwark of the Church in some way. Others will see the opportunistic use of the fall of the Church to make sexualizing minors and violence normative.
Take a look at the provided list of literature, film, and other creative productions which, though largely skewed to the West, represent what is a worldwide body of creative work now setting a foundation for interpreting the world, society, and life. However you interpret the impact, its reality can be seen here. The list is maintained by Belgian journalist, Roel Verschueren, and will require you to use a translator for some titles.
The Bishop Accountability website was started decades ago and has been maintained in dedication to survivors and their families. It seeks to archive as much data as possible on all cases of clergy abuse in the United States. It has links to similar databases in other countries. Its documentation is extensive, but its information is set up to warrant a personal reading and assessment. The website has been maintained as a volunteer project, and generated no profit for the founder or subsequent volunteers. We also thank Bishop Accountability for mentioning The Healing Voices community as a resource for survivors and their families.
Questions for your personal journal and for discussions with others
You just met a young person who is considering converting to the Catholic faith. They've admitted they don't know a lot about the abuse scandal; they are too young to have been following most of the news. They think once-Cardinal McCarrick is a unique case, a "fluke of history." You've convinced them to let you write them a two-page letter about the real crisis as the worldwide and historical reality that it is. In whatever you write, pull from the episodes of A GLOBAL CONTEXT and, at the end, explain how they need to deal with this crisis if they become Catholic after all. Now share your letter with someone you trust. What do they hear in what you say? Where is your heart in the process of coming to terms with this reality in the Church?
What do you see as the impact of the sexual abuse scandals, and revelations of past or current abuse, in your own life? Do you see the harm reflected psychologically or other personal ways? Has the impact weakened or changed your relationship to the Church, to your local priests, to the Eucharist? Do you see the impact in entertainment, in social gatherings, in normative behavior? Do you see any opportunities for positive outcomes, and if so what? Do you have a role in making those outcomes happen?
Select at least one verse from Scripture. Add other quotations, for example, from a saint or great thinker, which you think apply to the way reports of abuse have riddled the Church from the earliest days. Write a prayer for the Church and its centuries of victims, including what you ask God to make of this juncture in time when abuse is most widely reported and known. Add this prayer to your journal. Is there someone (e.g., a pastor or friend) to whom you can read or with whom you can pray this prayer?
This broadcast is for you to follow and learn - and heal from the impact of clergy abuse in our Church on your life. It is also for your family and friends to follow and discuss. It's set up in modules so you can do so in convenient timing for your own lives. Not near each other? Is your parish better served with small discussions online, rather than evening gatherings at the center or church? Here are some of our favorite ways to connect online for faith discussions. Why not start your own online discussion group?
Pick One or More, Improve Your World Today
Do you know someone (it may be you) who used technology to help improve their world? Nominate them today. We'll include them in the January Healing Hackathon Gallery!
Next week we move from A GLOBAL CONTEXT to the United States. Having seen how the Church Universal is advancing reform through dialogue with every culture in every region of the planet, we see how the U.S. Catholic Church has been doing something similar, in microcosm, throughout our history as an immigrant nation - from the immigrant surges of the 19th century (that also drove indigenous people off lands and enslaved others brought here without choice) to the more current waves of immigration. How does this affect child safety and protections for vulnerable adults where cultures vary and cultural mores play a role.
Did you know our whole agenda is posted right here for you?