WASHINGTON, D.C., January 25, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Concerns continue to be raised by Catholic laity that the Vatican Summit on the sex abuse crisis happening next month will fall short of solving the problem.
Faithful Catholics — many of whom have been personally impacted by the current sex abuse crisis in the Church — took to social media last week to express renewed concerns on how the Church is addressing it. Reports of “dismay, distress and disappointment” were just some of the reactions posted almost immediately after the Holy See Press Office released their statement on the focus of the Feb. 21-24 meeting, where presidents of the world’s nearly 130 bishops’ conferences will gather with Pope Francis to discuss clerical sex abuse.
One such Catholic, Siobhan O’Connor—known for her role as reluctant “Whistleblower” in the cases of cover-up and suppression of abuse by Bishop Richard Malone, of the diocese of Buffalo, NY—sat down with LifeSite for an exclusive interview.
O’Connor says the Vatican's talking points filled her with “immense disappointment and dismay.”
“First of all, it distresses me greatly that the meeting topic is solely focused on 'the protection of minors.' While I certainly want all minors to be protected, I find this limited scope unacceptable,” she said.
“This meeting must address the abuse of any of God's children regardless of their age. Another concern is that the meeting will be an exclusively pastoral gathering. This means they are avoiding and excluding input from many important groups: survivors, lay men and women, psychologists, experts in abuse detection, prevention & treatment, and members of law enforcement,” she added.
O’Connor said that she hopes the bishops and cardinals at the meeting come up with concrete actions, not more “pathetic platitudes or useless statements.”
“To Cardinal DiNardo and all Summit attendees: the time is now! Don't make Jesus start flipping tables or preparing millstones. No more excuses. No more delays, deflections or distractions. No more pathetic platitudes or useless statements. We don't need legalistic protocols or unwieldy procedures. Stop hiding behind inadequate charters and your misguided deference to each other. Be the men of God you are called to be! Be men of courage, compassion and conviction,” she said.
“To Pope Francis, I say that we, the people of God, are aware we’re engaged in a fight for the soul of our Church. This may be your last opportunity to demonstrate that you are equipped and willing to lead us in this battle. Your words, actions and silence in the face of this crisis have been distressing and disturbing. If we are to truly move forward into a future of hope and healing, we must be able to trust that your words are not empty and your actions are effective,” she added
Siobhan O’Connor's full interview with LifeSiteNews
LifeSiteNews (LSN): Siobhan, the Vatican Press Office recently released their official talking points in reference to the much-anticipated three-day “Summit” on the sex abuse crisis, taking place next month. What were your impressions, and moreover–how did these statements impact you, personally, as one having been thrown into the crisis out of Buffalo, NY?
Siobhan O’Connor: My response to these talking points was one of immense disappointment and dismay. First of all, it distresses me greatly that the meeting topic is solely focused on “the protection of minors.” While I certainly want all minors to be protected, I find this limited scope unacceptable. This meeting must address the abuse of any of God's children regardless of their age. Another concern is that the meeting will be an exclusively pastoral gathering. This means they are avoiding and excluding input from many important groups: survivors, lay men and women, psychologists, experts in abuse detection, prevention & treatment, and members of law enforcement.
These statements had a very negative impact on me. The Diocese of Buffalo has been embroiled in a clerical abuse scandal for nearly a year now. The Catholic Church in the United States is reeling from the PA grand jury report, multiple AG investigations, several FBI raids, and various diocesan scandals plus the ‘wuerling’ dervish of lying and criminal cardinals. (The Church is also struggling mightily on a global scale, but I can’t speak to that as directly.) Yet with Church in such obvious crisis, we've been told to wait for this February summit, as if 3 days in Rome will suddenly fix everything. Because of its insular composition and limited scope, this meeting is clearly a placebo rather than a panacea.
LSN: When you were interviewed, after revealing your role as Whistleblower in the Buffalo Diocese cover-up scandals, you said you witnessed the real distress of those claiming abuse by clergy. Do you believe their voices are being heard, now? Is yours?
O’Connor: Yes, survivors' ongoing trauma was a huge impetus for me to blow the whistle. Sadly, I don't believe that their voices are being heard. The Diocese of Buffalo is trying to pay them off and be done with it. The survivors more than deserve compensation, but they also seek and deserve the following: accountability and consequences for complicit bishops and abusive priests alike, restorative justice, true healing for themselves and fellow survivors, a genuine expression of the Church’s sorrow regarding the crimes of the past, and the assurance that this will never happen again. I share their concern that the Diocese is more interested in writing a check than in turning the aforementioned requests into realities.
LSN: Some in the hierarchy are claiming that the “Dallas Charter” has worked in protection of children–and this is the focus point of their arguments that the Church has handled the sex abuse crisis with justice. Yet, the Charter left out consequences to Bishops, and focused heavily on abuse of minors, “educating” laymen.
–In your actual experience leading up to your whistleblowing, do you think the Dallas Charter was sufficient? (If not, do you believe this was purposely done by members seeking to exonerate themselves?)
–Do you believe “educating” individuals on inappropriate contact with minors/other individuals actually deters predators
–What would you expect from the Vatican, to make an impact and address this crisis, now?
O’Connor: If I had a dollar for every time Bishop Malone referred to the Charter with unnerving reverence! For far too long, the bishops of the United States have stood behind the Charter like a shield. As we know, the Charter does not include bishops in its jurisdiction – it is solely focused on priests and deacons. How can we trust the policies and protocols of the Charter if we can't trust the prelates who created the document and are supposed to enforce it?
Another serious problem is that the Charter is only concerned with the abuse of minors. My experience with the Diocese of Buffalo showed me that the Charter was insufficient and limited in its scope of what constitutes both abuse and abuser. As I've learned more about the nefarious behavior of various high-ranking bishops and cardinals, it has led me to believe that the limitations of the Charter were likely intentional. In fact, the National Review Board issued a statement last August in which they referred to the “deliberate ambiguity” of the Charter. I found it fascinating that the National Review Board – itself a creation of the Charter – came out with such a strong statement!
In addition to the aforementioned ambiguity, the National Review Board also noted that although the 2002 “policies and procedures” had decreased abuse, a “systemic problem with the Church” still existed. They went on to say that “what needs to happen is a genuine change in the Church's culture, specifically among the bishops themselves. This evil has resulted from a loss of moral leadership and an abuse of power that led to a culture of silence that enabled these incidents to occur. The culture of silence enabled the abuse to go on virtually unchecked. Trust was betrayed for the victims/survivors of the abuse; the entire Body of Christ was betrayed in turn by these crimes and the failure to act.” What powerful words from a group of lay people tasked with holding the USCCB accountable!
I do not have high expectations for this Vatican Summit. If I had any say at the meeting, these are the decisive actions I would urge:
1. Demand and ensure that bishops are held accountable whether they were abusers themselves or were complicit in a cover up (accountability would require, at a minimum, that an abusive or complicit bishop be removed from office and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance with no public ministry or attendant privileges)
2. Revise and reform the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to include bishops as potential abusers and adults as potential victims.
3. Order the independent review of each nation's bishops by the laity of that country assisted by law enforcement.
4. Create and enforce a whistle blower policy for the Catholic Church that allows individuals to safely expose corruption, criminal activity or cover-ups.
5. Commence the international, public and repeated expression of genuine remorse and sorrow to survivors for the trauma and suffering they've endured. Make a commitment to treat them justly, respectfully and compassionately at all times. Provide them with multi-faceted resources and offer opportunities for lay people to support survivors.
6. Address the need for a renewal of seminary life and priestly formation throughout the Church. Determine the immediate and ongoing action steps necessary to ensure this renewal. Seminarians should be protected from sexual harassment or abuse and know how to report any such occurrences to the proper civil and church authorities. These steps toward renewal should include the proper formation of new bishops so that they are well aware of their moral responsibilities and equipped to carry them out. Put an end to careerism in the Church – no one who strives to be a bishop should be appointed one. End the toxic culture of secrecy and silence within the priesthood and the hierarchy.
7. Focus on the fundamentals of our faith: dependence on and gratitude for God's mercy; the universal call to holiness and how that should be answered; the observance of chastity according to one's state in life for laity and clergy alike; devotion to and reverence for Christ especially during Mass; prayer and penance especially a renewal of Eucharistic Adoration and a revival of the Sacrament of Reconciliation; prayers to Our Lady and the Saints, etc.
8. A personal and universal commitment on the part of all members of the hierarchy to total transparency. There cannot be any exceptions or trust will not be restored and may be lost indefinitely.
LSN: We have heard, in the last months, individuals such as Cardinals Cupich and Wuerl, and–internationally–Bishop Linda of Portugal (https://onepeterfive.com/bishop-linda-of-portugal-sex-abuse-crisis-is-an-anglo-saxon-phenomenon/), Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras, focus on these abuses as either isolated to a certain demographic, or only inappropriate in instances of pedophilia. Do you think this is a concerted effort by some, to push a narrative, and if so–why?
O’Connor: It was flabbergasting to hear Cardinal Wuerl state that this was not a “massive, massive crisis.” If it's not, I tremble to think of what he would consider a massive crisis! Likewise, I was stunned when Cardinal Cupich spoke about “rabbit holes” and “bigger agendas.” They are deflecting in every way they can in order to minimize the gravity of this crisis and to ignore the diseased state of the hierarchy. I don't think they fully realize that the laity will no longer accept their constant deflections and cognitive dissonance. Archbishop Sheen's challenging yet comforting words come to mind: “Who is going to save our Church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our bishops to be bishops.” This is the time for the laity to stand up and demand the accountability we've been denied for far too long.
LSN: Some Vatican watchers are anticipating the Summit to be nothing more than a PR campaign–tell us why you think this would be a wrong move by the Vatican, for the sake of those who have suffered?
O’Connor: It does appear that this Summit is a high stakes PR event in many respects. Don't they understand that we are well past the point of task forces, commissions and summit meetings? They’re trying to put bandages on a cannonball wound. Catholics are demanding accountability and action, but we're receiving talking points and vague promises instead. The survivors of clerical sexual abuse know all too well about those empty promises. These heroic individuals have endured unfathomable pain and trauma. This Summit cannot be about PR for the Church. The optics for the Church are already horrid – a PR stunt will only make everything incalculably worse. This summit must be concerned with enacting real and lasting change, total transparency, permanent accountability and justice for survivors.
LSN: Archbishop Vigano recently appealed to Archbishop McCarrick to publicly repent and do penance for his abuses and sacrilege. Others have added to this call, including Bishop Strickland of Tyler, TX. Still others are calling for excommunication of all clergy convicted of abuse, and all clergy proven to have knowingly covered up this abuse.
What are your thoughts, as one who has been impacted by this?
O’Connor: Archbishop Vigano's appeal to Archbishop McCarrick was quite compelling. I was especially struck by these words: “A public repentance on your part would bring a significant measure of healing to a gravely wounded and suffering Church. Are you willing to offer her that gift?” That type of honesty and humility would indeed be a gift to our hurting Church! But is McCarrick willing? Of course not. Why would he do so when only a few brother bishops are demanding it and almost all the rest are meek, mediocre or mendacious? It is tragic to consider that the hierarchy does not seem particularly concerned about the soul of the Church or of Her people's souls. But are they not concerned for their own souls at least? The majority of bishops in the United States are entering the twilight of their lives. Their time for soul saving is decreasing by the day. Any clergy – including bishops – who are convicted of abuse or proven to have covered up abuse must face the consequences and do penance for their crimes. This must be done for the sake of justice… and for the salvation of their souls.
LSN: As an advocate, and a witness to the cover-up of abuses–do you have any words to say to ++DiNardo and the other presidents headed to the conference, next month?
Do you have any words to say to Pope Francis, who has promised to be there “the entire duration”?
O’Connor: Yes, I would ask them all to keep in mind the following verses from the Gospel of Matthew:
1) “But anyone who is the downfall of one of these little ones who have faith in me would be better drowned in the depths of the sea with a great millstone round his neck.” (Mt 18:6)
2) “And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” (Mt 21:12-13)
To Cardinal DiNardo and all Summit attendees: the time is now! Don't make Jesus start flipping tables or preparing millstones. No more excuses. No more delays, deflections or distractions. No more pathetic platitudes or useless statements. We don't need legalistic protocols or unwieldy procedures. Stop hiding behind inadequate charters and your misguided deference to each other. Be the men of God you are called to be! Be men of courage, compassion and conviction.
To Pope Francis, I say that we, the people of God, are aware we’re engaged in a fight for the soul of our Church. This may be your last opportunity to demonstrate that you are equipped and willing to lead us in this battle. Your words, actions and silence in the face of this crisis have been distressing and disturbing. If we are to truly move forward into a future of hope and healing, we must be able to trust that your words are not empty and your actions are effective.
We will be praying for you all – the nearly desperate pleas of a hurting people. In our own words, we echo the cry of Psalm 130: “Out of the depths we cry to thee, O Lord! We must hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with Him is plenteous redemption. And He will redeem His Church and Her leaders from all of their iniquities.”