ATLANTA, Georgia, August 30, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The Catholic mother of a survivor of abuse within the Atlanta archdiocese has penned a letter to Archbishop Wilton Gregory to let him know the heartbreak he has caused her and the “disgust” she feels by appointing a homosexual-affirming priest as “spiritual guide” for victims of sexual abuse in the archdiocese.
LifeSiteNews detailed in an August 14 report how Gregory had appointed Msgr. Henry Gracz as archdiocesan “Spiritual Director for Victims.” Gracz is pastor of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, which has long held the reputation within the archdiocese as being the “gay parish.” As Pastor, Gracz oversees ongoing LGBT-affirming initiatives by the parish.
LifeSiteNews was made aware of a letter written by Lauren Whittaker, the mother of an abuse victim, to Atlanta's archbishop. In the August 22 letter, Whittaker let Gregory know that, as the mother of a clergy-abuse victim, she was filled with “disgust” at his appointment of Gracz.
“A Spiritual Director is meant to be someone who follows Church teachings and leads you to a deeper relationship with Christ,” stated Whittaker. “How could this man, who is widely known to encourage the homosexual lifestyle, possibly be able to counsel victims of homosexual abuse?” she wrote in her letter.
Whittaker wrote in an email to friends that when she first learned that Archbishop Gregory had assigned a “known and flagrantly pro-homosexual priest” as Spiritual Director for sexual abuse victims, she “wanted to cry.” She shared her letter with close Catholic associates to provide encouragement in the abuse crisis. She allowed the letter to be shared internally among LifeSite staff. When asked if she would consider allowing the letter to be published, after discernment and prayer, she agreed.
The experience of her son being molested at the hands of a representative of the Church decades ago, who at the time was passed off in her parish as a seminarian, and subsequent grueling trial was the most devastating thing she’s ever had to go through, she said. The abuser eventually pleaded guilty and served a few years in prison, later dying.
What the family did not expect, but has come to find is often the “norm,” is a culture in the Church — whether with its leaders or other laity — of individuals who will discredit the victims and their families in order to protect themselves.
“That devastated us,” Whittaker told LifeSiteNews. “Catholics are trained to believe that priests don’t lie, so when the priests declare that the victims are lying, they are believed.”
Some in her family — and also in another whose sons were also molested by the abuser — have left the Church. But not Whittaker, who told LifeSiteNews she knew that prayer was the answer.
She railed at God for allowing this to happen, she said, and were it not for her devotion to the Eucharist, she wouldn’t have made it.
“The thought of not being able to receive My Lord was too much to bear,” Whittaker said. “It was only by God’s Grace and lots of prayer through my tears that I came to realize the only recourse I really had was my prayers. This is, first and foremost, a spiritual battle and prayer is the only antidote.”
A petition asking the Archbishop to remove the pro-homosexual priest from public ministry within his archdiocese has been signed by over 1,300 people.
In making public her letter to the Archbishop, Whittaker is adamant about one thing.
“I don’t want people to focus on me and my story,” she said. “I want them to focus on what a breaking heart says to their Shepherd.”
Her letter to Archbishop Gregory is printed below in its entirety. As of press time, she has not had a response.
Letter to Archbishop Gregory from Lauren Whittaker
August 22, 2018
Prophecy against the Shepherds of Israel – Ezekiel Chapter 34, verses 1-10:
“Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to [a]those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: “As I live,” declares the Lord God, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”’”
Archbishop Gregory, as the parent of a clergy-abuse victim, I have thought of you often. You were not the Shepherd when our case went to trial, but you are aware of our case. Your office made sure to include me at your initial invitation to sex-abuse victims shortly after your arrival – ostensibly so that we could meet you and hear of your concerns. My son has long ago left the Church as a direct result of the calumny which was foisted upon us – him, in particular – during the lead-up to our trial, but I wanted to be there. I wanted to meet you in person. And I brought along a friend for courage.
I’ll never forget that day, Archbishop. Never. We all met in Msgr. Kenny Hall at the Cathedral after Mass. A Mass at which you presided. Your homily was well thought out with lots of perfectly nuanced words of remorse and promises of care and concern. All well and good – and to be expected. But I wanted to look you in the eyes. You see, I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that the eyes are the window of the soul.
As I joined the long line of people leaving the Sanctuary and heading over to Kenny Hall, I looked around. We were a motley group. But each person had the same countenance – one of anticipation and yet of weariness. It was evident we all had a story to tell, and it was a good hunch that each of us had come to see what true remorse looked like.
We never saw it. Instead, as we waited for our turn in line, we were greeted with an effluent greeting from you that probably mimicked hundreds of receiving lines you’d already been in. Your eyes did not comport with grief, like ours did. No, instead they were like just about anyone else we’ve stood in line to see – a jovial, “Glad to meet ya” kind of greeting. There was no connection. No sense that you actually grieved alongside us like you had said in your homily.
I never forgot that, Archbishop. And, in the years that have followed, I’ve sat back and watched. And listened. And waited.
Everyone involved in my court case – another family, their children and my own son and even the lead detective from our case – have fled the Catholic Church and never even attempted to come back. That would be…let’s see…8 souls right there. Lost souls. Again, you were not part of our case, but the fallout is telling as we are just one small eentsy-weentsy case compared to the thousands that are coming to light in just one state – Pennsylvania. I can’t help but wonder what the tally would be if there were a statewide Grand Jury report for Georgia. One wonders. One can’t help but wonder how many souls are buried deep in the secret Archives of this Archdiocese.
Over the years I’ve wanted to write you – but each time I’ve felt it would fall on deaf ears. All the times you’ve had the opportunity to talk about the clergy sex-abuse scandal you have made sure to speak so very highly of yourself and all that you’ve done to make sure the victims are taken care of. I’m sorry to say that while your words may tickle the ears of fawning sheep in your fold, few victims are swayed by your well-parsed words of self-flattery.
No, Archbishop. No. We’ve continued to grieve because we see behind the veil. God has given us the strength and immeasurable Grace to try to forgive over and over every time we read something you’ve written. We know there is no true remorse. Only, as the PA Grand Jury so aptly put it – attempts to prevent scandal in the Church.
We know it’s always been about “The Church.” Not us. We sheep are collateral damage. It’s just part of the unfortunate underbelly of the Church that nobody but us victims get to see. The loss of our trust and even our souls is needed in order to keep the buildings being built and the lights on. Millions of dollars spent on a new recreation building – the Hyland Center? Pfft. A mere pittance.
As an old, unworthy woman who has fought tooth and nail to stay Catholic, I need to tell you something, Archbishop. I need to tell you that it’s NOT about “The Church.” It’s about Christ and His Sheep. You are held to a high standard by our Savior and King. Your job isn’t to make Catholicity more palatable for those who can’t quite see their way clear to understand the 10 Commandments. No. Your job is to carefully explain the fullness and beauty of a Faith that nurtures the soul while, in the same breath, challenges that soul to a deeper commitment with Christ so that they can fully enjoy the bliss of a relationship with Him forever in heaven.
That’s your job, Archbishop. Not kowtowing to the politically correct or well-placed patrons who will ensure the financial success of your dynasty.
I’ve wanted to write to you so many times. Really I have. My habit, instead, has been to go to prayer. The priests who denigrated the victims in our abuse case have received my first Hail Mary after Eucharist each day for many years. I pray to their Patron, Our Blessed Mother, that she would convert their hearts. I pray by name for several priests and then, a few years ago I began offering a day of prayer for all priests and our beloved Church as I saw things getting worse, not better.
This past Spring, Archbishop Gregory, as I witnessed you – yes, you – flagrantly rouse ire in your Sheep for a piece of Legislation (HB 605) which WOULD HAVE HELPED VICTIMS, falsely claiming that it was a direct attack against the Church – I went to my knees and wept. I knew, absolutely knew with every fiber of my being, that all the lofty words you’d espoused over the years about your care and concern for victims was nothing but a sham. I wanted so much to write you then, but there was nothing in me which believed that I would be heard.
So, instead, I doubled down on my prayers. I decided to up the ante, so to speak. Instead of just praying for priests and the Church one day a week – Thursdays – I decided to make the trip to the Cathedral every Thursday for noon Mass and do a complete fast on that day. You know why? Because it’s your seat. It’s where your chair resides at the side of the altar. You represent Christ in this Archdiocese and I felt that this was one place where God would most hear my prayers for your soul. For your conversion. After Mass each Thursday I spend an hour in the Adoration Chapel, Archbishop. There I plead with God to give you the moral courage to turn from the self-serving platitudes and understand the harm that’s been done to the Sheep. How many Sheep? Only God knows.
Then, last week when I read that you have assigned Monsignor Gracz as a “Spiritual Director” of sex-abuse victims, I really couldn’t think of the words to convey the disgust I felt. How could someone who is universally known in the Archdiocese as being openly approving of the homosexual lifestyle possibly be considered as a “Spiritual Director” of anyone…. much less the victim of predatory homosexual abuse. That not only defies logic, it hits home dramatically for us laity just how far you’ve drifted from your priestly mandate. We love sinners – every darn one of them – but we can’t jeopardize their souls by affirming behavior which God Himself declares to be mortally sinful. The sixth Commandment pertains to ALL of us, Archbishop. As a woman who has been single for more than 25 years, I HAVE to be celibate and chaste if I want to call myself a Christ-follower. Is it difficult? You bet it is. But I love God more than I love myself. It is YOUR job to call every one of us to holiness; not comfort.
Isn’t that what you’re supposed to be teaching us? Why are we the ones who now – after decades of waiting and watching – rise up and saying NO MORE? Why are the Laity now the ones who feel they MUST take up the Mantle which has been sullied and spat upon and lift it high on the Cross?
This past week I’ve wanted so much to take the time to write to you. I just didn’t know exactly what or how to start. That is, until I saw this morning’s First Reading – Ezekiel 34: 1-11. I knew then that today had to be the day. Today God was saying…SPEAK UP, Lauren! That is why I began this email with that Scripture verse. I want it to burn a hole in your soul, Archbishop. I want it to make you cry like it’s made so many of us victims cry when we read it.
The Church will survive this scandal. With God’s Grace and millions of our tears and prayers as a witness, we will survive, but by His Grace alone, it will be a Church with much fewer Bishops, Cardinals and Priests who have sacrificed the souls of their Sheep at their own altar of adoration. The souls of the victims cry out for nothing less.
I will continue to pray fervently for you, Archbishop. But my prayers will be for your true conversion, not for your success.
Your humble servant,