Today’s Irish Times carries an impassioned plea from Fr Robert Hoatson of New Jersey under the headline: ‘Papal apologies are all well and good – now is the time for action.’
Fr Hoatson was sexually abused while a member of the Christian Brothers and as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Newark, and had a first cousin who committed suicide in the aftermath of clerical sexual abuse. Hoatson’s words, then, are rooted in the experience of the pain and suffering that always accompanies sexual abuse.
So it is with authority that Hoatson says of victims,
In most cases their souls were murdered by men and women who represented God.
Hoatson claims that the Pope’s various apologies to victims of clerical sexual abuse are virtually meaningless unless they are followed up with action that makes a real difference in the lives of survivors.
Hoatson is co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, a non-profit organisation that assists victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse. Based on his experiences in this organisation, his five point plan is as follows:
We propose that Pope Benedict and the Vatican:
1) Hold a media event at which Pope Benedict calls forth from silence and shame any and all victims of clergy sexual abuse with the blanket assurance that they will be taken care of;
2) Refer all victims to panels of independent lay Catholics and non-Catholics who can properly assess the damage to and needs of the survivors. In addition, victims’ family members will be assessed for damage as well – clergy sexual abuse affects entire families;
3) Establish in every diocese and/or region of the world Centres for Restorative Healing. These centres will be comprehensive in-patient and out-patient medical and social service facilities, meeting the needs of survivors in the areas of housing, medicine, psychological counselling, food and clothing, education, career counselling, and whatever else the victims need;
4) All facilities will be paid for by the Roman Catholic Church and will remain open and operational until every last victim is restored to health. Victims will never be turned away from or denied services for as long as they live;
5) Use the resources and experience of Road to Recovery of the US to advise the Vatican in the establishment of a comprehensive programme of healing for victims. Victims of clergy sexual abuse live in terror, turmoil, and torment every day of their lives.
These suggestions are visionary and comprehensive, but I have a difficult time imagining their implementation – especially points 3 and 4.
What are the chances that the Catholic Church, from the very highest level, will back up its apologies with such a heavy financial and emotional investment in services and facilities for survivors?
That said, I take heart in the story of the organisation Road to Recovery, as presented on its website. Set up by Hoatson and Fr. Kenneth E. Lasch in 2002, in 2007,
a group of Catholics from northwestern New Jersey “adopted” the work of Rescue&Recovery International, organized a business plan for its present and future success, and supported the plan through contributions and financial services.
Inspired by the ongoing work of these two priests, it looks like lay Catholics got behind them financially and organisationally. As an institution, the Catholic Church might not have been responding to the needs of victims and survivors in New Jersey.
But that didn’t stop grassroots Catholics from identifying the need and taking action.
That example – not a vain hope that the Vatican might seriously consider Hoatson’s 5-point plan – may in the end be something that Irish Catholics can draw inspiration from.
(Image from the Road to Recovery website)