Georgetown is leading conversations about the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and bringing to campus a diverse set of thought leaders as well as survivors of sexual abuse and journalists who cover the issue.
Georgetown is leading conversations about the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Churchand bringing to campus a diverse set of thought leaders as well as survivors of sexual abuse and journalists who cover the issue.
In the beginning of this academic year Georgetown President John J. DeGioia senta communitymessage describing the commitment of the university to respond to this crisis through dialogue, reflection and action.
One upcoming event, on Oct. 24, is a Dahlgren Dialogue called “A Path Forward on the Sexual Abuse Crisis,” sponsored by the Office ofMission and Ministry and the university’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.
Featuring an Illinois Supreme Court Justice, a Jesuit psychologist, a student leader of the Georgetown Catholic community and a national Catholic lay leader, the event will explore ways to protect the young, hold leaders accountable and restore trust.
“This event is part of a series of Georgetown dialogues on the human, moral and institutional costs of clerical sexual abuse and the role of lay women and men in providing leadership in responding to this crisis,” said John Carr, the initiative’s director.
Power of Speaking Out
Last month, the initiative organized a major public dialogue on “Confronting a Moral Catastrophe: Lay Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching and the Clerical Sexual Abuse Crisis.”
Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and area residents filled Gaston Hall and had a chance to ask questions of the panelists.
During the Sept. 25 event, Carr, who served as director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for more than two decades, revealed for the first time that he himself is a survivor of clerical sexual abuse.
Carr moderated a moving discussion with Dawn Eden Goldstein, a theology professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and author of My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints; Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post; Kevin Byrnes, attorney and clerical sexual abuse survivor; and Robert S. Bennett, attorney and member of the original National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People.
‘My Own Silence’
Co-sponsors of the event included the university’s Office of Mission and Ministry, its Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and its Office of Global Engagement.
“I had been talking to a lot of journalists and others about [sexual abuse] and heard myself saying that silence was a big part of this problem, part of these horrors,” Carr said at the event. “And then I had to realize that my own silence about my own story of clerical sexual abuse was part of the problem. I went to a high school seminary. I got a great education. I got wonderful formation and I also experienced abuse and harassment.”
Carr said he didn’t tell his parents at the time, or until recently and much later, his wife or children.
Protecting Children, Adults
In a same-day article in America magazine, Carr wrote that Pope Francis had been “too slow to understand and act on the moral and spiritual consequences of abuse.”
But Carr also wrote that the pope’s recent efforts to hear from victims and survivors, “challenge destructive clericalism and his decision to call leaders of the entire church to Rome offer steps forward.”
Kim Daniels, who recently joined the initiative as associate director, has been a lead advisor to U.S. bishops and Catholic organizations on a wide variety of issues and was appointed by Pope Francis to be a member of the Vatican Dicastery for Communication in 2016.
“We gathered today to ask how lay women and men can lead the response to this crisis,” she said, “helping forge a path forward that will protect children and vulnerable adults, secure justice and healing for survivors, provide real accountability for bishops and reform the clerical culture so that abuse and its cover up can never happen again.”
Healing and Justice
A second dialogue for young Catholic leaders in Washington drew a standing room only crowd to Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies in downtown Washington.
This Salt and Light Gathering on Sept. 17 included: Elizabeth Bruening, a columnist at the Washington Post;Jonathan Lewis, an Archdiocese of Washington leader appointed by Pope Francis to the Synod on Young People in Rome and coordinator of young adult initiatives for the Archdiocese of Washington; Joshua McElwee, National Catholic Reporter‘s Vatican correspondent; and Eve Tushnet, a Catholic author and editor.
The purpose of the “Salt and Light” events are “to listen and learn and to discuss and connect” with Catholic leaders under 40 about “how their faith and Catholic teaching can enrich their lives, both personally and professionally,” according to the initiative.
“We can disagree about a lot of different things,” Daniels said. “I think there’s much to discuss in this crisis and we’ll get there. But I do think there are things we agree on, right? And that’s putting survivors first and healing and justice for survivors.”
Place for Survivors
At an earlier event the same day called “Covering the Catholic Church and Pope Francis in a Time of Crisis,” McElwee said his greatest fear about the recent report of clerical abuse in Pennsylvania is that “it’s going to be like this for a very long time.”
As a journalist covering this issue, he said “the key thing is allowing a place for survivors to come forward, to make the accusation and for them to be treated seriously.” McElwee provided insights at the event gleaned during his time covering Pope Francis.
“I think the real problem with the post-2000 church is that we never had the pull off the Band-Aid moment, so we never had the moment to say, ‘What the hell happened?’ ” he said.
He added that getting to the bottom of what happened needs to happen outside the church.
“We’re waiting to see who’s going to take up that role and how it could be done,” he explained.
The most recent conversation in response to the ongoing crises surrounding sexual abuse took place on Oct. 10, when Georgetown’s Office of Mission and Ministry hosted a conversation with Trinity Washington University President Patricia McGuire (L’77) in Dahlgren Chapel.
Georgetown is planning other gatherings addressing the human and moral costs of the sexual abuse crisis. A Liturgy of Prayer and Music for Penance in a Time of Crisis will take place in Georgetown’s Dahlgren Chapel on Nov. 19.