By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 7, 2019
ATLANTA—For Teri Lewis, her faith forces her to confront the clerical sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. “Denial is not going to keep your faith,” she said.
For college student Isabela Cardenas, her goal is to understand church structure and power that allowed cover ups. “Learning the facts is the first step,” she said.
The Aquinas Center at Emory University began on Tuesday, Feb. 26, its two-part series focused on the crisis, drawing scores of people to fill Cannon Chapel on campus. Lewis and Cardenas were among those attending the program, “Sex Abuse Crisis: Fact, Fiction, Future.”
Jesuit Father Gerard McGlone, a psychologist and a victim of sex abuse by a priest, urged the crowd of Catholics to “reclaim your baptismal rights” to help fix the church through this current crisis.
In restoring an imbalance of power, lay women and men need to take their positions as “collaborators as equals” alongside bishops and priests to have an impact on their parish and in the archdiocese, according to the priest, a fellow at Georgetown University.
A psychotherapist for nearly 30 years, Father McGlone served as the co-director of research and staff therapist at the National Institute for the Study, Prevention and Treatment of Sexual Trauma. He has four master’s degrees: one in divinity, one in theology and two in clinical and counseling psychology, as well as a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
Father McGlone sees the church undergoing an “internal Reformation” which believers will either see as authentic or they will walk away, he said. “Business as usual is over,” he said. “People are tired of words and want concrete action.”
In blunt terms, Father McGlone said during the past the church gave concentrated power to bishops in managing the church. The concern of too many leaders was to protect the religious institution with a culture that “lacks transparency and keeps secrets.”
It is time now to transform that culture, he said. The solutions will come when Catholics working together persistently raise their voice for change, he said.
Holding onto the faith
The program lasted 45 minutes beyond its scheduled conclusion. It began with prayer from the anointing of chrism from the Rite of Baptism and music as the recorded sounds of the cello played by Yo-Yo Ma filled the chapel.
Lewis said churchgoers now see a horrific side of the church most never witnessed.
“It is a heavy burden, but a burden we have to carry” to understand what has taken place, said Lewis, who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Atlanta. She has worked in human services, caring for children and domestic violence victims.
People may react in disbelief as investigations unfold when it threatens their concept of church. Lewis’ response is to focus on survivors and rebuild the church.
Lewis said, “It’s going to be painful. It calls for action, justice and love.”
Cardenas studies political science at Oxford College of Emory University. Her goal is to understand the exercise of authority that allowed the abuse to take place. There must be an understanding of the process that got the church to this stage so there is no forgetting the mistakes, she said.
Several of her fellow campus Catholics drove the 40 miles from the Oxford campus to listen to the speaker. When another student asked about holding on to the faith, Father McGlone said his faith in Jesus is beyond the control of his religious order or the church institution even as he grieves their actions. “I cling to my faith,” he said.
The recent Vatican summit on prevention of clerical child sexual abuse left Father McGlone frustrated.
The summit brought nearly 200 leaders from around the world to Rome for consultation on the issue roiling the church, but it ended without a concrete plan to hold bishops accountable, which should be a priority, he said.
Father McGlone said the summit opened each session hearing from abuse survivors. That should be a model to keep the survivors in the center of church discussions, he said. Father McGlone said he is looking into starting a project collecting survivor stories so it is never shrugged off as past history.
He dismissed the idea by some that the church cannot confront child abuse globally, an action Pope Francis could take. He said the church already does it such as advocating against abortion in all cultures, without respect for cultural sensitivities.
“If we can do this worldwide with respect to abortion, help me understand why we can’t do this worldwide with child abuse,” said the priest.
Changes to the periphery of church life will not resolve the situation. Since 2002, Father McGlone said there have been many good steps, like the promotion of abuse prevention and a zero-tolerance policy on priests who commit abuse, but there are church features that should be scrutinized. The priest said the church would be helped by borrowing from a medical tradition and hosting a “grand rounds” where all stakeholders—bishops, priests, lay people—together review what the church has done well and what it has done poorly.