Sins & Silence
Act of Contrition: Empathy Guided Apology by Archbishop

By Mary Nevans-Pederson
Telegraph Herald [Dubuque IA]
March 12, 2006

[See the main page of the Sins & Silence series for links to all the articles and letters to the editor.]

Apologies generally help the aggrieved party feel better and heal. Sometimes, a direct apology is impossible, so contrition by proxy must suffice.

Such was the case with the public apology issued on Feb. 21 by Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus to the victims of sexual abuse by priests.

As the head of his diocese, Hanus apologized for the horrible wrongs visited on the men and women when they were children—not because he had committed those sins, but because other Catholic clergy had.

Hanus addressed the victims who shared in the settlement, announced at the same time, between the archdiocese and 20 abuse victims.

He spoke to their families and to others who had been abused by archdiocesan priests.

Hanus acknowledged that he spoke on behalf of "a Church which has failed you."

The prelate chose his words carefully. Many factors were weighing on his mind.

In the days before the announcement, Hanus heard the victims' stories, either directly or through videotaped presentations.

"Their personal stories, told with great feeling, were in my heart as I wrote the apology. I always try to listen with the ear of the heart," Hanus said.

"I felt great compassion for persons who had been hurt and betrayed. I try to imagine what I would feel if it were my sister or brother who had been abused. I allow some of my anger toward abusers to drive my passion for identifying with the victims," he said.

Hanus said he prayed for divine direction as he chose his words.

"I pray for guidance in every moment of my ministry as bishop to people in need," he said.

The archbishop's apologies, both in writing and in person, were "very heartfelt," said Jim Cummins, one of the victims who settled with the archdiocese.

"He was sincere and I think profoundly saddened by what happened," said Cummins, an award-winning journalist with NBC News who was abused by a Dubuque Archdiocesan priest in the 1960s in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Several victims were less conciliatory.

"The archbishop can write a real good letter, but it's just a bunch of words," said Steve Theisen, Iowa head of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests. "I'll accept an apology when I see action."

Mel Loes, of East Dubuque, Ill., is equally critical of the apology. Loes was abused 60 years ago by the Rev. Joseph Patnode.

"Hanus has been apologizing for three or four years now, trying to make it look good," he said.

One of the victim/plaintiffs in the recent settlement, identified as "John Doe," said the apology made little difference to him.

"The archbishop was obligated to do it (as part of the settlement). It doesn't make things any better or worse for us," said the 65-year-old Dubuque man.


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