Clergy Sex Victims Group Criticizes Plan for Forgiveness Ritual
By Kim Chatelain
April 1, 2016
A support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse has taken issue with Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory Aymond's plan for a special ritual in which the Roman Catholic Church will seek forgiveness from people it has hurt. The group says tangible steps are needed more than "words, gestures and apologies."
Aymond has set "a ritual of forgiveness and resurrection" as part of the annual Divine Mercy Sunday Mass that he will celebrate April 3 at St. Joseph Church in New Orleans. The rite "seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with those who have been hurt or alienated by the church either through institutional or individual offenses," the archdiocese said.
In announcing what it called a historic and important Mass in the life of the local church, the archdiocese did not mention the series of lawsuits, criminal prosecutions and scandals since the mid-1980s over sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the United States. It said only that "we as individuals, as members of the archdiocese and society as a whole have let people down."
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Friday (April 1) that such apology services often sound good but are largely self-serving public relations events. "They don't protect a single child, expose a single predator, punish a single concealer or deter a single cover-up," Clohessy said. "The archdiocese should take tangible steps so that the church no longer will need to give apologies. The goal should be no more victims."
He said Aymond should warn parents, parishioners, police, prosecutors and the public about two abusive priests who at some point in their careers were in the New Orleans area and have been convicted of sex crimes elsewhere:
Mark Broussard, a former Lake Charles priest who on March 11 was sentenced to two life terms in prison, plus 50 years, for sexually abusing altar boys in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Robert Poandl, who lived in New Orleans in the early 1970s and was sentenced to prison after taking a Cincinnati boy to West Virginia and assaulting him in 1991. In 2010, Aymond heeded the advocacy group's call to alert New Orleans area Catholics to allegations made against Poandl.
Clohessy also called attention to the Rev. Maurice Nutt, director of the Institute for Black Catholics Studies at Xavier University. In 2003, two St. Louis police officers reached a confidential settlement in their lawsuits alleging that Nutt, while a member of the St. Louis Police Board, sexually harassed them. Nutt has publicly denied any wrongdoing in the case and has never been charged with a crime.
Founded in 1988, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests claims more than 20,000 members. It says it is the world's oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims.
Aymond's ritual will be held as part of the Divine Mercy Sunday Mass, which Roman Catholics celebrate on the first Sunday after Easter. This year's celebration in New Orleans will link with Pope Francis's designation of the period of Dec. 8, 2015, to Nov. 20, 2016, as a Jubilee of Mercy involving the Catholic Church throughout the world.
In a statement released in response to the survivors network criticism, Aymond said Sunday's Divine Mercy Mass is an opportunity for the church both to acknowledge and ask forgiveness for the hurts caused by some clergy members. Asking God's forgiveness both individually and collectively is a vital part of the Catholic faith, he said.
Aymond acknowledged that the most public sins of the Church involve the sexual abuse scandal. He said that in acknowledging them, the church can "open wide our doors and our hearts."
Allegations of abuse are taken extremely seriously and investigated thoroughly, he said. The archdiocese has specific policies that are followed very carefully in regards to charges made against clergy.
"I have said before and will always say that just one case of abuse against those in our care is one too many," Aymond said. "In this year of mercy it is my prayer that we as the church may, through the mercy of God, both ask forgiveness of our sins and receive the grace to overcome them in the future. I pray, too, that those who we have hurt may come to know how truly sorry we are and join us in the life of the church."