Springfield woman on pope’s advisory group: Abuse crisis is ‘game changer’ for church
By Steven Spearie
September 17, 2018
|Teresa Morris Kettelkamp, a parishioner at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, has been appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.|
Photo by Rich Saal
An advisory commission to Pope Francis which Springfield resident Teresa Morris Kettelkamp was appointed to earlier this year may play a pivotal role in an historic meeting in February that brings together leaders of the Catholic Church from around the world to discuss the prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.
The announcement for the gathering of the presidents of the bishops’ conferences came last week on the same day the pope met with U.S. Catholic Church leaders who admitted the Church here has been “lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.”
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors on which Kettelkamp serves, was reportedly instrumental in convincing Pope Francis of the need for a cross-section of Church leaders to meet.
While Kettelkamp couldn’t define the commission’s exact role for the Feb. 21-24 gathering in Rome, the pope has leaned on the commission, which he put together in 2014 and re-appointed earlier this year, as a sounding board.
“I think (the conference) is huge,” said Kettelkamp, a retired colonel from the Illinois State Police and a parishioner at Springfield’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in a recent interview in the capital city. “Pope Francis is saying let’s just stop and get on the same sheet of music. You can’t have the U.S. blow up, Chile blow up, Germany blow up (with clergy sexual abuse crises) and not gather the troops and say that these are our expectations in the Catholic Church with regards to safeguarding (children).”
While hailing the conference as a positive sign from Pope Francis, a leader from Springfield Catholic Laity said it won’t be enough unless it works to bring about lasting change.
“I don’t think it’s a spontaneous event,” said Gene Mitchell, who also attends Cathedral. “Clergy and the ordained are being put on notice.”
The 17-member pontifical commission has two purposes, said Kettelkamp: as an advisory body to the pope on initiatives about how the Church can keep children safe and to promote local responsibility about safeguarding.
The frustration, she admitted, is often the blowback from countries that either deny that there is a sexual abuse problem and episcopal conferences that don’t have safeguarding mechanisms in place.
“What (the commission) has been doing is a tremendous amount of training around the world regarding safeguarding, because we look at it from an Anglo perspective,” said Kettelkamp, the only American lay person on the commission. “That does not transfer to (many) other countries: Asian countries, African countries, Hispanic countries.
“Their whole culture of dealing with sexual issues is ‘not us.’ Their whole criminal justice system is ‘not us.’ There are instances in some countries where, if you’re a victim and you call (authorities), you get victimized again. Or if you report a priest, you’re driven out of the village.”
Even when the commission was proposing a Church-wide Day of Prayer for clergy sexual abuse victims, Kettelkamp recalled, some countries shrunk from it, insisting they didn’t have problems with the issue as a whole or with clergy in particular.
“So we would tell them, first of all, they’re wrong. Second of all, it’s just a matter of time before you’re going to have to face this issue in your country,” she said. “You cannot be myopic and think it’s just a western problem. It is everywhere. Some of those countries are coming around now, but it’s a learning process for them.”
Kettelkamp, who chairs the commission’s committee on working with clergy sexual abuse survivors, has proposed making it a practice to start each of its meetings listening to the stories from survivors, as it did earlier this month at the Vatican.
“What came out of that was also the issue of active listening. A lot of people listen with their attorneys or their insurance people and they listen from the viewpoint of liability. But as a Church, we need to listen from the viewpoint of healing,” said Kettelkamp.
“What victims need to heal is not money. Money does not heal. They need to be heard and they need to be believed. They need to be apologized to. Settlements weren’t the panacea solutions either. Some dioceses have done wonderful jobs. They have survivor support groups. Some bishops are wonderful. They spend a lot of time with survivors.
“If the U.S. has such a problem now, it’s symptomatic of how strong this problem is.”
Kettelkamp, 66, a native of Chicago, served as executive director for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection from 2005 to 2011. She admitted she was “infuriated” by the recent allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., who last month resigned from the College of Cardinals in light of allegations that he sexually harassed or abused several young men.
“My frustration and infuriation was how did (the Secretariat) miss this? Is it because the (Dallas) Charter (implemented by U.S. bishops in 2002 in response to the Boston clergy sexual abuse situation) applies to priests and deacons and not bishops, that they did not report to us allegations involving a bishop? Or did the allegation not surface in an environment that would have been reported to the auditors? I don’t know,” she admitted.
Regarding the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the number of victims and abusive priests — more than 300 over seven decades — is “equally devastating,” said Kettelkamp.
“What makes things all the more worse is the cover-up. I think (people) see that as arrogant and clerical and unforgivable.”
The crisis is “a game-changer for the Catholic Church,” said Kettelkamp, though she isn’t without hope.
“Hopefully, the Church will do what (Pope Francis) suggests and get its hands dirty and start focusing on the poor and marginalized, because that’s who suffers,” she added. “The Church used to be the voice for the marginalized and the people who didn’t have a voice. So if the Church doesn’t have any credibility, it doesn’t have a voice, and it can’t be a voice for anybody else.”
Mitchell said about 200 people, including some clergy members from the area, attended a prayer service held at St. Agnes Church on Wednesday. Afterward, Mitchell said he talked to about 30 clergy sexual abuse survivors.
The nascent group, said Mitchell, is “emboldened” to go forward and especially in establishing a dialogue and listening sessions with Springfield Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki.
“We (the laity) have something to say on this matter,” he said.