Amid More Revelations of Catholic Church Abuse and Cover-up, Survivors Galvanize
December 26, 2018
This year saw more appalling revelations about the Catholic Church and the behavior of many priests, exposing just how long some dioceses knew of and concealed sexual abuse. Judy Woodruff has the story, followed by a frank conversation with two abuse survivors and a professor and advocate for change in the church about how these developments affected them and their relationships with the faith.
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Now to one of the more difficult stories that resonated throughout this past year.
The Catholic Church, along with its larger community around the world, has been rocked by the church's long history of sexual abuse. This year, the tragic revelations kept coming, and they exposed even more just how long many dioceses covered up the abuse.
In this very frank conversation, Judy explores what the cover-ups have meant for survivors and for the faithful at large.
But she begins with some background.
The assaults and cover-ups go back decades, but this year has seen a tidal wave of stories and shocking revelations of alleged abuse, misconduct and even assault in parishes and diocese around the country.
The scandals and the church's approach throughout have undermined Pope Francis' tenure. In fact, it was the subject of his annual Christmas message, when he said that predator priests who have raped or molested children should turn themselves in quote "to human justice."
Sometimes, the diocese finally released names. In other cases, they have not been forthcoming. And some of the highest leaders of the church have resigned or been removed.
Bishop Ronald W. Gainer:
I take this step about confidentiality, so that the survivors can feel free to tell their stories to whomever and whenever they wish.
One of the more stunning moments came this summer, when an explosive grand jury report in Pennsylvania documented the abuse of more than 1,000 people in diocese around the state.
It was child sexual abuse, including rape, committed by grown men, priests, against children. Above all else, they protected their institution at all costs.
Hundreds of priests have been publicly named in more than 35 diocese, be it Chicago, Atlanta, Buffalo, or Las Cruces, New Mexico.
It is a painful time, but, for some of the survivors, a cathartic period as well.
We start our conversation tonight with two people who were themselves childhood victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.
John Carr experienced sexual abuse during his teen years at a Catholic seminary high school. Today, he is director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University. Becky Ianni is a member of the board of directors of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She was sexually violated by a priest from the age of 8 until she was 12, a memory she repressed for more than 40 years.
And Susan Reynolds is with the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Last August, she wrote a letter calling for the resignation of all U.S. bishops in the aftermath of the revelations about Pennsylvania.
And we welcome all three of you to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being here.
I want to start with the two of you.
John Carr, you were living in rural Minnesota. You were a teenager. What happened to you?
I went to high school seminary in rural Minnesota. I was 14 years old, got a great education and strong spiritual formation.
But I experienced sexual abuse. I had three priests two priests and a brother, who pursued me, I guess the phrase is groomed me, and touched me, hugged me, and, whereas I didn't experience the horrors in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. But there was something wrong, something evil, something lousy about that.
And, frankly, I just packed it away for a long time.
Becky Ianni, you were in Alexandria, Virginia, Washington, D.C. suburbs, and you were very young. You were 8 years old when it started.
A new ordained priest, Father William Reinecke, came to our parish. And he sort of adopted our family. And he would say mass in our house, and he would be over to our house for dinner three or four times. He went on vacation with us.
And I loved him, and I wanted his attention. And he took that adoration, and he started abusing me. It was around the age of 8. And it went on for probably three or four years. He would literally abuse me in the basement of our house, and then go up and have dinner with my parents.
And then, every Sunday, I had to see his hands that violated me holding the chalice at mass.
And when did you we said it was many years before you were able to talk about it, but, in the meantime, you kept this inside you.
Yes, I kept it inside, and I didn't even recognize it for myself, but it affected my entire life.
I was afraid of boys. I lost all my self-confidence. I really felt that I was a dirty person and that I always was constantly trying to make up for the fact that I was unlovable.
John Carr, how did you keep it inside you and keep going?
Well, ironically, I went to work for the church.
I worked for the Diocese of Minnesota, for the Archdiocese of Washington, for the Bishops Conference, and dealt with some of these issues. I worked with Cardinal Law. I worked with Cardinal McCarrick.
And I just pushed it away. And then I found myself talking about what was wrong here, and I kept hearing myself say, silence and secrecy are part of it, and I had to realize my secret, my silence was a big part of it.
And so I had not told my parents, who had passed, but I did talk my wife. I talked to my kids. I talked to key friends. And I sat down and wrote what happened to me, when, where, who. And I sent it to the provincial, the leader of the community that ran the seminary.
And there was something that said
And there was something that said, if I had spoken up, you know, maybe I could have protected others. I was 15, 16 years old. And then I saw a list. And the people I would have reported this to were themselves on the list for abusers. So I don't think that would have worked.
What made you finally comfortable, Becky Ianni, with talking about it?
I think what happened is, I came across a picture of myself with my perpetrator at the age of 48, and everything came flooding back. And I went into a deep depression, and I felt life was hopeless. I wanted to commit suicide. I just didn't want to be here anymore.
And so I went to the church for help, and they were not helpful. And so I fell even more into depression. And I ran into I contacted someone who was also abused by my perpetrator. And they suggested I called SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
And so I did. And I went to a couple of support groups. And listening to other people saying the same things I was feeling made me feel less isolated, and, eventually then, I was able to share my story.
And that helped. Secrecy is poisonous. And so being able to talk about it really helped me start to heal.
Susan Reynolds, you have heard so many of these stories. You teach about the Catholic faith. You teach theology.
And yet hearing this, has it does it help you understand how the people in the church, the laypeople in the church, are now addressing this horrible history?
I think it's hard to understate the magnitude of the effect that this crisis has had on people in the pews.
People feel betrayed. They feel unheard. They feel insulted, frankly. One thing I hear from people quite a lot is that they feel that the onus is constantly placed on them to forgive, to move on, to give the church one more chance.
It's very, very painful. But I have also been amazed by the energy that laypeople have exhibited in wanting to take on this crisis. And my own parish in Atlanta, for example, laypeople have formed a coalition and partnered with other parishes in the area to try and address this crisis of leadership from the ground up, to think about, how could we educate one another? How could we participate in leadership structures within our own parish and be the change, in a sense, that we want to see in the church?
John Carr, how do how do you relate now to laypeople in the church? What kind of reaction are you getting, have you gotten from them?
Well, after those years at the Bishops Conference, I went to Georgetown. And we have had three sessions, one with young leaders in Washington, one for the whole community, and one on our chapel.
And they were incredibly intense. And what we found was anguish, anger, and a desire to do something, but also a sense of solidarity. The night that I talked about my own experience, there were four other people on that panel who had been abused, and 10 people lined up to ask a question.
Four of those talked about their own experience. Since I talked about my experience, gotten e-mails and calls from people coming up. In this very studio, somebody came up and said, thank you for speaking out.
When you were here talking about it?
So, I think there is a sense of solidarity.
What we need is action. The people want to talk about healing. We need reform and renewal before we get to healing. And it's not just the crimes. It's the culture that permitted this.
You're nodding, Susan Reynolds. What does that mean, reforming, and reforming the culture?
I think it all comes down to clericalism, the way in which priests and bishops, those who are ordained, have been regarded in some way as superhuman by the rest of the faithful.
This is a culture that needs to end. And the only way that it ends is if laypeople are given an authentic voice within the structure of the church. People feel unheard. They feel in the dark. They don't know what, if anything, the church is doing to begin to address these horrific crimes.
It's time in some way for the church to throw open the windows of the authority structure and let in the voices of laypeople.
Becky Ianni, what I mean, just listening to all this, what has your own experience meant for your relationship with the church?
Well, when I went to the church, and I wanted I wanted three things.
I wanted them to tell me it wasn't my fault. I wanted them to tell me I wasn't going to hell for telling on a priest, because that's what my perpetrator told me. And I wanted them to tell me they believed me and they were sorry.
And I didn't get any of those things. And they took 12 months for me to even go in front of the review board. And, during that 12 months, I felt completely abandoned. So I gave up the church, because it hurt me too much.
And not only did I give up the church. I gave up God. And so now I had this huge gap, because I felt like God had abandoned me. And so that made me just feel more alone than ever.
And, John Carr, as somebody who has worked with the church, worked with people at the highest levels in the church, how can the church how can people who trusted this institution trust it?
Well, as somebody who has worked for the church, the first thing I want to say is, sorry.
What happened to you is terrible. And the way you were treated was wrong.
My experience, recent, was a little different. I talked to the provincial. He did apologize. He did acknowledge. There was no suggestion that this was my fault. But that's not enough.
I think what we need to do is to take on this culture. Somebody asked me, is this about theology? Is this about morality? Is this about ecclesiology?
No, this is about power, and people who have abused their power, the people who committed these crimes, and the people who have abused this culture. And Pope Francis is a cleric. And he has been slow in some ways to act on this. But he has identified clericalism as a fundamental problem.
And I think there will be a big test, this meeting in February, where they bring everyone together. A moral test, a fundamental measure of the Catholic community of faith is whether we acknowledge that this is a global problem, and that our experience is not our fault, it's not isolated.
It is a moral test, how the church responds. And I think Pope Francis, when he listens to victims, people like us, he responds. And so my hope is, we're moving from a period where we protect the institution to listening to the people who have experienced this, and their families.
There is a lack of empathy. They don't understand the anguish.
And, Susan Reynolds, after all these stories, in parish after parish, diocese after diocese, if the message hasn't gotten across by now, what's going to get the message across?
I think that's a great question.
And the anguish that Becky describes, I think, encapsulates this perfectly. The lack of compassion that we have heard in some ways from those at the highest level of the church seems like such a dissonance from the horrors of the crimes that have been exposed.
And this is exactly what's needed. We need to believe victims. And the only way that we can do that is to begin, as John said, to dissolve this cultural clericalism, which has promoted this sort of self-protectionism.
Becky, coming back to you and the painful experience you have been through, what do you and other survivors need now? What do you want?
I think what we want is, we want what happened to us never to happen to another child.
And so we need action. We I'm so tired of saying, we're going to do a healing mass. Healing mass might be good for those that go to church, but how many survivors who were abused in a church going to a healing mass going to help?
We really need them to take action. And, quite frankly, I have sort of given up on the church in many ways. I haven't given up on the people in the pews, but I have given up on the bishops and the priests making changes. It's been too long. And I can't put my heart out there again and have it dashed, as it's been many times.
I think that I'm going to rely on secular society. I'm going to rely on the attorney generals doing their job. I'm going to I'm going to fight for better laws that will protect children, because, for me, that's my main goal, protecting children.
John, hearing that
I respect where Becky's coming from, but I hope for more from the church, frankly.
This is a time when they need to step up. They need to protect the vulnerable. They need to be accountable. It's not that hard. They expect us to keep our vows. They should keep their vows. I will do anything to protect my children. They should do everything to protect our children.
And I'm accountable for my actions. They ought to be accountable for theirs.
Well, it is such a painful subject. So important to look at it directly and think about what it means for each one of you and for the Catholic Church overall.
Susan Reynolds, John Carr, Becky Ianni, thank you.
Thank you, Judy.