Women’s voices key to addressing clergy sexual abuse

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

January 22, 2022

By Mark Pattison

It’s important to hear voices from women because there are so many that have not been heard yet,” says journalist Pauline Guzik

The final panel at a Jan. 20 webinar on clergy sex abuse brought together noted women leaders in the Catholic Church to share their perspectives on what might have been different in the church’s response to the abuse crisis if women had “been given a seat at the table earlier in this process.”

The webinar, “Listening to the Voices of Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse,” brought together investigators of past abuse, relatives of victims and those who counsel survivors. It was sponsored in part by Georgetown University.

The last panel “Lifting Up Female Voices in the Church” included the perspective of Paulina Guzik, a journalist for Polish public broadcaster TVP. She has been in the United States doing research for a book on the abuse crisis.

“The journalist is always a bit more pessimistic,” she said. “When we smell roses, we look for the coffin.”

In Poland, Guzik added, “I listened to survivors that were not heard for 20 years, and because they were not heard for 20 years, another woman, a nun, was abused. The people who didn’t listen to them take responsibility for a broken life. … It’s important to hear the voices from women because there are so many voices that have not been heard yet.”

Paula Kaempffer, a survivor of clergy sex abuse who now counsels other survivors in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis after 40 years in adult education in the archdiocese, said that beyond the sexual abuse, “there is emotional and verbal abuse from the higher-ups.”

Nor are men the sole abusers in the church, Kaempffer said during the webinar.

When she was in therapy in a group of 12, three of them had been abused by sisters, “often as part of ‘formation’ and ‘training.’ It was appalling to me; many of my sisters were (women) religious at one time, Kaempffer said. “There’s more embarrassment and shame that a woman did this. For some reason, it’s easier if it was a man that did it, if it was a priest that did it. It’s easier for some victims.”

She added, “The two victims I’m dealing with now, they’re dealing with their religious orders, and they’re finding the same cover-up. The same cover-up.”

Abuse can happen right under one’s nose. Take the case of “my grandmother, who helped build the church where we worshipped,” said Jennifer S. Wortham, a research associate for the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.