Letter to the Editor: Concern should not be for sale of N.L. church buildings but for victims

Saltwire Network [Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada]

March 18, 2022

By Kelly Adams

[This letter refers to the Winter Report. See Gordon A. Winter et al., The Report of the Archdiocesan Commission of Enquiry into the Sexual Abuse of Children by Members of the Clergy (aka “The Winter Report”), Volume 1Volume 2, and Conclusions and Recommendations, commissioned by Archbishop Alphonsus L. Penney of the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Newfoundland, June 1990]

When will people get it?

I refer to the assertion (since Vatican 2 in the 60s) that “WE are the Church.” Because, to be clear, it is not the building, it’s not the cemetery, it’s not even the parishioners who “chased the ace!” The church refers to the people. Humanity. All faiths. It resides within us.

So when I read about people being upset about the Diocese of the RC church having to sell its property and hand over monies raised for other purposes to the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy, I am incredibly puzzled. It is challenging for me to understand how people can place higher value on property and assets above real, live members of their own faith community. Sadly, it speaks to how confused people appear to be when it comes to the core values of their spiritual lives!

A priest losing his “reputation,” a parish losing financial gains, an organization/diocese going bankrupt: none of these consequences can compare to the fallout of being sexually abused as a child. One would think that atoning for this crime would far outweigh the other concerns.

I have spent 30 years working in the counselling field with victims/survivors, (and have countless relatives and friends as well) who have spent their entire lives trying to recover and move forward from the soul-destroying experience of being sexually abused by clergy.

Some victims are managing fairly well with years of therapy and lots of hard work, others have turned to addictions to dull the pain, while others continue to feel shame about having “allowed” it to happen (even as an eight-year-old!) Many survivors struggle to have normal, meaningful sexual relationships with their partners, some have needed to turn off their emotions completely to cope, and therefore cannot connect with their own children.

The list of consequences is devastatingly long. Most perpetrators, on the other hand, have been given immunity up until quite recently.

Fortunately, many victims have somehow found the strength and courage to speak their truths to the hierarchy of the church. Shockingly, they were not offered comfort, nor an apology. And don’t get me started on residential schools! The accused priests and bishops were not held accountable for this monumental abuse of their power over children.

To this day, the four volumes of recommendations (to prevent further abuse) put together by The Winter Commission (back in the early 1990s) are gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, still waiting to be implemented. Abuse continues.

Some of the survivors of abuse at Mount Cashel wait for court proceedings to begin in St. John's, 2019. SaltWire Network file photo - SaltWire Network File Photo
Some of the survivors of abuse at Mount Cashel wait for court proceedings to begin in St. John’s, 2019. SaltWire Network file photo – SaltWire Network File Photo

So forgive me if I am not saddened by the thought of the Basilica going up for sale, land and properties owned by the Diocese having to be handed over, in an effort to atone for what transpires when people in power turn a blind eye to others’ suffering. It is not sad to see consequences occur — it is just.

I believe it is merciful for those who have been in pain for so long, and we should feel glad about this! It demonstrates that “We, the church” do indeed have the power to help heal members of our own community. Of course, it will take much more than mere money – but it’s a great start. No amount of money will ever match the incredibly high cost of lives lost to victims of sexual abuse by clergy though.

I will acknowledge that it is truly unfortunate and unfair that countless members of the clergy, who have dedicated their lives to authentic service of others, and who have been wonderfully caring mentors and advisors to people in their parishes, are now also going to suffer due to the incredible lack of moral leadership in the church hierarchy. There will be far less money to support them in their aging years — which they deserve after lives spent in quality service. Because of this fact — whether they realize it or not — they, too, are victims of the predators who preyed upon children, and of those in leadership roles who covered for them.

So, in my better moments, I feel compassion and patience with people who are experiencing shock and grief about how their world is very different than they thought. Reality can be painful.

Newfoundlanders used to have great faith in the moral compass that religion offered through the “church.” Now that they are forced to see the truth of imperfect humans (including the “infallible” Pope, who has yet to apologize), perhaps it will inspire many more people to trust their own compasses, take ownership of their own responsibilities, to be

accountable to their communities, and to finally understand what is meant by “We are the Church.”

What is our top priority now? It’s certainly not property and assets. It’s facing survivors and finally atoning for what they have endured. Let’s keep going in that direction!

Kelly Adams, M.EdPscyh, ACC
St. John’s