Healing a Betrayed Community

By Tom Roberts
National Catholic Reporter [United States]
Downloaded June 3, 2004

At press time, I received a notice about Project Millstones 2004, a reference to the text in Matthew: 'Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and drowned in the depths of the sea.' The project is the work of Frs. Robert M. Hoatson of the Newark, N.J., archdiocese, Patrick W. Collins of the Peoria, Ill., diocese, Dominican Thomas P. Doyle of Goldsboro, N.C., and Kenneth Lasch of Mendham, N.J.

It is reasonable to ask why these four priests -- and this paper, for that matter -- don't just leave the issue of sex abuse alone. What do we want' How much more can be said and written' I can understand the weariness with the tale, but I also understand why the story won't go away -- and it has little to do with sensationalist or anti-church media, as some would claim. It has a great deal to do with accountability -- or the lack of it.

The stories in this issue about abuse victims who have committed suicide or the Voice of the Faithful meeting are all about how to heal the deep wounds of a betrayed community.

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It is unfair to keep lumping all the bishops together when we talk about this issue, but it is difficult to separate out who's culpable and who isn't because the leadership has not been honest and forthcoming. Individual priests have been dealt with, often harshly. But the leaders of the community, those who knew about the victims but said nothing, those who hid the truth and who secretly used the community's treasury in an attempt to make the crisis go away, have not accounted for their actions. Catholics don't want retribution; they simply want to see within their own community the wisdom the church professes to give the world -- that humans deal best with their offenses against each other when they name the sin, the sinner and then sincerely seek forgiveness.

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As the Millstone Project points out, we're all sinners and we all have millstones around our necks. The project 'seeks to remove those millstones for the sake of healing' by balancing the harsh millstone image with other lines in the same chapter of Matthew that speak of 'Christian ways to confront sinners and the necessity of forgiveness in living the Gospel of Jesus.'

According to the project: 'Unless and until the bishops who -- at least after 1985 -- have been seriously negligent and complicit leave office, the respect and trust rightly due the body of bishops will be sadly in short and severely strained supply.'

The project calls for an expanded investigation into bishops complicit in the scandal; urges people to report to the National Review Board any incidents of episcopal complicity they know about; asks victims who have not yet shared their abuse with anyone to come forward to the appropriate authorities; seeks a further clarification of the meaning of sexual abuse; and calls for a 'deep dialogue ' regarding the best way to share leadership in our church.'

More than 400 people have already signed on to the project. The signatures will be sent to the bishops prior to their upcoming meeting. For further information or a copy of the full project statement contact Fr. Collins by e-mail at


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