Healing from Abuse by Clergy Is Focus of Weekend Event

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register [Iowa City IA]
June 14, 2005


"A Weekend of Hope and Understanding: Responding to the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church" will be held 6:30-9 p.m. June 24 and 9 a.m.-7 p.m. June 25 at Faith United Church of Christ, 1609 Deforest Ave., Iowa City. Cost is $25 for both days. Saturday evening dinner is extra. Scholarships are available.


"Restorative Justice and the Sexual Abuse Crisis" - Janine Geske, Marquette University law professor and former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice.

"Three Years After Dallas: Back to Business as Usual?" - Linda Pieczynski, Call to Action national spokeswoman.

"Why Survivors End Up In Court" - Craig Levien, Davenport attorney representing 37 men who reached a $9 million settlement with the Davenport Diocese.

"Let's Get Specific: Practical Steps Toward Healing and Prevention" - David Clohessy, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests national director.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: Victims and survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and their families; clergy; Catholics and other people of faith who are concerned about the Roman Catholic Church's response to the scandal. DETAILS: For more information and registration forms, go to and click on "Events." Or contact Norm Johnson (319) 338-1394; Steve Theisen (319) 231-1663; Dorothy Whiston (319) 321-7920.

A conference in Iowa City this month will focus on healing from the Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal.

"A Weekend of Hope and Understanding: Responding to the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Catholic Church" will be held on June 24 and 25.

"We hope the weekend will reach those suffering in silence and that it will encourage parishioners to reach out to the wounded in their midst," said Steve Theisen, co-founder of the Northeast Iowa chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The event is a result of meetings held by the Concerned Catholics of Davenport Diocese, a lay group that asked abuse survivors what could be done to promote healing for victims and their parishes. The group published "Toward Hope and Understanding: Stories of Clergy Sexual Abuses Survivors," a free booklet distributed in parishes.

"We also formed a panel to speak to parishes," said Dorothy Whiston, Concerned Catholics spokeswoman.

"It has been hard. It is not easy to get priests to invite us in or to be welcomed by members of the parish. There is a sense in the Catholic laity that abuse survivors and their families need to move on."

Linda Pieczynski, who will speak June 24, is a national spokeswoman for Call to Action, a church reform and social justice group. She said she believes Catholics who think they've seen the last of the scandal are deluding themselves.

"People today have a short attention span. They want to get on to the next thing," Pieczynski said. "But it's not over for the Roman Catholic Church any more than it is over for the victims. The fallout is still happening" even though the church has paid out $1 billion in settlements to people sexually abused by priests who went unpunished over several decades.

"As a result, the church is adopting a fortress mentality, and the hierarchy isn't doing anything to lower the tension building between the victims and the parishes. It doesn't have to be this way," Pieczynski said.

She said she is concerned that her children will never experience the vibrant Catholic Church that inspired her spiritually when she was growing up.

"It embraced a new way of looking at things. It was engaged in the world, encouraging intellectual discourse in Catholic universities," Pieczynski said. "Today's pope and bishops are showing an appalling lack of leadership."

Davenport Bishop William Franklin was asked to send a speaker to the "Weekend of Hope and Understanding," but he declined, Whiston said.

Copies of the Concerned Catholics' booklet will be available at the conference.

"While it's painful reading, this booklet is a sign for our love of the church," Whiston said.

The "Weekend of Hope and Understanding" is a great opportunity for people to better understand the abuse scandal, according to the Rev. David Hitch of Tipton, spokesman for the Southeast Iowa chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"It's an opportunity for survivors to come together and meet one another and to meet people involved in advocacy work and this caring ministry," Hitch said. "It may give them a feeling of hope and help them understand that they aren't left alone."

The event is sponsored by Iowa victims advocacy groups, including chapters of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Catholics for Spiritual Healing of Grand Mound, Iowa City Call to Action and Concerned Catholics of the Davenport Diocese.