Our View: Listening Sessions Give Voice to All

St. Cloud Times
December 13, 2011|head

St. Cloud Bishop John Kinney has long taken a lead role in helping the Catholic Church reach out and help its victims of sexual abuse. In 1993, he led the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. In 2002, he was a key voice when the bishops formulated the church's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

But according to diocese spokeswoman Jane Marrin, even Kinney is breaking new ground with a second diocesan "listening session" regarding Michael Weber, a deacon in 1969 at Church of the Holy Spirit in St. Cloud.

The first session was Dec. 4 after the diocese received credible allegations against Weber. He is accused of sexually abusing at least three boys in the late 1960s. Weber, 67, is a Foley native.

"This is unusual," Marrin said Monday. "But there were a lot of unanswered questions after the first session." About 35 people attended along with eight counselors and the Diocesan Response Team.

One of several goals of the second session is to provide answers to those questions, Marrin said, so the diocese is encouraging those who attended Dec. 4 to return.

Listening sessions are somewhat unique to Kinney. While the bishops' charter provides requirements for Catholic leaders nationwide, it does not require listening sessions.

Marrin said Kinney created those years ago, and the diocese continues to embrace them for three primary reasons. They provide assistance and support to victims and parish members. They provide a format for talks. And they may identify and help other victims.

Marrin stressed that participants can remain anonymous. Media coverage is not allowed, but she did explain how the sessions are run.

A diocesan response team leads the session. The team includes the vicar general, chancellor, spokesperson, assistance coordinator and one person from outside the church trained in helping victims of abuse.

Small groups are formed after leaders discuss the basics of the allegations along with what to do if participants want to contact law enforcement. There also is a "safe room" where a person can meet a counselor individually if desired.

The small groups are led by trained facilitators who ask about such things as what participants might need and how the diocese can help. Participants can respond in writing, verbally or both. A large-group discussion reviews what each small group covered. There also is time for questions and answers along with an "open mic" for anyone wishing to speak.

The response team keeps notes so it can help victims, whether they come forward at the meeting or contact the team at a later date. "The format is important," Marrin said. "The goal is for every voice to be heard who wants to be heard."

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