Listening sessions end with lingering questions
By Nicholas Wolfram Smith
October 28, 2018
|Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone talking to people after the listening session held Oct. 28 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Belmont. The Archdiocese of San Francisco organized five listening sessions in the wake of the most recent clergy abuse scandals.|
Photo by Nicholas Wolfram Smith
Closing out a monthlong series of town hall-style discussions about clergy sex abuse, the Archdiocese of San Francisco held its final listening session Oct. 28 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Belmont. More than 100 people gathered to hear Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone review archdiocesan policies to safeguard children and talk to him about the abuse scandals inundating the church.
The concerns brought to the session, from homosexuality in the clergy to bishop accountability, highlighted local Catholics’ desire to avoid a repeat of the scandals affecting them now. Existential questions for the church, such as how to trust a hierarchy that has seemed to place institutional preservation over pastoral care, were also foremost on several people’s minds.
John McCord, a sex abuse survivor and member of the Independent Review Board, highlighted the plight of what he called “secondary victims:” Catholics whose faith has been harmed by the clergy abuse scandals in the church.
In an October CBS News poll, 26 percent of respondents said the sexual abuse scandals had led them to question remaining in the church, while 22 percent said the revelations of sex abuse had made them less likely to attend Mass.
Questions over how to welcome back disaffected Catholics and regain the trust of the laity were essential to the abuse crisis, McCord said. Drawing on his own experience, he said trusting the church again was a difficult decision, but ultimately important for its future.
“We need to take what has happened and make something good out of it,” said McCord.
Amid the turmoil introduced to the church by the Pennsylvania grand jury report, the Archbishop McCarrick scandal, and the Archbishop Vigano testimony, how to move forward remains contentious. One speaker asked Archbishop Cordileone to consider hiring an independent investigator like the San Jose and Oakland dioceses have to examine clergy personnel files and publish a list of priests credibly accused of abuse, suggesting that step would help the credibility of the church among non-Catholics. The archbishop said his office has been considering that option but noted “most if not all [names] are already in the public record.”
According to Archbishop Cordileone, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will consider at its November meeting measures to hold bishops accountable for sexual abuse or covering it up. The most significant challenge to any proposal is that since bishops are only answerable to the pope, any board set up to verify allegations against a bishop would lack the canonical authority to ensure compliance with an investigation.
The role of the priesthood in fostering the abuse crisis was a focus of several speakers. Some people suggested celibacy was to blame and said opening ordination to women and married laity would be important steps in preventing a future crisis. Archbishop Cordileone responded that “the problem is not celibacy; it’s lack of chastity.” He also said married clergy would be “a superficial way” to address the abuse crisis.
Speakers talked about the “total lack of trust” in the hierarchy among Catholics, as well as their grief and pain over what has happened to the church. One man suggested that given the widespread pattern of bishops moving around abusive priests, “how can we not hold them responsible for their misjudgment?”
One woman said that in light of the Vigano testimony regarding corruption in the Vatican, she felt hopeless about the church’s response to the scandals.
“Nothing we’re doing will be effective when the seed of dysfunction goes to the top,” she said.
While many spoke about their faith having been shaken, one woman stood up to remind the session “faith is what you make of it.” She encouraged everyone to hold onto their faith in difficult circumstances, “because at the end of the day, that’s what you’ve got.”
After the meeting, Bill Tauskey, a parishioner at St. Bartholomew Parish, told Catholic San Francisco he appreciated the archbishop’s visit but said “there needs to be an ongoing dialogue.”
“We’re looking for the next steps now – the wheels of the church turn too slow,” he said.