Dear Archbishop Bernard Hebda:
I am a Minnesota Catholic. I was baptized in a Twin Cities parish. I received my first communion at a Twin Cities parish. I took the oils of confirmation on my forehead at the cathedral in St. Paul. I have gratitude for the work that you do and your fellow priests do — the marrying and burying, the listening and absolving, the steady presence in the lives of those you pastor. You have a difficult job, a challenging vocation, and the present environment here has not made it any easier. So, before I say anything else, I want you to know that I value your work. At its best, I believe it is God’s own work.
I’m writing because I would like to see a radical change in the way our local church approaches victims of clergy sexual abuse. I believe our current approach is not nearly honest or generous enough to provide real healing to those who have been harmed. We need to do more. We need to give more.
At my home parish, every Sunday at the offertory, the ushers walk up the aisles and pass the baskets down the pews. I put my money in like many others. I hope you can understand that over these past two years, in light of what has been revealed through the witness of Jennifer Haselberger and the reporting of local news outlets, I have lost confidence that this money is doing much good for the community. Nevertheless, I give. I give because I was taught it was right to tithe, to give back to the church, to support it.
Sometimes your priests present “second collections” — on behalf of missions the local church in St. Paul and Minneapolis supports in other parts of the world. Sometimes they are on behalf of retired members of religious communities or food shelters or homeless shelters or any number of praiseworthy purposes. But I have never once heard a second collection taken up for the victims of sexual abuse, many of whom were victimized in the very spaces where we sit. I have never once heard a financial appeal for support of victims, whose lives have been uprooted at the hands of abusive priests. Good therapy is not cheap, but I have never once seen the collection basket passed around for good therapy so a victim of sexual abuse could heal. Never once, not in 33 years sitting in the pews.
I have heard, recently, that my parish is being served with lawsuits by victims of sexual abuse. I have heard that the parishes are employing legal counsel, but I have not heard how much that legal counsel costs. Is it reasonable to assume that the money I place in the basket on Sundays may pay for a lawyer to defend the parish against the claims of a victim of abuse? I do not know. I would prefer not to support a lawyer defending the parish. I would prefer to support the victims of abuse directly. I think many of my fellow Catholics feel the same way.
In January 2015, our local church declared bankruptcy. Some say this was to avoid a trial, one that would have likely put key church leaders on the stand (your predecessor among them), and that would have aired the church’s dirty laundry in an even more public way than has already happened. I think this would have been better than the bankruptcy proceedings I read about now, which are not honest, which I believe could do even further damage to those harmed by clergy sexual abuse. From what I understand, your lawyers have claimed the archdiocese has $45 million in assets, a number that doesn’t include parishes, schools or other foundations, which the church says it doesn’t control. I read that your lawyers argue they are “separately incorporated.” I do not understand what they mean by this phrase.
These parishes have been under the direct control of the archbishop and his vicar general since the beginning of the local church. If the archbishop and vicar general have found it useful to extract money from parishes, they have found ways and means to do so. If the archbishop and vicar general have found it useful to merge or close schools, they have found ways and means to do so — despite the voices of parishioners and teachers who objected. In her May 22 affidavit opposing your lawyers’ vision of the church, Haselberger cites numerous examples of ways in which so-called “separate” bodies within the church were treated anything but separately — from schools, to parishes, to foundations. I encourage local Catholics to read this document and find surprising revelations pertinent to their own particular church communities.
The upshot of Jennifer’s statement, and of the argument of victims of abuse generally, is that the church cannot have it both ways. If, as we’ve always understood and been taught, the church is a body, the body of Christ, and certain members of the body have been wounded, it is not good (or honest) to deny that those members are part of the body when it is financially inconvenient for us to admit it.
Your reorganization plan was unveiled in the days just preceding the feast of Corpus Christi, the high feast of the Eucharist, of the body and blood of Jesus. I cannot help but think of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and how far his words seem from the words of your lawyers. “There are many parts, yet one body,” Paul writes. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ … If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.”(1 Cor. 12: 21, 26)
Archbishop, the wounded body of Christ stands before us, bleeding. Let us go to minister to him. Let us all go together. And let us not go empty-handed.
Zach Czaia is a high school English teacher and poet. He recently published the poetry collection “Saint Paul Lives Here (In Minnesota),” Wipf & Stock Press, in response to the revelations of coverup in his local church.