Issues surrounding the archdiocese sexual abuse scandal and resulting bankruptcy are still unresolved as we move into the fourth year of negotiations. Will it ever end?
We have read various opinions in the Star Tribune on how to settle this predicament. A former assistant U.S. attorney suggests that attorneys reduce their fees (“Lawyers hold key to resolving bankruptcy issue,” April 2). The chairman of the Unsecured Creditors Committee and an abuse survivor weighed in (“It’s the archdiocese, not survivors’ attorneys, that ought to give more,” April 6). Archbishop Bernard Hebda and members of the Archdiocesan Board of Directors and Finance Council defended their actions (“Archdiocese has lived up to settlement agreement,” April 12). Reading these perspectives, you’d think resolving this issue comes down to liability, available assets and how much insurance companies will pay. From that, eventually, a monetary settlement that is “fair” will be reached.
But because of their adversarial nature, civil processes will never give survivors what we need: a personal sense of justice. The focus on restitution by the archdiocese has relied too heavily on lawyers. It appears the church is working for a settlement as its only endpoint. But restitution is not just about money. The definition of restitution is the restoration of something lost or stolen, or recompense for an injury. My abuser took advantage of my vulnerability and stole my innocence. No amount of money is going to come close to repairing what was stolen or lessen the anguish I went through.
What I and other survivors need is healing. The legalistic path we are on now does not allow this. Every delay, every maneuver causes more scars.
I am conflicted. My abuse did not drive me away from the Catholic Church. After I was abused by a priest twice at age 14, my burgeoning faith was not squashed. Catholic institutions provided an excellent education for me, both in academics and in spiritual formation. Many priests became friends. I have worked professionally in two Catholic-sponsored organizations and volunteered for many Catholic endeavors. My faith and the Catholic Church meant a lot to me.
Then the civil proceedings began and because of their adversarial nature, the process reinjured and retraumatized me. The attempt to discredit my claim, to question if perhaps my memory was not clear, was horrific and painful. It is this process that ruptured my relationship with the church. It created a personal and spiritual void. The break has not been easy; I miss the church and its rituals, traditions and support in exploring the belief that God himself, in the person of his son, can care for us individually and intimately.
Maybe it’s too late to start over. But perhaps beginning a process that draws upon tenets of restorative justice, which focuses on repairing the harm caused by criminal acts, could go a long way in meeting the real needs of abuse survivors to help heal wounds. How transformative would it be if the archbishop sat down with each of the 400 claimants in a safe environment? This would move the dynamic from “Unsecured Creditors” vs. “the Church” to individuals talking.
Allowing survivors to tell their stories and describe the impact abuse has had on our lives could empower us with a voice. This would also allow the archbishop to acknowledge each story, put a face to each claimant, offer a sincere apology and even respond to other needs of the survivors. Knowing that the archbishop hears us and acknowledges our suffering is a significant step.
For many this might become the first time they have been one on one with a priest since their abuse. A respectful, nonadversarial conversation could go a long way to humanize the process, lessen animosity, achieve understanding and bring closure to this impasse.
This is a herculean task that will take time. However, this approach could change the lenses that are used now by both sides and lead to a more amicable ending. Healing might begin not only for survivors, but also for the community of Catholics who have suffered. If healing leads to forgiveness, survivors could then reclaim our lives and move on.
This is something that money can’t buy.
Steve Schulz lives in Minneapolis.