At this point in my journey, nothing really surprises me anymore. Priests who question the handling of abuse cases by bishops are silenced. Parishioners sit in silence, almost oblivious to the overwhelming evidence of corruption in the hierarchy. The Bishops pay lip service to survivors and their supporters, hoping that time will wear down resolve and silence the voices of protest. In all of this mess, there is a constant. The church thinks in centuries. It will merely outlive any challenge to its authority. Martin Luther may have had another thing to say about that back in the day. At this moment in time, the bishops are playing a waiting game that they will pass on to their successors.
I was reading a post on Catholics4Change titled It’s Up to Us Now. In this post, they are discussing efforts by laity across the country to hold the hierarchy of the church accountable for the coverup of crimes committed against children. They are also spotlighting laity supporting survivors. I was following links in the text and I stumbled upon something remarkable. I want to draw your attention to the website called Awake. The group is out of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. They have an open letter to survivors posted on a page entitled The Letter. I invite you to read it below and to click the link. They also allow people to add their names to the signature section.
The text of the letter reads as follows:
A Message for All Who Have Experienced Abuse in the Catholic Church, from Catholics of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Other Supporters
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are writing as members of the Catholic Church, to offer you an apology. We are deeply sorry for the abuse you experienced in our Church and for the lifelong aftermath of that abuse.
The abuse you endured was horrific and inexcusable. The Church should have been a sanctuary for you; we are so sorry that it was a place of trauma instead. What you suffered wasn’t your fault, and we want to apologize for every time you were blamed for someone else’s sins. We are sorry for any time someone suggested that sharing your story would bring shame or scandal to the Church. We are sorry for the many ways your abuse was ignored, minimized, and covered up by church leaders who should have protected you.
We recognize that many of you have been speaking out for decades, and we apologize for all the times that we in the Church didn’t listen, doubted you, or lacked the courage to act. We trusted the wrong people, and we didn’t trust you. We rarely gave you the support you needed and deserved as you sought justice and healing. We offer no justifications or excuses, only our sincere regret for the ways that our actions may have separated you from your spiritual home and deepened your pain.
We know that we can’t take away the past, but from this moment forward, we pledge to welcome you, listen to you, pray with you, and work together to create a community that makes space for everyone, especially survivors of abuse. We want to be your partners and fellow advocates in working for justice and healing.
We, the undersigned, are profoundly sorry that we have failed you. We commit to standing with you now.
Catholics of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Other Supporters
I have always been of the opinion that nothing is ever going to change until the people in the pews on Sunday morning rise up and force the bishops and their cronies to come clean about the coverups of the past. This letter is a small step in that direction. I appreciate the sentiment. I also caution you that words that do not have actions to accompany them are just words.
I keep going back to a quote that seems to apply so well to the laity of the church:
What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.
Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)