The Hanoski court action has set off the healing process at Holy Rosary Parish. It is good to get back into the light again.
by Tom Thorne
Father John Hibbard, Holy Rosary’s pastor, has launched three sessions about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. For the past two Wednesday evenings this topic has been candidly discussed at the parish with the third session tonight.
This is a healthy start to this hard topic. The church has to deal with sexual abuse and its clerical predators in the open. The first evening Father Hibbard dealt with the process of coping with sexual abuse when it surfaces.
He spoke of denial, reality and finally acceptance all tethered together with a sense of betrayal and anger that the predator has left with the victim, the parish members and the church in general. It is like a yawning void.
The difficulties of resolving such a crisis were discussed. The really hard part is accepting the predator but not what he did. The natural tendency of Christians is to forgive and it is a hard test of this precept to resolve this point for the parish members and the clergy who have to deal with the aftermath and acknowledge the loss of trust.
The most revealing point of the first evening was Father Hibbard’s point that pedophiles have no remorse and the complex psychopathic notions that predators have about their “relationships” with the victim makes it hard to reach them with the extent of the damage they have inflicted on a victim.
A priest who is charged with sexual abuse is removed from all active ministry. Due to legalities there has and continues to be silence which can be seen as covering up. The optics of any one of these cases is poor from a public point of view.
In addition is the financial burdens shouldered by the diocese and the ultimate liabilities when the cases go to court and guilt is established. A criminal action certainly will come with jail time if guilt is established.
Father Hibbard told of one priest who did jail time for his crimes which was particularly hard on him personally because he had worked with this person as seminary candidate and felt that he had been let down badly. Priests he pointed out are just as human as their parishioners and he had a very difficult time with this situation.
The second week was a session with Sister Francis O’Brian of the Sisters of Providence. Sister O’Brian has counseled both victims and predators. She discussed the problem of sexual abuse as a trauma. A trauma in your life alters the path of your life. She candidly used the example of her mother’s violent death when she fell down a flight of stairs and died alone.
Sister then took this example of trauma as the base of a sexual abuse experience. It is just as shocking and disjointing and it alters your life. If you are religious then any traumatic experience tests your faith.
She related this level of trauma to the Holy Rosary situation with Father Paul Hamilton’s removal eight years ago and the surfacing of this case in civil court this year. Sister then related this situation to anger, confusion and lack of information experienced attached to the recent case of Father Rene Labelle in Kingston who was recently charged by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). In short, there is no easy way to deal with a sexual abuse charge.
Sexual abuse has big effects. There is a loss of self esteem, depression, flashbacks, disassociations and even in her experience self mutilation by victims. Accused priests lose everything. They experience loneliness, they cannot work, and they remain in a silent legal limbo. Even when they are cleared of charges they remain stigmatized.
In an audience discussion afterwards trauma was seen as the best way to adequately describe the aftermath of sexual abuse. Everyone feels a certain powerlessness, vulnerability, and parents have anxieties about how safe their children are at church.
Father Hibbard candidly answered questions about seminary screening these days to weed out sexual predators. He answered that the Church denied sexual abuse cases the past as a gut reaction to protecting the organization. He also stated that in his time at seminary celibacy of priests was discussed but very little about sexuality. Certainly there was no course about sexual abuse. In contemporary seminaries all these topics are now on the curricula.
The sessions have been a refreshing examination of sexual abuse issues in the contemporary Catholic Church. These parish sessions go a long way to allowing the issue to surface and ultimately to be dealt with in a candid open fashion. Hopefully in the case of the Hanoski experience we get the know the outcome of that civil court proceeding. To do that the diocese cannot agree to silence after the settlement.
© Copyright, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.