I am impressed with the 132-page Audit and Review of the Capuchin Province of St Joseph regarding child sexual abuse. To my knowledge, it’s a first of its kind.
The Capuchins asked for feedback on two of the toughest questions facing any religious group:
The purpose of the audit was to have an independent group determine how many and which friars and employees of the province had sexually abused minors and vulnerable adults. Another purpose of the audit was to determine how the province had responded to reports of sexual abuse, what they did with friars who abused, and how they responded to and treated victims of the friars’ sexual abuses. (p. 3-4)
They were asking to hear the bad news. They chose credible auditors: a priest, an insurance expert and a psychologist, all three well-known as advocates for survivors of priest sexual abuse. In choosing that panel, the Capuchins chose to hear the news from people who devote their lives to helping the victims. There was no sugar-coating:
“The Capuchins outsourced the Gospel to the lawyers,” Doyle said. “And the lawyers were the ones that viciously attacked the victims.”
The Capuchins got the bad news they asked for. The report reveals strategic attempts to cover up abuse, concern for the reputation of the Church and the order, and even worry about the individual priest — with much less care for the victims.
Why the Capuchin Audit Report is a Hopeful Sign
- The request for an audit recognizes a pattern of problems. The US bishops required dioceses to undertake audits for that reason, but religious orders have not had to do so.
- The Capuchins sought out the people most likely to understand the victims’ perspective, and to be critical of their handling of abuse cases.
- The report was made public, and is receiving widespread media coverage.
- The Capuchins made all of their files available.
SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) was generally positive about the report, recognizing its honesty and integrity. At the same time, SNAP pointed to documents beyond those held by the Capuchins, and to testimony by victims that would make their voices more audible. These would be worthy follow-up activities to the audit.
I hope other orders and communities have already begun to follow the Capuchin example. The current practice in which orders argue cases in court one-by-one is harmful to all concerned. It avoids recognizing the patterns that need to be changed. It puts an adversarial relationship between the victim and the order — and it doesn’t have to be that way. It elongates the time in which victims wait for the words of admission that they long to hear, and perhaps the time in which perpetrators are able to find new victims.
The Catholic Church is not unique in its history of “saving face” as first priority over “helping victims” and “controlling perpetrators.” The same is found in other big organizations — the Penn State scandal comes to mind. In the 21st century, many of these organizations now deeply regret the misplaced priorities; they have a hard time understanding how anyone could think that destroying documents or keeping quiet about incidents of abuse was to anyone’s benefit except the perpetrators. The audit recognizes the blindness of the past and the harm it did.
Why ask for an audit?
The Capuchins have made a courageous choice that is probably the best way forward for all concerned. The audit names all those who were credibly accused at once, and does not dispute them. It describes and reviles the practice of shifting perpetrators to other locales. Rather than slogging through one accusation after another with flimsy defenses followed by grudging admissions, they acknowledge the pattern and its details. Victims and their families get solid information rather than a long trial of skepticism and doubt. Those who have been afraid to come forward have less reason to fear. This is certainly best for the victims. It is also best for the Capuchins, who have the opportunity as a community to examine the patterns of the past, trust in God’s mercy, and make plans for a future that is different.
It is best, too, for the Church. Some will say that it invites claims based on false memories or even fraudulent law suits, especially regarding perpetrators who are now deceased. Even if that does occur, I am willing to trust the investigation process to uncover those inaccurate accusations if, at the same time, the real victims get the maximum amount of transparency and help possible. This audit helps to rebuild credibility, to provide a strong foundation for renewal within the life of the community, and to set the standard for the future.
Most of all, this audit report is a sign of seeking Truth. For this, I am truly grateful and giving thanks. As my patron saint, Edith Stein, wrote, “Those who seek truth seek God, whether they know it or not.” The Capuchins, in this first big step of seeking truth, are also seeking God. May they be blessed in this endeavor.
- SNAP responds to reports of sexual assault by Capuchins (fox6now.com)
- Catholic religious order opens abuse files (thegreatone22.wordpress.com)
- The Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse (everydayhealth.com)