Success By Collaboration, Not Isolation

Mike Hoffman, Co-Founder *

Yes – the bishops must be held accountable.

As a survivor of clergy abuse, I believe that. I have believed it for a long time, long before the press and a lot of Catholics and others recently caught up with the obstacles to full reform in our Church. Now, I am hearing calls for substantial involvement from the laity to help bring this about. It’s as if people think this is a shocking, new idea.

Generally, people seem unaware of what reforms are already in place. For me and most of my fellow survivors, reforms to protect children from suffering our fate had primary importance. They have been rolled out across the United States Catholic Church and involved a massive operational overhaul.  Reforms have been institutionalized in large part by laity. There are already ways for lay Catholics to get involved.

Few people seem aware that there has been a small but strong and evolving collaboration between the Church and clergy-abuse survivors, too (as I described in opening our special edition on the New Alliance Between Clergy-Abuse Survivors and the Church here).

One of the leading models for outreach and healing can be found in the archdiocese where I live (and where I was abused by a priest when I was a little boy). This collaboration includes Church leadership, clergy, religious, laity and clergy-abuse survivors.

In the Archdiocese of Chicago, since 2012, we have collaborated to host several different annual public outreach events. These events are true collaborations that include clergy-abuse survivors, lay leaders, priests and lay diocesan staff. That’s seven years of foundational work. It can and should become a model for our larger Church.

The Chicago collaboration began under Francis Cardinal George, OMI, and continues on under Cardinal Blase Cupich. I am grateful for their leadership, courage and vision that has fostered a culture of collaboration where clergy-abuse survivors are listened to and included. This is exactly the “outside the box” thinking which we need more of. 

These events present a unified front to children and teens. Our work together shares a single goal. It is to tell children in age-appropriate ways that all adults should respect their dignity and should treat them appropriately. We are giving them permission to seek help and ways to be heard, starting with their parents and extending into their schools and parishes.

As a community we are overriding the messages around us that minimize their dignity and rights. We are committing to each other to be communities where, thanks to this collaboration and these reforms, are safer for children and youth than anywhere else in our society today.

At these outreach events, our call to action is to invite the children and all attendees to plant Pinwheels for Prevention in the ground at the Healing Garden. This represents a dramatic, visual public display of support for protecting all children from any kind of harm and is often around the time of the National Child Abuse Awareness month (April). In Chicago, we held our 7th Annual Prayer Service on May 4, 2018, and INFO provided a wonderful reflection on that experience for the magazine here. I look forward to our 8th Annual Prayer Service, which is scheduled for May 3, 2019. All are welcome to join us.

Our collaboration also plans an annual Mass of Hope and Healing. The upcoming 7th Annual Mass of Hope and Healing is October 20, 2018. This Liturgy directly addresses the wounds caused by childhood sexual abuse and is for people who are wounded by abuse in any way – including lay people who are upset with the Church’s failure overall. Church leaders have participated each year. That’s a commitment I am grateful for.

A key feature related to this Mass is a Peace Circle, held separately but before Mass begins, and led by survivors of clergy abuse. The Peace Circle is one type of a restorative justice approach which permits people to express complaints and difficult emotions so they can feel heard and affirmed. For some survivors, it’s an experience of feeling heard in the setting of faith which they have not experienced before. For others, it is a cathartic moment of letting go of the pain from a spiritual wound.  Following the Peace Circle, survivors who choose to participate join other survivors, family members, friends as well as ordained, religious and lay Catholics to begin the Liturgy.

Collaboration can take place close to home, also. People don’t have to wait for large-scale outreach events. My parish, St. Mary of the Woods (Chicago, Illinois) directly reaches out to all the Catholic people and celebrates an  Annual Child Safeguarding Mass. Our 7th Annual Child Safeguarding Mass was held during National Prevent Child Abuse Month,  on April 7, 2018. I am grateful Cardinal Cupich presided at this Mass, after which all parishioners were invited to plant Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention on the grounds of the church and school. I appreciate the Cardinal’s support of this local parish outreach effort. This annual event has become a source of enthusiasm and pride for our parish.

Public outreach efforts are a success in Chicago. More of this is needed throughout our larger Church. Efforts in Chicago are successful because of the collaboration I’ve described here.

There are already places for laity to be involved. There are already ways for abuse survivors to find a safe way to reconnect with the Church. If these options seem too daunting to start, there are other ways to spark and maintain a dialogue within the Church locally; for ideas, please visit The Healing Voices Magazine list of suggested actions for parishes to take (here).

Together, we can bring about good results like those I’ve participated in. For anyone curious about drawing on the Chicago model, I’m here for discussion and information.

Yes –more reforms are needed.

Yes – bishops should be held accountable.

Yes – let’s also keep reforms that are in place already moving forward.

To that, I point to committed bishops and priests and lay people I’ve already been working with. I am happy so many clergy-abuse survivors in Chicago feel safe enough to participate in one way or another, and I call for substantial involvement of clergy-abuse survivors in future reforms. Many of us wish to work for change and to find healing within the Church and in collaboration with fellow Catholics.

Michael D. Hoffman is a clergy-abuse survivor, Co-Founder of The Healing Voices Magazine, Board President of Prevent Child Abuse – Illinois, Chairman of the Hope and Healing Committee of the Archdiocese of Chicago, author of Acts of Recovery: One Man’s Story of Ongoing Recovery from Sexual Abuse by a Priest, parishioner St. Mary of the Woods Parish, husband and father. For more information, see bio.

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