In reporting success in pastoral care on local levels, many dioceses have gained experience in best practices, and can offer lessons learned, in distinct areas, such as prayer services, Mass, discussion groups. And, some dioceses offer models, which represent established and ongoing programs in survivor care and connections. One such model is the Archdiocese of Boston.
A quick overview or inventory of what the Archdiocese of Boston offers survivors of abuse creates a profile in pastoral care that leads the United States Church, just as the archdiocese led in permitting third-party investigations in the early 2000s.
While survivors are distinct and diverse in focus and response, we speak in unison wanting assurance that no other child endures any abuse, including sexual abuse, as we did. Based on its audit reports and success rate for children in its care, the archdiocese has implemented a vigorous child protection program as part of a crucial amends to survivors, making reconnecting with the Church a conceivable option. A vigorous child protection program is the groundwork that permits any other pastoral care to be credible—or possible at all.
Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach
In 2002, Cardinal O’Malley established the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach (OPSO) to help survivors of clergy abuse. It offers support services for anyone who has been abused by clergy or family members who are struggling with the impact of the crimes of abuse. To date, it has provided/continues to provide support to over one thousand survivors. The Cardinal also is available to meet personally with survivors and their families to express a personal apology and offer in-person care. The inclusion of family members in survivor meetings is important, ensuring that the Church cares for those wounded in a secondary way by the abuse. The ability of family members, without survivors (due to e.g., natural death, suicide, addiction, or alienation), is similarly crucial in caring for all who have been wounded by abuse.
The lifelong impact of abuse is a hard reality for survivors. Where they may have financial options, the cost of care is usually debilitating for him or her—and for their families. The Archdiocese of Boston offers therapeutic and related health care, including counseling, medicinal, and other services, over $30 million supporting survivors in their effort to function well in their lives. While we are not aware of the specifics, we are comfortable noting that in many cases survivors, without diocesan financial support, cannot afford sufficient therapeutic care, leaving their lives, families, jobs and other spheres of living hobbled throughout life.
Third-Party Reporting System
In 2019, Cardinal O’Malley announced that a third-party system of reporting allegations of abuse would be implemented to permit reports alleging sexual abuse, which were specifically carried out by cardinals and bishops, to be made outside the normal reporting mechanisms that would pass through the Church. This way the archdiocese seeks to provide victims, in addition to their need to report allegations directly to civil authorities, a process by which canonical reviews may address suitability for office and ministry—something that neither criminal nor civil courts can do alone. This step was taken in advance of any actions, subject to a slower institutional dialogue, taken by the USCCB or the Vatican.
Cardinal O’Malley also directly addresses the concerns of survivors and family members at key junctures. In doing so, he addresses what most Catholics also share in some way—the hurt of abuse, with its betrayal, and painful memories, and ruptured relationships and trust.
For example, when names of more clerics against whom credible claims were made were posted, Cardinal O’Malley published an open letter to survivors of abuse, offering comfort, expressing his concern for them, and assuring survivors of his continued commitment to help them and their families.
His letter also revealed the trauma-awareness that should serve as a model in such pastoral letters, and homilies, when he stated, simply, that he understood how publishing names of clergy offenders would cause inevitable painful memories to waken but also might, one would hope, lead towards healing, and even toward repairing the broken trust the victims have in the Church.
Such a letter would be possible only based on prior actions that have, over time, demonstrated unwavering commitment to the healing of survivors and their families since 2002—and in retrospect even before the cardinal’s arrival in Boston.
Leaders taking an unequivocal position on abuse are important for establishing a coherent program of pastoral care. The first stand is that abuse is wrong, in every instance, and is not worthy of mitigating language. This stand places the moral above the legal. The second stand is that what is needed for the Church to heal is a pastor, a leader, a father with a clear moral compass which further ensures survivors, families, and all Catholics that this leader will not choose expedient silence over driving evil from the sanctuary.
In Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, from first arrival in the Archdiocese of Boston (to assume the office of Archbishop (after the departure of Cardinal Bernard Law), was vocal in his commitment to outreach and care for survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy and others with authority in the Church.
This timing was at a historic watershed. He arrived shortly after the publication of the Spotlight expose by the Boston Globe. Reforms were about to be ratified and implemented by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops with its Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, during its conference in Dallas in 2002. Catholics in general were outraged, but quickly returned, by and large, to complacence. Yet, as the Boston model shows, the archdiocese did not. It continued to grow in its care for survivors and families.
Meanwhile, sadly, the seeds for the resurgence of the crisis of abuse had been sown during that same watershed Dallas conference: clerics at the level of bishop and above were removed from those held accountable under the reporting protocols. The Charter did define a child-protection commitment and program that was rolled out vigorously across the United States Church—to significant success. This will prove an important building block in moving forward even after the revelations of 2018, including then-Cardinal McCarrick and ongoing investigations by states’ attorneys general.
An area with challenges continues to be those provisions in the Charter offering pastoral care to those adults who had been harmed as children. These proved more difficult to implement—sometimes due to external resistance from distrustful survivors or from litigious environments, but sometimes due to internal resistance from others at many different levels who had yet to grapple with the widespread reality of abuse in the Church—and in the society at large. Meanwhile, a new definition of survivors who warrant care includes vulnerable adults, including seminarians.
We appreciate and share the moral outrage about failures in the United States Church to date, as well as the far more complex and less advanced failures worldwide in the Church. We also appreciate that there is more to build on that many Catholics who live in the United States realize. Why is this? In part, it is a failure in communicating out into the parishes what people working in and with the Church know about child protection programs and their implementation. If existing venues for communicating have failed, or fallen short, then there is good reason for leadership to find more and new ones.
Into the very reasonable fury following the revelations of 2018, there are some important things to talk about. One is that there are successes in pastoral care – and many attempts in pastoral care – around the country that are worth acknowledging and replicating, and there models such as that found in Boston, that challenge us to build, without denying the terrible realities, and without enabling further wrongdoing or falsehood, to build new, true, and holy relationships as people and as a Church.
“Seeds of Hope” is a column founded and edited by Mike Hoffman. To read more about Mike, visit his bio here. To submit a suggestion for a column, or to submit your own writing for this column, see our submissions page.