Communicating to fellow Catholics is a critical element in facing the resurgent crisis of abuse.
Not without reason, many Catholics distrust communications from their local and national Church leadership. The problem is that, as a result, many Catholics don’t know what really does require radical change, because they don’t know what exists already and warrants regard.
Consider the diocesan review board.
Catholics know little about the review board process by which allegations of abuse are reviewed.
Sometimes they don’t even know there is board of volunteer experts who offer advice and counsel to every U.S. bishop.* It follows that these Catholics remain in the dark about how this review board and its structure reflect a strong progressive (and in the world, unique) line the U.S. bishops have taken. This lack of awareness is unfortunate.
It is a somber and daunting role for a Catholic lay person to serve as a member of a diocesan review board, as defined by the Dallas Charter in 2002 to review allegations of abuse by clergy.
If not communications in the more standard approach, who can Catholics trust to talk about the review board’s role in their dioceses?
Here is a Seed of Hope.
The Chair of the Brooklyn Diocesan Review Board recently published a simple explanation of what their review board does and how volunteer experts participate.
The New York Daily News did an important service here. By publishing the Chair’s letter, they helped add the voice of first-person experience to the mix. There have been several articles in local news that have questioned the efficacy of review boards, and questions do need to be asked along with efforts made to ensure review boards function as defined. What also matters is that, where review boards do address the gravity of their role well, their members can be heard too.
There are any number of ways to give a voice – in ways other than in a large newspaper – to the authentic voices of Catholics involved in this work.**
There are ways not to do so, as well. This op-Ed featured here was not a press release or a conference timed to take advantage of some event or crisis.
It was not rhetorical, seeking allies in the debates that rage around us. It was descriptive, without any explicit expectation that readers would agree or suddenly should participate in a rally to defend the Church.
It was what is needed at a time when the Church as institution is paying the price for decisions about communications made in prior instances which led to prevailing distrust now.
What is needed?
Voices of the people who are walking the walk and willing to speak on their own terms and in their own way and with their own integrity on the line.
Person-to-person communication of this type is not managed, but is respected.
The point is do not to suggest that what measures are underway are enough, or even vindicate decision-makers from failing to do more. The point is to give additional information and let the reader decide.
These first-person testimonies work because they circumvent the old approaches and focus on ways Catholics, who are walking the walk and who are engaged in isolations and healing ministries, can help others know in direct and personal terms, how, in our shared moral outrage, we don’t need to assume everything is a failure. Catholics are given opportunities to see, first, the truth and, second, seeds of hope.
Signed: Teresa Pitt Green
* As news accounts highlight, the abuse crisis and subsequent Church responses vary by regional conferences around the globe. Comments here apply to the U.S. conference of bishops only.
** Spirit Fire helps dioceses reach Catholics with accurate information to promote healing on a grassroots level. Send a note for free resources.