By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Listening to sexual abuse victims can be an “opportunity to recalibrate” the whole of a bishop’s ministry, Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City said today, because it’s a powerful reminder that “there are voices out there which the leadership doesn’t usually hear.”
Cupich spoke as part of panel on lessons learned from the U.S. sexual abuse crisis sponsored by the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, which is holding its annual meeting June 23-25 in Philadelphia. Cupich serves as the chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The other participants in the panel were Diane Knight, chair of the bishops’ National Review Board, and Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the bishops’ office of Child and Youth Protection.
Speaking via Skype, Cupich said that over the years he’s met with victims of clerical sexual abuse frequently, calling it a “painful and difficult” experience, but also one of “real grace.”
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Cupich argued that the commitment to hearing victims which emerged as part of the bishops’ response to the sexual abuse crisis that erupted in 2002 can be “a paradigm for ministry,” in the sense that it can stimulate bishops to reach out to other groups in the church whose experiences and insights they don’t routinely hear.
Cupich offered another argument for bishops to continue meeting victims: “We have to keep the connection with victims visceral and fresh,” he said, because doing so “will help us not to have amnesia.”
The eruption of the crisis in 2002 was a “seminal event” and a “wake-up call,” Cupich said, which “should be seared in the living memory of the church, and especially the bishops.” He said it drove a new commitment to accountability among the bishops, including regular audits of compliance with policies on abuse and the creation of a new standing committee within the conference – the only one, he said, with elected members from every region of the country.
“It galvanized us to work together in a collaborative, accountable way,” Cupich said.
Kettlekamp argued that Catholics “should be proud of what the church has done to address this issue,” saying that “we are changing the culture of the church.”
“We’ve trained more than five million children and two million adults in creating a safe environment,” Kettlekamp said, arguing that the American church “has done more than any other organization” on that front.
Kettlkamp expressed regret that those accomplishments, in her view, aren’t better known.
“I guess good Catholic news doesn’t sell,” she said.
Kettlkamp described the guiding philosophy of those performing audits as “trust but verify,” and said that the overall response of the U.S. church to the crisis is a “perfect example of collaborative solutions.”
Knight told the group that “ongoing accountability for the promises made” by the bishops is “critical for regaining credibility.”
Even though 2002 was less than a decade ago, Cupich noted that more than 100 bishops have been appointed in the United States since that time -- suggesting that the institutional memory of what happened needs to be kept alive within the conference.
“We veterans have to keep this on the front burner,” he said.