After I posted my column on 'Sex abuse and the legacy of lay passivity', I received a number of emails from sex abuse survivors who spoke of their longing for an apology from a church authority.
In a Huffington Post blog, Kim Michele Richardson, a spokesperson for SNAP, writes movingly about the crucial need for “the church’s one simple phrase for healing.” She writes:
“One simple phrase -- I'm sorry -- would show the world that the Roman Catholic Church indeed cares about victims and survivors and the immense pain and harm we have suffered. In light of the magnitude of the pain inflicted, the harm done and the lives shattered, one simple phrase is not too much to ask.”
Richardson explains that what victims are seeking is an “unqualified apology.”
A perfect example of what Richardson might call a “qualified apology” can be found in a blog posting by Archbishop Dolan, published on March 18. In the post, Dolan tells of an encounter with an angry man in an airport. The man confronts Dolan, telling the archbishop that when he sees priests all he can see is a child abuser.
Dolan first responds by saying “I’m sure sorry you feel that way.” This is exactly the kind of “I’m sorry” that, Richardson explains, is so harmful to sex abuse victims. Dolan immediately follows this non-apology with a series of “qualifiers.”
He reminds the angry man that there are as many sex abusers among rabbis, Boy Scout leaders, physicians and coaches as there are among Roman Catholic priests. He then asks the man, who is a father, whether he sees a child abuser when he looks in the mirror. Why? You guessed it. Because most children who are sexually abused are victimized by their fathers.
When the man asks Dolan why, then, we hear so much about the Catholic Church and sex abuse, Dolan admits that part of the reason is because people justifiably hold clergy to a higher standard. But, Dolan tells him, there are two other reasons.
First, there are people who are “itching to ruin us” and, therefore, “they love to endlessly scourge us with” this issue. Second, there is “a lot of money to be made in suing the Catholic Church, while it’s hardly worth suing any of the other groups.”
Dolan seems quite pleased with the way he handled the conversation, though, he admits that his soul felt “shattered” by being forced to “confront again the horror this whole mess has been to victims and their families, our Catholic people like the man I had just met...and to us priests.”
Reading Richardson’s column, one is reminded that what truly shatters the souls of victims and families is precisely the outrageous rationalizations that hierarchs like Dolan use to avoid an authentic, unqualified act of reconciliation.