Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy ( August 2018)

Ron Ryan, Pastoral Coordinator, St. Anne Parish Seattle

Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy

Ron Ryan, St. Anne Pastoral Coordinator

I’m sure that like me, many of you were deeply disturbed by last week’s release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clergy sex abuse.  While the details of individual cases are horrifying, and the implications of the cover up by church leadership is unfathomable, the effect was magnified by the fact that we have been dealing with this as a church for over 15 years.

I will be honest and share with you that I struggled these past weeks (as I have several times in the past 15 years) with whether I could continue to be a pastoral minister in the Catholic Church—and even if I could continue to be a practicing Catholic.  I’m angry about the abuse that has happened.  But I am just as angry about the structures and systems that created the unhealthy people and the unhealthy situations in which the abuse and the cover up could occur.  And I’m even angrier that so little has been done to change those structures and systems in the last 15 years.  Yes, there are training programs and hotlines and review boards.  But the systemic problems that allowed such evil are still there.  And that makes me very angry.

But I have chosen to remain a Catholic, and a minister of the Church because my faith is not in the institution, not the structure, not even the bishops or priests.  Our faith must be in Jesus Christ.  The church, St. Paull tells us, is an earthen vessel.  Our faith must be in the treasure it holds, not in the vessel itself.

At the same time, we must remember that the church is not merely the institution, the structure, or the pope and bishops.  The church is the people—all of us.  Simply giving up and walking away solves nothing.  We, as members of the Church, need to speak out, to petition, to organize, to do what we need to do to implement change in the systems that have perpetrated these crises.  There need to be changes in how authority is exercised in our church, and who is allowed to share in that authority.  There need to be changes in our church’s attitude toward sexuality, gender, marriage and celibacy.  There need to be changes in our processes of decision making and accountability.  Many of us have been saying these things for decades.  We need to continue to cry out for them to be addressed.

I believe that we have been blessed here in Seattle with leadership that has been sensitive to these needs, that has dealt with the clergy sex abuse crisis in a healthy way, and moved progressively to address other needs.  But the larger issues cannot be addressed at the diocesan level.  These need to be taken up by the National Bishops Conference and the Vatican.  So we need our bishops to listen to us and raise these issues.

I am praying to know what I might do to turn my frustration into positive action.  If the news of the past weeks has disturbed you, if you are angry, if you—like me—have questioned whether you can or should remain an active Catholic, then I assure you that you are not alone.  I encourage you to stay, to speak out, to do what you can do to encourage our leaders to finally make the changes that desperately need to be made.

I invite you to come together in two weeks for an open conversation on the Clergy Sex Abuse Crisis.  On Sunday, September 9 – 11:15 in Assembly Room.  We’ll have an open discussion about the situation, and about how we as people of faith, can respond.  I hope you’ll be part of that discussion.

Our church is in a dark time.  But our church has been in dark times before, and because faithful people have done what was needed, by God’s grace changes were made and the church was reformed.  So I encourage you not to allow your frustration and anger to dishearten you.  Let it move you to action, so that we as a people, as a church, can heal and move through this crisis to a brighter and healthier future.