As Catholics grapple with the terrible revelations of the Vatican’s McCarrick Report, released on November 10, some Milwaukee-area parishes and pastors have made efforts to address the report publicly, acknowledging its horrifying details and the strong feelings parishioners may have in response to this news. One of the first responses was from Archbishop Jerome Listecki, whose letter calls the McCarrick Report “painful, but necessary.” He also outlines the methods for reporting sexual abuse by clergy or Church personnel.
Given Awake’s commitment to honesty and open discussion of the full reality of sexual abuse in the Church, we’re grateful to parishes that make an effort to speak about the McCarrick Report and the painful wounds of victim-survivors.
Here’s a closer look at the ways that some local parishes have chosen to respond.
St. Dominic Parish, Brookfield. Fr. Dennis Saran reflected on the McCarrick Report in his weekly email to parishioners, sent out the day after the report was released. He admitted that hadn’t yet read the whole report (which is 461 pages long) and couldn’t provide a “detailed commentary,” but he added: “I can only give you what I feel, and that is a mixture of sadness and anger.” He went on to describe how, when he applied to enter the seminary in 2010, he was asked about the abuse scandal and responded that he “would be carrying the scar of the church.” He said he now sees this crisis as not a scar, “but an open wound.” He continued: “[M]y heart goes out to the victims whose lives have been permanently changed by such a betrayal,” adding, “I apologize to anyone who has been abused or betrayed by our church.”
Saran acknowledged that parishioners may have different feelings about the report. “I cannot blame those who leave the church, I cannot blame those who are angry with the pope, bishops, or priests. I encourage you, however, to stay, to hold us accountable, and to cry out—never again.”
He also spoke about the McCarrick Report from the pulpit during the parish announcements near the end of Mass on Sunday, November 15, mentioning Archbishop Listecki’s letter and the steps the Church has taken “so this never, ever happens again.” He concluded:
Let us pray first for those who have been injured by the Church. Let us mourn the sickness of the Body of Christ. But do not let us despair. This Church, with Christ as its lead, animated by the Spirit, has throughout history raised up holy ones who give us hope.
In an email exchange with Awake this week, Saran explained that he felt compelled to respond for many reasons, including the stress of the pandemic. “There is a general sense of malaise and anxiety, and I didn’t want this report to be just more bad news without addressing it,” he explained. He wanted to emphasize that the Church has made changes to prevent future abuse, and “I wanted to mourn with my parish as I feel bad about this as well,” he said. “Finally, I wanted to remind my parish that Jesus is the head of our Church and he is ‘married’ to it and as such will stay with the Church—’in sickness and in health.'”
The Family of Four Parishes, Milwaukee’s Downtown, East Side, and Riverwest neighborhoods. Parishioners received a lengthy letter signed by Fr. Tim Kitzke, Fr. John Baumgardner, and the lay pastoral staff on Thursday, November 12. The letter summarized the McCarrick Report and then said:
This report should fill Catholics and all people with feelings of outrage, anger, shock, disbelief, sorrow, and so many other emotions. As your Pastors and lay pastoral staff, perhaps the only thing we could say is that we are right there with you. We are shocked and horrified by the terrible evil that occurred at the hands of McCarrick and so many other abusers. We are scandalized by the cover-up that has happened by church leadership with clergy sexual abuse and by the failure to speak out earlier against McCarrick. Our hearts are broken at the terrible pain experienced by anyone who has been sexually abused, especially by a cleric or anyone else in the church.
The parish team said that they pray for “all survivors of abuse and their families, and that justice may be brought to their perpetrators.” They also mentioned the allegations of sexual abuse against Catholic composer David Haas, and noted that the four parishes are no longer using any songs written by Haas. They provided a link to a letter spelling out the decision by music ministers and pastors to stop using Haas’s music. That letter said, in part: “Let us draw on the virtue of fortitude to put aside our personal feelings for the music in favor of the feelings and experience of those who have lived through sexual abuse. Let us listen to survivors when they tell us what they need from us and take action.”
Thursday’s letter from the Family of Four Parishes said the parish team will continue to follow news about the McCarrick Report and discern ways to help parishioners “process and grieve” the revelations in the report.
On Sunday, Fr. John Baumgardner continued to acknowledge the McCarrick Report in his homily, given at both Three Holy Women and Saints Peter and Paul. He expressed compassion for abuse victims, noting that walking with abuse survivors has shown him that abuse “can destroy their lives.” Acknowledging that many Catholics are struggling, he invited listeners to focus on the “simple, but profound invitation” in Sunday’s Gospel: to remain in God. Baumgardner suggested that if we “remain in Him by choosing hope over despair,” then “somehow, mysteriously, He will see us through, even in all of this.”
St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Milwaukee. At the 8:30 a.m. Mass on Sunday, November 15, Fr. Mike Bertram spoke about the McCarrick Report during the Penitential Rite, and offered an apology to parishioners: “I believe that our institutional Church needs to ask for your forgiveness and mercy this morning … for the terrible way in which the Church dismissed allegations of sexual abuse.”
In the prayer that followed, Bertram asked God to
[b]e the refuge and guardian of all who have suffered abuse and violence. Comfort them and send healing for their wounds of body, soul, and spirit. Rescue them from bitterness and shame, and refresh them with your love. Heal the brokenness in all victims of abuse, and revive all who lament this sin.
This week Bertram told Awake that he felt the Penitential Rite “would make a good place to raise the issue of forgiveness on the part of the Church to the faithful and to victims of sexual abuse,” he said. “It needed to be acknowledged and even brought into our prayer.”
—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog
If your parish has acknowledged the McCarrick Report or the suffering of victim-survivors of sexual abuse, Awake would like to know. Please comment below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Awake Milwaukee has created resources to help parishes develop compassionate, survivor-centered responses to the McCarrick Report. Our resources for pastors are found here, and those for lay ministers are here.