This is a wonderful and insightful interview in the National Catholic Register, with Monica Applewhite, a foremost expert in sexual abuse, who: “helped create an accreditation system for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men to hold them accountable to the highest standards of child protection,” and she presents the impact of the tragedy in a somewhat different context than most have.
“In dealing with this issue, you’ve really seen the dark side of humanity and individuals within the Church. You’re still Catholic, aren’t you? How has it impacted your faith?
“This is a question I actually get fairly often. Even though much of my adult life has been spent dealing with sexual abuse in the Church and other organizations, I’m still Catholic.
“I will share with you that at first it wasn’t easy. I spent about three years struggling with what I learned about the Church … how people were hurt by those they trusted, how leaders would not listen and members of their communities turned away from the ones who had been hurt.
“The saddest part for me was being turned away myself in the beginning when I offered to help. That was very painful. I cannot say it ever affected my feelings of closeness with God, but I felt an emotional distance from the Church as an organization.
“It was my work with religious communities that started me on the road back to the Church. I began working with religious and spending whole weeks living in their communities, coming to know the work that they did, listening to the ways in which their ministries touched the lives of so many people.
“Through this work with religious, the work with victims of abuse, and the development of response systems, I began to feel close to the Church again, to fall back in love. This time was different though.
“I don’t think I have a trace of “infatuation” with the Church. I love it like you love your spouse after 40 years of marriage. I love it in its faults and failings. I love it all the more for the intensity of its humanness; perfection is not part of the bargain.
“Once, a few years ago, a religious community set up a graveside service for a survivor of abuse who wanted closure. His perpetrator was deceased. We walked a long way to the cemetery. There, we prayed and let him read his letter. All of us cried and held hands. I think we each cried for different reasons.
“Yes, my work has forced me to face the dark side of humanity and the Church, but it has also allowed me to witness grace and beauty in those moments when we need it most.
“Do you think this is going to end up defining Benedict’s papacy?
“Perhaps, but not in a negative way. Now that so much information is coming forward I believe two things will happen. First, we will all be privy to the information we need in order to understand how much Pope Benedict’s resolve and commitment have already changed the system within our Church. We needed a pope that did not mind being considered “tough” and that is what we have. Instead of change happening “behind the scenes,” we will know about it. Second, all of the media attention and worldwide interest will give Pope Benedict just the political opportunity and leverage he needs to change the Church culture of silence and protection throughout the world much faster. He won’t have to “sell” change in the way he would have if this had not happened. Many of the barriers he has encountered for more than a decade will be broken down. I believe this will solidify his legacy as the agent of change and restoration of the Church for which he would want to be remembered.”