After the release of the Maryland Attorney General’s depressing report on child sexual abuse by priests and other religious of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, I reached out to Father Gerard McGlone, psychologist, senior research fellow at Georgetown, a Jesuit priest who works with survivors of abuse and a survivor himself.
It was too late to incorporate his reactions in my Good Friday column on the report, but any Catholic who still cares – who has any faith left in the church – might find his thoughts helpful.
PHOTO ABOVE: Jesuit Father Jerry McGlone, second from right, is seen with Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, in prayer during a sunrise walk to end abuse Nov. 18, 2021, outside the hotel in Baltimore where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops held its fall general assembly Nov. 15-18. (Catholic News Service photo/Bob Roller)
I contacted McGlone because I saw him quoted in an article last June by the Catholic News Service. He believes more “lamentation” is needed, an ongoing expression of remorse by the church.
DR: So we have now an accounting of what happened in the nation’s oldest diocese. I’ve written quite a bit about this in the past. When a new report like this comes out, even though we can anticipate what it will say, I wonder how you process it, how you think about it.
GM: I think, for me as a survivor and as a priest, it comes back to a sense of sadness that this has ever happened. We’ve never grasped the importance of lamentation – that, unless we become a church that does that on a regular basis, I think we fail to place the survivors at the center of what it means for us and our mission as a church. The past 20 years clearly, we’ve done a lot of things. You know, we’ve got policies. We’ve got safe environment coordinators, we’ve got zero tolerance. There’s little question that we’ve done a lot but we have failed at the most core reality of placing the survivors at the center of who we are.
DR: Can you explain a little bit? What’s the difference between lamentations and apology? We’ve heard apologies – maybe not so much at the beginning of the scandal, but we did hear apologies from church leaders, including the Pope. So what do you mean by lamentations versus apology?
GM: There are orchestral pieces and there are songs and ceremonies of lamentation. Lamentation is, first of all, incredibly sacramental. And that’s the point that I just don’t get. You would think that a church that is so rooted in sacramentality would engage in the sacrament of lamentation.
DR: What would that look like?
GM: Well, it means that, on a regular basis, we stand before the throne of god in heaven and in absolute horror recognize the pain that has happened and that continues to happen as a result of the callous disregard of the survivors and survivors’ families. … That means that parties in the church need to recognize that they have done wrong and continue to recognize the wrongs of the past. As you know, the church is slow to apologize. I mean, how is the church lamenting the 500-year-old Doctrine of Discovery? It took 350 years to apologize to Galileo. It took another 450 years to apologize to the indigenous peoples that have been trampled upon because of the collusion of authority – of governments and princes and kings – with the permission of the church early on. That has historical intergenerational trauma that must now be dealt with by intergenerational accountability and responsibility. It is one thing to say something is wrong and to say I am sorry. It is another thing to change the culture that has created evil. That’s what lamentation would be. It’s Psalm 51: My sin is always before me.
DR: Sounds like something we would hear from the pews then?
GM: The survivor stories would become part and parcel of homilies on a regular basis. They would become part and parcel of the catechesis, of leadership training, of seminary training, of every aspect of what we supposedly are doing so well that it becomes the very fabric of our church, and which would cause us to be a tad more humble than we are today.
DR: I don’t think this is happening at Mass now.
GM: I was talking to someone and asked how they are dealing with this up there. And she just said – and she goes to a Baltimore parish – that they have never spoken of it. And I imagine that they will not speak of it even now. That is enabling behavior. Let’s call it what it is. There’s a famous law professor who wrote the book called, “Armies of Enablers” [about] the culpability of those who stand on the side and our bystanders who do not intervene when people are dying. If we don’t speak of it as part of the very fabric of who we are, then nothing changes. You can have all the policies in the world. You can give me all the data in the world about what you’ve done here and there. But it means nothing unless you are on your bended knee, before the very throne of God and in absolute ashes and sackcloth for the sins of what we have done to each other.
DR: And here we are in Holy Week. Thank you for your time and thoughts.
GM: You’re more than welcome. The key image for me this week is . . . We’re invited to the horror, the atrocity of being at the foot of the cross. We can run away just like almost all of the disciples did. But we go there because, like the disciples, there is a powerlessness to what we’re experiencing. There’s an utter devastation to what we’re witnessing. But we’re invited to go there because, in that difficulty, in being at the foot of the cross, we do not run from what is real.
DR: I recalled Father Richard Lawrence in Baltimore [St. Vincent de Paul Church] saying, “We tremble.”
GM: Well, wouldn’t that be a beautiful image for the church going forward? Can we feel as they felt at the foot of the cross? Are we not called to tremble? … Again, it’s a horrible painful time. If we lift up the voice of survivors – there’s the hope. Nothing else will do.
GOOD FRIDAY COLUMN: For Baltimore Catholics, dark history and a shattering sense of betrayal
5 thoughts on “Lamentations: A priest and survivor of abuse on what’s been missing in the Church’s response”
div>I have been following this these past days. I am, once again, speechless with so much to say.
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May God bring every one touched by abuse — His healing power! May God bring peace to ALL for the sins we all commit on a daily basis. On this Good Friday — May we all learn to forgive those who trespass against us and forgive us for our trespasses !
The church body is US… we are sinners , but with faith , I strive to do what little good I can ! The church — US — are not infallible, we need to ask God to continually forgive US each and every day!
It would be amazing if those in power would be willing to provide “ lamentation services” for ALL who have been abused ( but it’s easier to not admit that WE ( the church) has been negligent again, in not providing for the victims & family! I pray that God forgives US, I believe that God is listening to US, we just need to continue to ask for forgiveness- especially today on -Good Friday.
Danny— Buona Pasqua to you and yours🙏‼️
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It is unbelievably sad that so many people have been injured in this way. No one can justify the behavior of those who committed these acts nor of those who hid them or enabled them to take place.
It is, in my view, also very disturbing that my lawyer colleagues have lobbied to eliminate the statute of limitations and to advertise for cases so that they can make money off the trauma of these victims. Let there be no mistake. Rest assured that the lawyers who handle these cases are not interested in justice, or in closure, or in anything else other than in income to themselves.
The elimination of the statute of limitations, while providing a legal means of redress to victims of years past, has major problems. Memories fade. Witnesses die. Moreover, these sexual assault victims are treated more favorably than victims of medical malpractice, say, who have no more than 5 years from when the injury results to file a suit (regardless of when they learn of the malpractice) or victims of motor vehicle collisions, who have no more than 3 years to file a suit. Why should not all victims of civil wrongs be treated equally?
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div>I have followed this tragedy with some interest