In my last Crisis article, I shared my difficult and painful experience of sexual misconduct inflicted by a Jesuit priest. Second to this traumatic experience was reporting the incident and being informed that nothing will happen to the accused.
For those who have not, by the grace of God, experienced clergy abuse or misconduct, it is difficult to appreciate that the simple adage “If you see something, say something” is not so simple.
Firstly, reporting the incident is a confusing process. There is no concise, clear-cut way, even after spending hours searching online. Based on my experience, I have created an outline so that others might not have to fumble around as I did.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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Secondly, reporting the incident is a traumatic experience. The victim relives the experience of abuse and/or misconduct every time he or she recounts what happened. The experience brings up a lot of shame. This may even involve the victim blaming oneself or believing he or she was at fault.
But this is precisely the practice of an abuser: to place the burden right back on the victim.
Thirdly, as I alluded to earlier, reporting the incident may result in nothing.
I hesitated making a formal report because I truly believed no punitive action would come from it. The accused has been in leadership in the Western United States Province of the Society of Jesus for more than 20 years. I sensed the matter would come down to his word versus mine and that the order would take his side.
And sadly, that’s exactly what happened.
On the surface, the Jesuits put on a good face when it comes to dealing with clergy sexual abuse and misconduct. In December 2018, two U.S. provincials released a list of 153 members who have been credibly accused. The provincial of the Western Province at that time, Fr. Scott Santarosa, issued a written apology accompanying that list.
Additionally, for abuse and misconduct cases, the Jesuits employ a victim advocacy coordinator who is the primary contact during the investigation. The victim advocacy coordinator informs the provincial and other necessary parties about the accusation and contacts a third-party investigation firm to prepare a report of the incident. The investigator speaks with the victim, the accused, and any other pertinent individuals and issues the report to the victim advocacy coordinator. The report is then shared with a review board, mainly comprising non-Jesuits, who offer a recommendation to the provincial.
The provincial, however, has the final say in the matter.
All of this appears wholesome and healthy, but it is dubious at best to call this arrangement a truly independent and objective system.
Let us review: the Jesuits compensate the victim advocacy coordinator and the third-party investigator; the Jesuits select the members of the review board; and the provincial makes the final decision.
This setup reminds me of those fictional small towns where the mayor is also the sheriff, the bank manager, and the judge.
The Internal Affairs bureau of any police department is a thoroughly more impartial model.
A jury of Crisis readers would be a far more impartial body.
In response to the objection that the parties that are paid for by the Jesuits and selected for the review board are done so with the intent of promoting a transparent process to deal with clergy misconduct, we cannot be naïve when it comes to human nature. I can simply point to a number of compliance professionals at investment firms who were fired for simply doing their jobs—putting the brakes on those managing the money. But when the investment managers are running the show and controlling compensation and job security, independence and objectivity is greatly hindered.
Prior to my incident report, Jesuit Fr. Kevin O’Brien resigned as president of Santa Clara University in March 2021 amid credible allegations of inappropriate behavior and boundary violations with Jesuit graduate students. O’Brien was ordered by the province to enroll in a four- to six-month outpatient program.
Approximately six months following his resignation, O’Brien posted on Twitter that he was beginning his sabbatical in a Jesuit community in New York City and working on a book on Ignatian spirituality.
In my case, the provincial decided that due to the lack of corroborating evidence found by the third-party investigator (paid for by the Jesuits), no other prior accusations of this nature made against this individual, and the Jesuit’s ministerial record, no restrictions would be enacted. The provincial issued the decision with the coldness and calculated tone of a CEO protecting his assets instead of a concerned pastor.
I read all 461 pages of the McCarrick Report, and this matter was handled straight out of McCarrick’s playbook. The deck was stacked in favor of the one I accused before the investigative report had been issued. Ted McCarrick also appeared to demonstrate an exemplary ministerial record. Initial accusations against McCarrick had been dismissed on the spot, and many more accusations did not surface until much later because the victims were too afraid to cross McCarrick.
Silly me for not bringing in an audio recorder during my 2009 interview to have the corroborating evidence to bring this Jesuit to justice. But it likely would not have mattered. As can be seen from the O’Brien case, boundary violations are treated lightly.
Upon review of the provincial’s rationale, the burden of proof in determining the culpability of the accused is unreasonable. When there is a sexual harassment allegation in a workplace setting, the determination is based on the perception of the victim, regardless of the “intent” of the accused.
However, there are those in the Church, including the ones who ruled in favor of the priest I accused, who seek to protect the clergy more than the victims.
Utilizing King Solomon’s wisdom, a guilty person would likely deny the allegation profusely rather than admit to it, whereas a truly innocent minister might express concern for the victim and desire to make some form of amends to offer healing to the victim.
It is high time for members of the Church to use this wisdom, and dare we say discernment, in dealing with abuse and misconduct cases. The word of the victim needs to carry far more weight than is currently rendered.
Along with those who were denied justice for the trauma they had suffer, I wonder why I should return to a Church that harbors abusers.
But if I refer back to a jury of Crisis readers, what might they say on this matter?
This jury would want me to stay and the accused and the members of the order protecting him to be excommunicated.
Abusers are effective in switching the roles and the consequences. Earlier, I alluded to how victims are afraid to come forward because they feel that they were the ones who did something wrong, not the accused. Similarly, those who have been harmed often leave the Church while the ones who caused harm, particularly those who got away with the abuse and misconduct, sit comfortably amid the stained-glass windows.
But, as our own Lord commanded, those in power who harm the vulnerable deserve the millstone (cf. Matthew 18:6). They must be removed from the public so that they might not be able to cause further harm.
If members of the Society of Jesus would rather defend their own who credibly abuse and harass than protect the victims, then they do not deserve to bear the name of Christ in their title. Rather, a more fitting name would be the Society of Judas.
Protecting abusers and those who commit misconduct betrays Jesus and His Church. The model I experienced for reporting and rendering judgment on the accused is deeply broken.
The Church needs to implement the millstone: promote an actual practice of zero-tolerance for clergy sexual abuse and misconduct, utilize a truly independent and arms-length review process, take victims at their word, implement mandatory removal of the accused for six-12 months to give him time to repent and rectify his ways (if the accused is proven to be actually innocent, he can return to ministry), and permanently remove credibly accused ministers.
The Judases must be removed from positions in the Church in order for her to be a place of safety for God’s people.