November 9, 2021 Editor

The Horror of: “ ‘It’s being abused by an entire belief system’: a haunting film on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy”

In Netflix documentary Procession, six men who survived sexual abuse as children make short films to try and process their trauma

in Washington; @smithinamerica

Tue 9 Nov 2021

WN: The dreadfulness of ‘It’s being abused by an entire belief system’ as it sinks in, is profoundly troubling.

Such as well was the deeply disturbing belief system of Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, as seen in: “Prison, Sexual Assault, and Editing John Howard Yoder: One Man’s Story” by Andy Alexis-Baker.

A special place in hell for the belief-system spinners perpetuating the horror? For the child-molesting/manipulating monster-priests? For Church officialdom, who covered it up every step of the way? . . . Words fail.

Pope Francis in the past has faltered on this, rather than robustly pursuing justice in all cases reported worldwide. Is it as straightforward as choosing love over fear? In this case, fear would be of the truth! Perfect love drives out fear (I John 4), we are told.

One can only hope and pray that the Pope will respond wisely, lovingly, and decisively — for all concerned. God’s preferential option for the poor”, widely affirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, invariably has victims at the forefront.

A superb 2015 movie dealing with the sex abuse scandal in Massachusetts is appropriately titled Spotlight.

One of my dear Catholic friends, with a very deep spirituality, in response to all this expressed to me his sense of great sadness — and anger. Jesuit writer and editor at large of America magazine, the Rev. James Martin, urges in “The Virtues of Catholic Anger” an appropriate use of anger to bring about change. He cites Jesus as prime example of this.

Former Catholic Rod Dreher, who left the Catholic Church due to sex abuse scandals, now Orthodox and senior editor of The American Conservative, in “What Must Survive a Corrupt Catholic Church” sums up for all Christians how to respond hopefully to this crisis:

Still, as you act, never forget that a faith that endures is not forged on a protest line, or in institutional reformation. It is as it always has been: in the prayerful, sacrificial habits of daily life. I left the Catholic Church, but I still had to figure out a way to keep myself and my children Christian.

By making monasteries, of a sort, of our homes and hearts, we may develop the spiritual disciplines necessary to endure this seemingly endless trial and to keep the light of faith burning brightly amid this new Dark Age.

The Vatican’s response, after two days of silence, is hopeful. Time will only tell. Meanwhile, this article is very hopeful too: “Theologians, lay leaders call for mass resignations of US bishops.” We read:

The statement notes that the issue is not liberal or conservative. “It does not emerge from a particular faction or ideology but rather from the heart of a wounded Church,” it said. “It is an expression of fidelity to the victims, to Jesus Christ, to the Church in whose service we have devoted our lives.”


On August 17, 2018, the National Catholic Reporter’s Editorial staff published: “Editorial: The body of Christ must reclaim our church”. I can only add again: Amen! They wrote in part:

The revelations of the last two months make undeniably clear that it is time for the laity to reclaim our ownership of this church. We are the body of Christ, we are the church. It is time that we demand that bishops claim their true vocations as servants to the people of God. And they must live that way. At this time, it seems laity can do very little to effect the changes needed to bring about the solutions to the large issues that plague the church now — careerism, abuse of power, lack of transparency, no accountability. The fact is laypeople in our church today have little power. That said, as any community organizer would tell you, we have the power of the collective. Now more than ever, we — the laity — need to speak with a united voice. We must turn our anger into resolve. It is shocking that after decades of revelations of sexual abuse of children, there is still no clear accountability for bishops. We must demand change. …

What plagues the church today — as the Pennsylvania grand jury demonstrates — resulted from the lack of accountability of bishops and religious superiors. Any Catholic has the right to petition their bishop, a major superior, the apostolic nuncio, the appropriate dicasteries in Rome, even the pope. But from the local level all the way to Rome, there is no accountable, transparent process to ensure that grievances are received, let alone acted upon.

We know, for example, that staff at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith refused to send acknowledgements that they had received letters from victims of clergy sex abuse. Such an attitude perpetuates a culture of impunity that must change.

The next time you go to Mass and as you kneel in that silence that envelops the church just before liturgy begins, utter a prayer for this battered and wounded body we call the church. Pray for a renewal and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, and pray for a reform of our broken system. Then glance to your left and your right. Kneeling beside you are likely the strongest allies you have in rebuilding a church so badly in need of reform.

This affects all of us — the people of God. It’s more than past time that we the laity demand more of our church leaders.

The pope spoke in August 20, 2018 through a 2000-word letter to the more than billion Catholic faithful: “Pope Francis: ‘No effort must be spared’ to prevent Catholic Church abuses“. We read:

Francis also criticized the culture of clericalism1 — which some outsiders say creates a chasm of power between clerics and laity. Francis wrote that clericalism “helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.” Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, said Francis’s critique of clericalism gives her hope for reforms to come. “He spoke about clericalism far more forcefully and explicitly in this letter,” she said. More important, though, she said, is that church leaders welcome further investigations like the grand-jury report in Pennsylvania.

We read further in “Francis says Catholic Church ‘abandoned’ children, letting them be abused“:

The pope’s letter, which the Vatican says was written in Spanish, Francis’ native language, begins with a quote from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”

“These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons,” the pontiff states.”Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient,” he continues.

“Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.”

An outstanding interview by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! is: “Sister Simone Campbell: Catholic Sex Abuse Stems from “Monarchy” & Exclusion of Women from Power.” In it, we read2:

SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL: Yes, I would, Amy [agree that the sex abuse scandal in Ireland paved the way for legalized abortion]. And I think here what’s really at the heart of this is: Is the complex Roman bureaucracy really committed to this letter, or is it only one office who’s engaging this? Because the Vatican is a very complex system, and what the last speaker just pointed out is that this should be at the heart of all of our work. And that, I think, is the challenge here. And the other piece is that it’s not just the perpetrator and the abused that are suffering in this system. The whole church, all of the people are suffering, and the priests who have been faithful and have not abused. I have so many friends, priest friends, who are afraid to touch anyone nowadays, because they’ve been told by lawyers, “You could get in trouble.” And that whole element of fear, sorrow, division? This is what needs to be addressed systemically by the whole Vatican, not just one office. So I hope, when the pope goes to Ireland, that that gets integrated into the reality that he’s witnessing. Now, it’s going to be an international meeting that he’s going to, but having just issued this letter, an international letter, it’s a perfect opportunity to continue that conversation and to really engage in change, finally.

In “To stop abusive clergy, the Church’s factions must make nice” by Megan McArdle, we read this wise conclusion — and can only hope and pray for warring factions indeed to “make nice”:

Unfortunately, it’s hard to pursue that inquiry [into clergy sexual abuse, including (former Vatican ambassador to the United States) Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s charges] when the wider war monopolizes our attention. The church can attack the problem of corruption in the hierarchy without settling its in­trac­table disputes over sexual liberalism. But to do that, it will need to form at least temporary alliances across the old battle lines and act as one church. And for such an alliance to work, everyone will need to decide that their common interest in vanquishing abusive clergy outweighs their common fears about losing the wider war.

The article “Pope Francis faces worst crisis of his five-year papacy” ends with this:

The pope has said little apart from appealing to people to make their own judgment. According to his secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, his mood is “serene” in the face of raging controversy.

On Monday, Francis delivered a homily focusing on Jesus’s dignity when confronted by those “who wanted to throw him out” of Nazareth. Jesus’s silence triumphed over his attackers, he told the congregation; “truth is humble, truth is silent.”

He concluded: “May the Lord give us the grace to discern when we should speak and when we should stay silent. This applies to every part of life: to work, at home, in society … Thus we will be closer imitators of Jesus.”

Yet another massive report is highlighted in “German report documents more than 3,600 abuse cases within the Catholic Church.” We read a comment by Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the site ­, which tracks sexual abuse cases:

Whatever the church reports is a fraction of the actual number — a small fraction.

The sheer scale of worldwide wrongdoing is staggering for a Church whose ethics supposedly are centred on love of God/love of neighbour… As a world Christian, I feel profoundly ashamed… What went wrong so horribly, so massively?!

Finally, though, a corrective to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report August 2018 may be found highlighted here, entitled: “Former New York Times reporter slams grand jury report on clerical abuse”. It’s not all simply dark, thank God!

Please see other posts on this, on this website here.

Finally, please see: Bishops’ visits to Rome unable to quell crisis of Polish church.

Lord, in your mercy . . .


Everything in the bedroom is white including a white crucifix on a white wall. A holy man sits on the corner of a bed, trousers off, legs open. “You need to confess everything,” he says, gripping a young boy’s arm to pull him closer. “The Catholic church has been very good to you, to your mother, to your brother and sister.

“You don’t want that to all go away, do you? So tell me, what else have you done wrong? What about when you think of girls? What do you do when you think of girls? If you can’t tell me, then you can show me. Show me what you do when you have impure thoughts.”

The disturbing scene, with its sinister music, is interrupted by a roar of “cut!” It comes from Ed Gavagan, on whose childhood memories this narrative was based. Later, discovering that the criminal case against his alleged abuser has been dropped, Gavagan vents his frustration by smashing up the all-white set with a sledgehammer.

This is one vignette from Procession, a haunting documentary that follows six men making short films inspired by their childhood trauma of being sexually abused by Catholic clergy and priests.

[Director Robert Greene], 45, recalls: “Of course they were skeptical coming in. They were full of doubt. It’s the most distrustful group of people for a very good reason. But I don’t mind that. In fact, I celebrate that a little bit because you don’t do this kind of work without a considerable amount of doubt.

“You have to honor the risk being taken by honoring the doubt and the worry and the concern, so that worry and concern helped us build the metaphorical room that we would work in. But importantly, they always knew that in that room, there were always doors. They always had ways out. They never had to do anything.

“The first meeting that you see in the film, I was upfront with them: ‘Look, this could be it. We could just talk about this and maybe we decide it’s not worth doing it and move on. You may think I’m not serious – how could a film-maker say that? – but I’m dead serious.’ Part of the point of that first meeting was to decide, do we want to do this at all?”

Greene, making his seventh feature documentary, explains: “You make art for therapeutic reasons. That idea pretty much made sense to everybody on a basic level. They might say it’s weird but these are guys that Rebecca put into the room. She picked the guys that she thought could get something out of it and actually make it happen and could get through it safely.

“The way she put it is: these are all guys who had their voice taken away at some point in the process so for those guys, it makes a lot of sense that, ‘Hey, we’re going to make something together,’ as an antidote to what happened to them. In that first meeting, Ed starts talking about, ‘It’s showtime, folks’, and everyone got it.”

None of the men regretted that choice – one describes feeling a transition from victim to survivor – although raw emotions often surfaced. Greene admits: “Every single step along the way was difficult. In fact, every step remains difficult even today, when we’re talking about the film coming out or screenings that we’re going to.

“None of this is easy but it’s a testament to the overall idea and the process of the film that there was never a ‘Hey, stop recording,’ because the camera being a part of it was instrumental in why they were doing things.”

This is also a story of justice delayed and denied. Although four of the men received settlements from civil lawsuits, none of the accused priests was charged with a crime. Earlier this year the Vatican cleared the man who allegedly preyed on Gavagan, Bishop Joseph Hart of Cheyenne, Wyoming of multiple allegations that he sexually abused minors and teenagers.

To Greene, it was a pattern in which police departments are cowed by the church, courts force survivors to relive their story over and over and not even a written promise from the Pope can pierce the inertia. As the project went on, what did he observe about the legacy of abuse in these men’s lives?

“These guys, to varying degrees, consider themselves the lucky ones,” he says. “They are alive and it’s that simple. That’s a really good way to frame what the experience of living with this trauma is like. It’s just the fact that being alive is considered lucky. They didn’t end up on drugs or they didn’t end up suicidal. Many of them dealt with suicidal thoughts their whole lives and sometimes they didn’t even know why.

“What you see in the film is six very different men who are in six very different places in their lives. But the common thing is this awful feeling will not go away. This feeling of shame, this feeling of being disconnected from your your childhood self.”

He adds: “The thing to know about this abuse is not just being sexually abused in such a tender age, it’s being abused by an entire belief system. The Catholic church indoctrinates believers into a worldview which is demonstrated by these rituals and symbols and so it’s a level of abuse that is just very difficult to comprehend. There’s no fixing that. There’s no giving back to these guys what was taken from them. All we could hope to do is move forward.”

Please click on: ‘Abused By An Entire Belief System’

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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.