Survivor’s Voices: meeting with the bishop

“The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops” – ST. ATHANASIUS
“The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts” – ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM.
“The road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – ST. JOHN EUDES
“I do not think that there are many among bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.” – ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, EXTRACT FROM ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, HOMILY III ON ACTS 1:12
“The floor of Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – ST. ATHANASIUS, COUNCIL OF NICAEA, AD 325.
“It is better that scandals arise than truth be suppressed.” – POPE ST. GREGORY THE GREAT.
“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate, even publicly” – ST THOMAS AQUINAS, SUMMA THEOLOGICA II, II q.33

“Mercy detached from Justice and the Truth about Good and Evil, quickly disintegrates into mere sentimentalism, irrationality and a gross inability to think logically and clearly about right or wrong – or anything at all.” -Paige

“Who’s going to save our Church? It’s not our bishops, it’s not our priests and it is not the religious. It is up to you, the people. You have the minds, the eyes and the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that the priests act like priests, your bishops act like bishops, and the religious act like religious.” – Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

-by Sara Larson

  • I met with my bishop in 2011. It was a disaster. He allocated 20 minutes to talk, with one of his staff at his side. I wasn’t allowed to bring anyone along with me. (A canon lawyer later told me I had a right to have someone else with me. They took advantage of me.) I had 10 minutes to speak. They made clear that it didn’t matter what I said, they had already decided their course of action. I was to be put out of my parish. The staff member said all he could to drive me out of the Church. I left sobbing and threw myself on the floor in front of the chapel. A friend had driven me and was waiting in the lobby. She helped me up and took me home.
  • I met with the bishop of a neighboring diocese in 2018, at the request of my mother who lives there. This bishop was compassionate and agreed to help me contact my own bishop, but he admitted that he could not offer me much support since I do not live in his diocese. A fellow victim of the same priest attended this meeting, and she was able to be engaged in support and healing groups right away. There are no programs for survivors in my diocese. I am on my own.
  • I reported my 2014 assault via the diocesan website in 2019, told my story, and simply asked that they take it seriously. The diocese notified the abbey where my abuser lived, and the abbey sent a representative. She tried to manipulate me into saying I’d be ok with this priest returning to ministry, and she seemed indignant that I’d approached the diocese rather than the abbey. I’m thankful that I went into it expecting to be handed a bunch of BS rather than any real attempt at reconciliation; it probably saved me a lot more trauma. The bishop never offered to meet, and I didn’t see the point of asking for a meeting.
  • I waited four months to meet the bishop. He wore his priestly symbolism even after he was informed that it would trigger me. I wanted to meet with the Abbot of the Order as well; the Abbot would have received me that day if I wanted to. When we met, he was in plain clothes and we met in a room void of symbolism.
  • I went to the bishop with the intention of letting him know this happened to me. He listened, had a compassionate posture. I was skeptical. He chose words carefully so as not to acknowledge any wrongdoing. In the following years he betrayed my trust in several ways. In publications he writes that he “walks with victims and survivors.” That wasn’t true in my case and I never wanted him to walk with me, only do something about the criminal and moral offenses.
  • I was advocating for myself directly with the diocesan victim advocate for almost ten months when I felt the need to return to ministry in my church. Because I reported the priest who abused me, the pastor banned me from all ministry. I addressed him directly first, but he did not change his position. So, I met with the bishop to ask if he would help by asking the pastor to drop the ban (that should have never been applied). I felt punished for not remaining silent. The bishop listened to me, recognized that I was abused, and said he prays for me daily. But when I asked for what I needed to try and reclaim my self prior to the abuse, he said that this isn’t his method of operating. In other words, he declined to intervene. His reasoning? He doesn’t involve himself with local church matters where volunteer positions are involved. He leaves it to the discretion of the pastor. This is what ultimately led to my contacting a lawyer and filing a lawsuit, which was never my intention. By standing up with the power and advocacy of the attorney, I found my voice. It opened the door to deeper self-recovery efforts. I felt heard and validated. My attorney did something beyond just praying for me. Sometimes action is required with prayer.
  • The priest who abused me had told me a story about picking up a male hitchhiker and having sex with him. When I shared this with the bishop, he said that the priest just told me that because he wanted to impress me and hoped I would “think he was macho.” I had no words, and I was in shock that a priest or bishop would think this is “macho.” I knew then that the meeting was a joke, and I lost all hope that he was a holy shepherd who would protect one of his flock. The rest of the meeting continued to spiral downward, and I left disillusioned, with my faith in the Church’s hierarchy starting to dismantle. This was in 2019.
  • One aspect of my healing process was a meeting with the cardinal who was my archbishop. I had never met a cardinal, prince of the Church, before. I was anxious about this meeting. I was conflicted because of my deep respect for his office, but I also wanted to tell my story as a way to unburden myself. I told the cardinal my story of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has had on me and my family throughout my life. The cardinal listened. He apologized to me for the abuse imposed upon me when I was a little boy. Also, I brought family photographs of my abuser at many of our family functions to the meeting and shared them. The cardinal asked about my parents and my siblings. We had a very nice discussion and because of the time he spent with me, and because that conversation was so good, I feel comfortable continuing to practice my faith.
  • In March 2019, just a few weeks after the sex abuse summit in the Vatican, I met with my archbishop. While my hopes weren’t high, I tried to reset my expectations and go into the meeting with a clean slate and an open mind. However, I was immediately disappointed when my archbishop started off the meeting by saying, right up front, “But my hope with everybody I’ve met is that… Even if we can’t have healing with the church because of what has happened…” At least the archbishop made it clear, right up front, that he wasn’t going to do anything to help me. He then preceded to offer to serve as my spiritual advisor, but I couldn’t see how I could accept spiritual advice from a man who could so quickly, easily, and abruptly disregard what was done to my family and me. Rather than react, I simply allowed the archbishop to keep talking, during which time he made it clear to me, multiple times, that he wasn’t around when what was done to me occurred and he didn’t know anything about it. I did try to take up the archbishop on his offer of a follow-up meeting, in an attempt to try to get through to him, but the archdiocese cut off all communication with me.
  • My bishop has not chosen to meet with me, even when a bishop from a neighboring diocese met with me and invited my bishop to meet with both of us. My bishop insisted he could not meet while the criminal investigation was taking place, but he also had not agreed before there was a criminal investigation. The priest is in jail now, but my bishop still has not agreed to meet with me.
  • I met with the new bishop in 2019. He promised to review the file and get to the bottom of it. He never did. I had to recreate the file of evidence and almost a year later take him through each piece. He finally acknowledged that things were not as he was told. He wrote a letter stating I was free to participate in parish life, with approval of the local priest. There were no consequences for the lies the diocesan staff had spread or the harm they caused. No reparation was made. He left me with these words: “I hope you heal. Good luck.”
  • My meeting with the archbishop came after calls with the attorney general, my local prosecutor’s office, the diocesan coordinator and the Diocesan Review Board (Interrogation Panel). The meeting with the archbishop was really at the end of another meeting. Someone told me that he knew I was there and wanted to meet me. It was awkward at best. He stared into my eyes, said sorry, stared some more. I just said thank you and backed away.
  • Initially, I wrote a letter to the archbishop. My heart longed to hear my bishop tell me it wasn’t my fault and that I wasn’t going to hell. Instead, I got a voicemail from him saying he had shredded my letter. I was devastated. When I reached out a second time, asking to meet with him, he told me someone from his office would be getting in touch with me to schedule a meeting, but that never happened. I was so discouraged and angry. To this day, whenever I see his name or people mention him as a “good and holy bishop,” I can feel my blood boiling.
  • I talked to one of our regional bishops about the fact that there is still a bust of my abuser in the church vestibule. This is two years after I reported, and after at least three other victims came forward. The street and a meeting center are still named after him. This bishop’s answer was that there are some other priests under investigation in the diocese, so they do not want to release new names until these cases are settled. Needless to say, I am very disappointed.
  • I was nervous but happy to be able to meet with the bishop in 1997. He had a very good reputation, and I was confident he would handle my case of multiple rapes by a Catholic priest. I had become pregnant and gave my baby up for adoption. He listened, and I provided the proof. He wept and assured me the priest would be put in a monastery for the rest of his life. When this did not happen, I wrote to the bishop over a two-year period. He always wrote back reassuring me of his decision (just long enough for the statute of limitations to expire). Finally, the priest was moved to another country to avoid criminal or civil action. I finally went public on YouTube in 2020 and have been threatened and intimidated by other priests and laity. I have since spoken to other victims from the group, the Society of St. Pius X. This bishop has covered up hundreds of cases.
  • In 2014, I reached out to my diocese and several local newspapers to report what I knew about an abusive cardinal and heard absolutely nothing from anyone. When the news broke in 2018, I was asked why I didn’t say anything. I DID.
  • While it was an extremely difficult thing, and it did not have the ultimate outcome I wanted, I am incredibly grateful for the meeting I had with my archbishop. While it was very tense, and I didn’t see the compassion or care I had hoped to, there were moments when I know that I saw his heart. Past all the fears and defenses, I saw a man who was trying to understand. I saw a man who was woefully uneducated about trauma and abuse, who now was tasked with making these decisions. I saw that it wasn’t that he was trying to cover things up or brush things a way, but that he was genuinely trying to make sense of the situation. I think he believed me – or wanted to – on one hand, but he also believed his priest. I think the face-to-face meeting was such an important thing. It allowed him to see who I am, to know me as a person and therefore, not someone he could just easily dismiss. It allowed me to have a glimpse into his heart. Through all the struggle and ugliness that has come since then, it has helped immensely to be able to hold on to that.
  • After going through my savings, my IRA, and my husband’s IRA in order to pay for treatment to help me with the fallout of ten years of rapes by Catholic clergy and others they were associated with, I ran out of money for the out-of-pocket treatment costs I required, so I applied for the diocese compensation fund. They accepted my claim, but only offered me $25,000 as full and final settlement… for ten years of rapes. I had no choice but to reject that offer as it wouldn’t last even two years. I considered approaching the diocese where the abuse occurred, but I’d heard so many horror stories from other survivors who had attempted that route – where the bishops and/or their representatives or associates had shamed, blamed, or used other forms of intimidation tactics on them – that I decided to not add to my already crushing trauma. I am 69 years old and have required intensive treatment for decades. I’ve worked hard to survive and become at least minimally functional. The last thing I need is to be set back to the stone age by an institution whose track record for meaningfully helping survivors has been dismal at best, and destructive at worst, based on what several other survivors have told me. If the Church truly cared about us survivors, they would not beat us up with manipulation, intimidation, and other methods meant to minimize our plight or reject our pleas for help, nor would they offer such inadequate recompense.
  • One of my greatest regrets in the whole reporting process was that I complied when I was told not to go into the details of the abuse in my meeting with the archbishop, because it “would be too much for him.” I didn’t realize fully at the time how wounding that was, how isolated it made me feel, that they were unable to even hear these things that I lived through, that I still deal with everyday. If I could do one thing over, I would tell him the whole story. It might not have made any difference, but I think I would feel better, having spoken my truth, and not given into the idea that I had to hide what had happened to me.
  • I reached out to our new bishop. I sent a simple e-mail explaining I was abused by a priest and asked if I could meet with him just once. He replied to me that very day and said yes. I was soooooo nervous. I had never met with a bishop at the chancery before, and I was all alone. To my delight (and healing), he met me with humility and treated my story with great gentleness. He gave me the time I needed. My heart breaks for the thousands of survivors who have been treated like garbage and/or a burden/inconvenience by bishops. What started as a one-time meeting, has turned into monthly meetings since January of 2014. I have experienced tremendous healing and freedom. My bishop has heard the most vulgar of language from me and the deepest cries of my heart. He has held my pain with deep reverence. I wish all the bishops would learn from his example.

Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.  Pray for the souls of the guilty, the abused, the afflicted, the Church, and the innocent,