By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
On the last day of the Vatican summit on child protection, more than 100 people gathered at St. William Church to discuss healing and a path forward.
The gathering — a Convocation of the Faithful — was convened as a response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, according to organizers.
About 130 people from 20 parishes and religious communities filled the interior of St. William Feb. 24. Raw emotion filled the room as participants shared their frustrations and calls for justice.
In her opening address to participants, Lois Luckett, one of the day’s organizers and a parishioner of St. William, said the convocation was one part of a “long process of individual, communal and global healing” in response to the church’s sexual abuse crisis.
“Today we come together in search of healing and transformation for ourselves and for our church structure so that all people, children and adults, are safe,” Luckett said.
The small-group discussion centered on three main questions:
– How have you been affected by the crisis of sexual abuse and its cover up by the leadership?
– What needs to happen to bring about healing and transformation?
– What are some next steps that we can take?
Topics that nearly every group discussed were the need for transparency and accountability, removing the culture of clericalism, a need for the church to examine how priests are educated.
Most of the groups also discussed a re-evaluation of church teaching on human sexuality, changes to the structure of church hierarchy and the need for prayer.
Participants also expressed a desire for a “more meaningful” public apology from church leaders and said bishops and other leaders need to be held fully accountable. And women, they said, should hold more meaningful leadership roles.
Other suggestions challenged church teaching on controversial topics, including allowing priests to marry, making celibacy optional and ordaining women.
Some ideas put forth at the convocation have been adopted by the Archdiocese of Louisville already, including: calling civil authorities when abuse is reported, releasing names of accused priests, educating the laity of the signs of sexual abuse and providing counseling for abuse survivors.
Dawn Dones, one of the event organizers and pastoral associate of St. William, said the convocation grew from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz’s invitation in the “Report to the Catholic People.” The archbishop invited Catholics to study the four-page document released Oct. 18, 2018. (The report can be found at www.archlou.org/restoringtrust.)
In the document, he writes: “It is my desire that we can go forward to seek healing for those wounded so deeply, take decisive action with those who have abused others, and build up, with God’s grace, a community of truth and charity that is a safe haven for all.”
Dones said, “The intention of the Convocation of the Faithful was to offer a forum for people to give voice to their stories, to be heard, and to imagine together what needs to happen for individual healing and for the healing of the larger church, the broken Body of Christ.”
Among the participants were members of religious orders that co-sponsored the convocation. Dominican Sister of Peace Charlene Moser said the goal of the forum was for people to feel like they’ve been heard.
“We know that some have been abused, maybe by clergy, maybe not. Even if they have not been abused, the news of the scandal is startling. They might be alarmed or confused,” said Sister Moser, a member of the organizing team.
“I’m hoping for healing and transformation,” she added. “We’re really hoping something transformative will emerge from this. We don’t have an agenda,” she said.
Nancy Fox, a parishioner of St. William, said the Catholic Church has been an important part of her life since she was a child, but the sex abuse scandal continues to “tear us apart.”
“We’ve got to figure out somehow to deal with it in a way that is open and honest,” she said.
Fox said the discussion in her small group centered around change.
“That change is going to happen from the bottom up if change is going to happen at all,” she said.
Dones said she and others recognize the ongoing efforts on the part of the Archdiocese of Louisville to examine processes and practices to protect children.
“We hold open the need and opportunity for deeper transformation within the church we love,” she said.
Organizers said they hope to see other such forums take place at parishes around the archdiocese to empower people to share their stories and together find ways to heal.
The gathering was sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Sisters of Loretto, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Sisters of Mercy, Ursuline Sisters of Louisville, Xaverian Brothers and St. William parish.