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We need to put the victims first. (editor's note).

As the clergy sexual abuse crisis has rolled through the Catholic church in the U.S. these past few months, many Catholics have felt overwhelmed, deeply dismayed, and perhaps not quite sure how to navigate through this painful time in the church.

Americans by now know the litany of issues well. The gross negligence of some bishops in reassigning accused priests. The secrecy, cover-ups, and arrogance. Questions of whether clerical celibacy and homosexuality have any connection to abuse. Calls to reexamine the culture in which priests live and work and the ways in which candidates for priesthood are selected and formed. The lack of a national church policy to deal with and prevent abuse. Calls from liberals to start the revolution and from conservatives for greater discipline.

Any discussion, though, must begin with the victims of abuse--those who were sexually assaulted or otherwise taken advantage of sexually as children or teenagers. Appearing on NBC News' Meet the Press program in late March, Father Thomas Doyle, whose report to the U.S. bishops on priestly sexual abuse almost 20 years ago was, he said, "stonewalled" by the bishops' conference, pointed to the problem of focusing too much on the institution.

"There's been a lot of focus on the priesthood," Doyle said. "I want to say a word for the victims. These people--and there are thousands of them out there--and their families and their loved ones--they have suffered incredibly, not simply from the physical abuse of the sexual violation itself, but also from the spiritual abuse of being not only not believed oftentimes but treated as the enemy."

We must not forget that the recent explosion of news has rekindled the trauma that abuse victims have experienced. We must remember how sexual abuse by representatives of the church--in itself a crime and a wound the scars of which remain for life and affect victims' mental health, sexuality, and their ability to have healthy relationships--also frequently involves spiritual abuse. Sexual abuse perpetrated by a church representative attacks people at their core--their spirits and souls--devastates their trust in what should be most trustworthy, and makes it difficult, in some cases impossible, for them to have a normal relationship with God and the church.

Kevin Clarke's cover story, "Broken trust, broken lives: Survivors of priest sexual abuse speak out" (pages 12-17), lets the victims' voices be heard, and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in "A slaughter of innocence" (pages 24-28), suggests the church make a collective examination of conscience. We also talk with Father Donald Cozzens ("How to build a healthier church," pages 18-22), a much sought-after commentator on the current abuse crisis, and Meinrad Scherer-Emunds ("Let's talk--but all of us," page 50) calls for a national dialogue to help the U.S. Catholic Church renew itself.
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Title Annotation:children sexually abused by members of the Catholic church
Author:Schorn, Joel
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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