One Parent's Demand for Justice

Christine Whelan | Posted on 05/12/10

"It's unsettling to consider that no American under the age of 25 remembers an untainted Catholic Church. It's naïve of us to think that won't make our young people assess their lifelong commitment to Catholicism over another faith or none at all a thousand times more closely than people my age and older did."

David Spotanski is the chancellor for the Belleville diocese of the Catholic Church, just outside of St. Louis. But he's not a priest: He's a married father of three and one of those rare laypeople who gets daily contact with those at the highest levels of the Church. Back in 2002, as the first of the sex scandals began to surface, Spotanski wrote a 10-page letter - from a father's perspective - on why the Church was failing its children, and what it needed to do to fix the problem. He read it out loud and delivered multiple copies to his boss, Bishop Wilton Gregory, who was not only the bishop of Belleville but also had just taken over as the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter -- which I encourage you to download and read here (PDF) -- doesn't pull punches. He wrote: "The truth is our bishops are not doing all they can to stop the sexual abuse of minors by their brother priests; they're each doing all they care to...." For years he declined offers to go public with this letter. Instead, he kept circulating it within the Church. But recently, as things seemed to be getting worse, not better, Spotanski decided to speak out.

Today on BustedHalo, the young-adult Catholic website for which I am a columnist, editor Bill McGarvey has an exclusive interview with Spotanski. It's powerful stuff.

Says Spotanski:

It's unsettling to consider that no American under the age of 25 remembers an untainted Catholic Church. It's naïve of us to think that won't make our young people assess their lifelong commitment to Catholicism over another faith or none at all a thousand times more closely than people my age and older did. Instead of walking away, though, I hope they're energized to work for the changes necessary to make this an institution in which they will be proud to raise their young families. It will ultimately fall to the people in their twenties and thirties now to decide if we've done enough, and if we've done it in time. I don't want to stand before God someday knowing there was something more I should have said or done.

Here's another excerpt from the interview with BustedHalo

BH: What should the Church be doing now?

DS: Society has come a long way in its understanding of child sexual abuse and those who commit it in the last several years, but we've had a lot of time to get this right. I think nearly every bishop is committed to doing things absolutely in the best interest of their faith community at this point, and obviously anyone named to the episcopacy in the past eight years deserves to start with a clean slate. Those bishops who still haven't got it right and those who allow them to remain in ministry need to understand how their respective arrogance and indifference are compromising our ability to put this behind us for good.

I was asked recently what advice I'd give the bishops today, and these three things came to mind immediately:

  • We have to stop making rules without consequences.
  • We have to stop patting ourselves on the back for quickly enacting policies our people reasonably presumed had been in place for 2,000 years.
  • We have to stop comparing our crisis-driven responses to those of secular institutions for which we were all taught the Church would be our secure, God-given sanctuary when those worldly institutions inevitably failed us.

I would add to that a renewed sense of urgency. I closed my 2002 memorandum this way: "More than anything else, Christ's Church should be about preserving and promoting innocence, not accelerating its ruin. Pardon the platitude, but it's time we stopped protecting our past and did something to fortify our future." We don't have the luxury of "thinking in centuries" any longer, and we're running out of second chances.

Check out the interview here and download a PDF of the original letter here

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