Suffering and healing

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | September 21, 2018

Building up the body of Christ

A column from a friend and colleague in the Catholic press provided some solace as The Compass team wrapped up production of this week’s paper. It was a particularly difficult issue, given the news that Bishop Robert Morneau announced his decision to withdraw from all public ministry. (See story at this link.)

Joe Towalski, president of the Catholic Press Association (CPA), used his column in The Catholic Journalist, a monthly publication of the CPA, to address reporting on sexual misconduct in the church. For Catholic communicators who have a unique perspective covering the subject, it can be emotionally draining, he said. The same can be true for people employed by every diocese and other Catholic organizations.

In his column, Towalski, who serves as a diocesan newspaper editor and communications director, said that “it’s been hard to come to work some days” having to write on the subject and respond to emails and phone calls. I would add that it’s also difficult to wake up each morning, worrying about what new revelation might be uncovered.

By honoring their “commitment to accuracy and truth-telling,” Catholic media professionals play an important role in this challenging time for the church, wrote Towalski. That important role is to build trust with our Catholic audiences, “and without trust, none of our communication is effective,” he said.

By providing context and essential information in reporting news of the church, Catholic journalists try to “shed more light than fire” on a topic, said Towalski, adding that the goal should be to “contribute something that builds up the body of Christ and deepens our audience’s understanding of an issue, even when the news is troubling.”

In one respect, Bishop Morneau’s decision to withdraw from public ministry will build up the body of Christ. For those who know him, Bishop Morneau’s decision undoubtedly brought much pain, remorse and sorrow, yet it is a step toward moving the church past its checkered history of handling these cases.

The clergy sexual abuse crisis of 2018, more decisively than the one in 2002, is having repercussions in the highest ranks of the church. A setting right of missed opportunities is underway and we likely have not seen the last of public apologies from church leaders, not to mention resignations and policies addressing the handling of sexual misconduct incidents.

What cannot be lost in the discussion is the gravity of suffering endured by victims of clergy sexual abuse and the families of victims. It is for them that the church needs to take steps to openly reveal and correct its mistakes, and it’s precisely why Bishop Morneau admitted his failures.

Yes, it’s a challenging time for Catholic communicators who report the latest scandals, but it’s a painful time for sexual abuse victims and families who have to relive their experiences with every new report made public. It’s also a difficult time for church leaders as they come to grips with failed promises from the past.

Building up the body of Christ requires honesty, integrity and courage, as was exhibited this week. It also requires prayers for healing — for victims, for our leaders and for each other as we seek to “shed more light than fire.”

Keeping one another in prayer, as Towalski concludes in his column, is the way to best be of service to Christ, “in whom we put our faith and trust to guide us through our hurt and our church’s woundedness.”

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