The National Review Board, an advisory group established to oversee child and youth protection in the Catholic Church in the U.S., has issued a list of lessons that abuse victims and survivors have taught them. Noting abuse victims’ courage, the board chairwoman explained to CNA that there is a need to learn more and to communicate effectively the Church’s steps to combating abuse.
The list, authored by review board chairwoman Diane Knight, said the board has learned that it takes “great courage” for a victim to come forward with his or her story after years or decades of “silence and feelings and shame.”
“We have learned that the abuse has robbed some victim/survivors of their faith,” Knight continued. “For some this means loss of their Catholic faith, but for others it means loss of any faith in a God at all.”
Hearing an individual abuse survivor’s story is “a sacred trust to be received with great care and pastoral concern,” Knight’s list continued.
“We have learned that we still have much to learn.”
CNA spoke with Knight in a Friday phone interview. She reiterated that abuse victims and survivors who came forward showed “a great deal of courage” despite the “violation of trust.”
Asked about the U.S. bishops’ “zero tolerance policy” for sexual abuse, Knight explained that, in her understanding, the policy was created “to make absolutely sure that to the best of their ability no additional children should be harmed.
"That was their primary concern, and that was the conclusion they came to at that time.”
CNA then asked how she would respond to most Americans who think that the Church has not done enough to deal with sexual abuse, she said she wanted them to know the various things the Church has done.
Two to three years ago Catholics similarly believed the Church had failed to do enough, she explained.
“When you ask them what the Church should do, the things they say are what the Church actually has done,” Knight reported.
“The issue is effective communication about what we’ve done, rather than if we’ve done anything.”
According to Knight, the Catholic Church in the U.S. now does background checks on “anyone working with children in any capacity” and offers safe environment training for those who work in the Church.
There is also “a great deal more screening” for seminary candidates to determine their fitness.
CNA asked Knight how she would respond to the inflammatory contention that the Church is “full of pedophiles.”
This idea is based “pretty much on ignorance,” she replied. “People who, because of the stories that have been out there, would be equally outraged if they heard the things about local public schools or Boy Scouts or any local non-profit or for-profit where people were abused.
“Sometimes it is a matter of prejudice. Some people who are already anti-Catholic have an additional reason to continue to be anti-Catholic.
“But even then I’d say it is based on misinformation and misimpressions and not efforts to hear what the facts are,” Knight concluded.