Reckoning and Reconciliation

Author: Margaret Fosmoe ’85

Juan Carlos Cruz speaks during Wednesday's Notre Dame Forum panel. Photography by Barbara Johnston

“I have remained Catholic because I decided early on I wasn’t going to let them win. I wasn’t going to let the bad ones win.” —Juan Carlos Cruz, a clergy sexual abuse survivor and advocate for victims

Drawing on the experiences of a panel of experts, the University of Notre Dame began a year-long conversation September 25 aimed at identifying reforms in the wake of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and charting a path forward for the Catholic Church.

Juan Carlos Cruz was abused as a child by Fernando Karadima, a notorious Chilean Catholic priest defrocked after numerous allegations of sexual abuse. Cruz’s allegations were initially dismissed by Pope Francis, but the Pontiff later apologized to Cruz during a lengthy one-on-one meeting.

While the handling of the Church sexual abuse crisis appears to be improving in the United States, that’s not the case around the globe, Cruz told the audience in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.

“It hasn’t gone down in the world. It’s getting worse,” he said, during a panel discussion titled “The Church Crisis: Where are We Now?” It was the first event of the 2019-2020 Notre Dame Forum, “Rebuild My Church: Crisis and Response.”

ForumloriArchbishop William E. Lori

In addition to Cruz, the panelists included the Most Rev. William E. Lori, archbishop of Baltimore; Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI executive assistant director who worked for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to help the Church investigate allegations; and Peter Steinfels, a journalist who has written for Commonweal since 1964. The event was moderated by John L. Allen Jr., editor of Crux, a website that covers the Vatican and the Catholic Church.

“It’s one thing to have policies and procedures in place. It’s another thing to live them,” said Lori, who said he’s been learning from clergy abuse victims since 1994. “You learn to put the victim-survivor in the driver’s seat. It’s a question of listening, listening deeply and believing them.”

McChesney predicts the Catholic Church will continue to be slow to change. She said Catholic seminaries sometimes emphasize the wrong things when it comes to future priests-in-training.  “Selection is more important than formation. You can have the best seminaries in the world, but if you select the wrong person to go into the seminary that person will never become a healthy cleric.”

ForummcchesneyKathleen McChesney

In a study (PDF) released September 21 by Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, six percent of Catholic seminarians across the nation say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct, while 90 percent report none. Another 4 percent said they might have experienced misconduct but were not sure and 84 percent of seminarians believe their administration and faculty take reports of such misconduct very seriously.

Steinfels said not many people realize there has been a precipitous drop in the number of Catholic Church sex abuse cases reported since the late 1980s and 1990s. He called for the creation of a comprehensive history of the crisis, including archives, records and oral histories.


Margaret Fosmoe is an associate editor of this magazine.