The U.S. Catholic Church’s primary responses to its clergy sexual abuse scandal have been protection protocols and litigation, that is, promulgating the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and leaving litigation as the primary option for abuse survivors seeking justice.
Conspicuously absent from the Church’s responses have been programs and activities focused on healing wounds from the scandal.
Voice of the Faithful has an approach that the reform movement believes has great potential as a step on the path toward healing for anyone who feels harmed by the scandal. William Casey, a former VOTF board chair and Northern Virginia Mediation Service Restorative Justice Program director, featured this “Restorative Justice Healing Circle” approach in a lecture he presented Dec. 3 at Boston College in Newton, Mass. The college’s Church in the 21st Century Center co-sponsored the event.
Called “Storytelling for Healing,” the lecture explained the power of deep listening and safe storytelling to an attentive audience of BC theology students, VOTF members, abuse survivors and community members. Casey, who also facilitates Healing Circles, described how they ensure a safe place for each participant to tell his or her story. He then quoted testimonials from people who said the Healing Circle had started them on a path toward healing or nurtured healing they were beginning to experience.
Casey also pointed out that the injury caused by clergy abuse spills over into families and friends of survivors and onto all people of faith whose trust is shaken be such betrayal. All affected by this breach in trust are welcomed into a Healing Circle.
Audience questions made it clear the concept of Restorative Justice on which Healing Circles are based is not an easy concept for those living in a 21st century, First-World country, where people are most familiar with retributive and punitive means of redress. Several people expressed their gratitude that VOTF was taking this lead in responding to survivor needs.
More information on Healing Circles is available on VOTF’s Programs webpage.