by Eileen Qinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: How did you begin your initiation into the sexual abuse crisis?
Teresa: I retired from the Illinois State Police in 2003 to specifically participate in the audits of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People: I am Catholic who wants to help heal the Church from within versus leaving it. I had met the first Director of the USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection, Kathleen McChesney, when she headed the Chicago FBI Office and she had reached out to me when she was at the USCCB to see if participating in the audits was anything in which I would be interested – I said yes, , and retired from the ISP.
Dr. Knight: What actions have you taken to push for change and help in working toward healing in the Church?
Teresa: See my comment concerning the Survivors Advisory Panels, #6.
Dr. Knight: What support for victims of abuse do you give to Catholics in the pews?
Teresa: Hopefully they are in the pews but wherever they are, I reiterate that yes the Church made many mistakes – some priests as well as Church leadership, but God loves you, the Church cares for your healing whether you come back to the Catholic Church or not. We want you to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, we want you to feel joy, we want you to feel whole again, and we want you to heal.
Dr. Knight: Can you tell us how you dedicated your expertise to this cause?
Teresa: It may sound like a cliché, but offering to help with the audits of the Charter just seemed right - like a calling. I had 29 years’ experience as a state police officer in a number of positions to include years in general investigations and internal investigations; I loved the Catholic Church for all its problems and wanted to help find solutions for the many issues using my skills; however they might be helpful. Also, being an officer in the ISP, I was used to working in an environment that was male dominate and very hierarchical wherein integrity, service and trustworthiness were linchpins. So it was not much of a culture change in many ways.
Dr. Knight: Why do Catholics need to hear survival stories and tell us about your ways to listen well?
Teresa: Survival stories give people hope and let them know they are not alone. Also through the survival stories others learn that what happened to them was not their fault: that must be reinforced. The abuse was the fault of the offender. To listen well is to be present as you listen, not to interrupt, not to judge or ask lots of questions (there will be a time for that) but initially one should just listen by being an active listener with compassion and love.
Dr. Knight: What is kind of program you have initiated in Rome?
Teresa: I moderate a Working Group: Working with Survivors. The mission for the Working Group is to have Church members and leadership listen with their hearts and minds and develop methods on how best the Catholic Church can listen to the voice of survivors and facilitate their voices being integrated into the Church’s ministry.
This Working Group made the decision to focus its energies on developing Survivor Advisory Panels following the model developed in the Church of England & Wales. We have been able to begin this development in pilot form in Brazil and Zambia as well as connecting through virtual platforms with survivors and those who work with them in the USA. There also have been initial conversations concerning the development of a SAP in the Philippines and India.
The Working Group has finished a Resource Booklet for Episcopal Conferences that is now going through the process of being reviewed for applicability to more cultures. Additionally, a draft document on Communication Keys for Priests on Communicating with Those who Have been Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse is in the finalization stage. One issue that we are sensitive to is the vast culture diversity of the world and what works in one area may not work or be appropriate in another. The PCPM website is being updated and it is the goal that these documents will, when finalized, be placed on the website as resources for all the Church.
Dr. Knight: Could you tell us how to talk to kids about sexual abuse?
Teresa: I am thinking you are asking from the perspective of educating children in safeguarding themselves against abuse, versus talking to a child who has been abused. In both cases the child will sense the emotions conveyed to them by the adult, so it is important to be calm and matter of fact, speaking at an age-appropriate level of language. Just as adults teach children fire safety, how to cross a street safely and car safety by wearing a seat belt to keep us safe, adults should discuss child protection in the same way; stating that though it is the responsibility of adults to keep children safe, sometimes the adult is not always present and it is at those times that the child must know how to be safe and what to do.
Children should also be taught how to share with a trusted adult if they experience something they feel is just not right and something that was discussed during their child protection training: who to tell, when to tell. Adults, to whom children disclose abuse to, should respond calmly, and praise the child for coming forward. Again there are many guidelines regarding handling a disclosure – policies, procedures, reporting mandates etc., but with the initial disclosure it is critical that the adult is calm and reinforces that the child did the right thing by coming forward
Dr. Knight: What has your involvement in these programs assisted your own spiritual development?
Teresa: That is a good question. Involvement in this issue has increased my faith and my dedication to the Catholic Church to do what I can to make things better. I was conducting an audit in a diocese some years ago when one of the priests asked about that same question. He asked how I could keep my faith seeing such a seedier side of the Church: that made me pause and think.
What I decided and shared with him was that in conducting the audits, I had worked with so many good women and men of faith in all the dioceses in which I participated in an audit, that that experience just strengthened my faith in the Catholic Church.
People have a tendency to paint the Catholic Church and her clergy and lay employees with the same broad brush that they use to paint the offenders, and that is far from the reality of what is. The Catholic Church is comprised of thousands of good men and women of strong integrity who are working for Christ and the people they globally serve by feeding the poor, resettling refugees, running orphanages and hospitals, helping the homeless, educating thousands, and the list goes on: all these good people get lumped in with the offenders. I am not negating the wrong and hurt members of the Church have done and caused, but what I am saying is that is far far from the whole picture.
Dr. Knight: How does the conviction that we are the Church affect your work?
Teresa: My conviction that I am a member of the Catholic Church is my total foundation, and this conviction makes it critical for me to do what I can with the skills I have to make sure that the wrongs that have been done are corrected and those harmed are healed.