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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

Healing the Church: Diagnosing and Treating the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis

by Sr. Nuala Kenny, MD

As court cases have proceeded, we study the work of Sister Nuala Kenny MD, particularly her book, “Healing the Church: Diagnosing and Treating the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis”. Her background makes her one of the foremost experts in the field:

  • as a pediatrician who has treated child victims of sexual abuse;

  • as a Roman Catholic Sister who loves the Church and the clergy;

  • as a member of the St. John’s Newfoundland Committee on Child Sexual Abuse which produced a landmark report identifying both individual and systemic/cultural factors at work in the crisis; and

  • as part of the Ad Hoc Committee on Clergy Sexual Abuse which produced From Pain to Hope, the first set of national guidelines on this topic.

She travels extensively giving reflections to clergy and laity on the spiritual and ecclesial challenges emerging from this crisis and its management

This work being reviewed is a reflection on how we, as Disciples of Christ, might make sense of what has happened in this crisis and respond both individually and communally. This response requires an exploration of the lived experience of the Church with respect to the clergy sexual abuse of children and youth in order to assist in understanding the spiritual and ecclesial challenges. It aims to provide support for laity and clergy who desire repentance and conversion to disciples of a loving and merciful God. So, this work is rooted in the “mind of Christ” and belief in the power of the Holy Spirit to make all things new.

In the midst of the constant sensational media coverage as dramatically experienced during the 2019 Summit in Rome, and the barrage of differing diagnoses, including that of former Pope Benedict where is a person of faith to go? Who is to be trusted? As a medical educator, I know well the challenges of providing accurate information to patients who are inundated with advice from friends and family and advertising hype miracle diets, age-defying medications and beauty promising cosmetic surgery. In light of an explosion of scholarly writing on the issue of clergy sexual abuse from theology and medicine, psychology, sociology, law, anthropology and organizational studies and insights from the Summit I aim to summarize authoritative, faith-based work and relative information and make it accessible for Catholics in their discernment.

In this book Sister Nuala offers her wisdom to the people of the Archdiocese of Kingston as we work toward Healing the Church. This is in keeping with our 1994 Chapter mandate which says “we choose actions and attitudes of compassionate solidarity, leading to healing and forgiveness.” The author will then explore the identified dynamics of sexual abuse of minors for insights into the systemic and cultural factors which have shaped responses. Sister Nuala will identify all sexual abuse of children and youth as an abuse of power in the realm of human sexuality. She will describe key features of power and relationships in the Church. Clericalism will be identified as the particular “temptation of the Church” (Pope Francis). Its corrosive effects on clergy and laity alike shape an inadequate response and impedes full, active involvement of all in the spiritual and ecclesial renewal of the Church. The focus will be on lessons learned about the relationships of clergy and laity – and about the life, health and support of our clergy.

Sister Nuala reflects on the elements of an effective prescription, based on our present knowledge and experience. Finally, she has us reflect on being a “compliant patient;” that is, our willingness to accept the fundamental call to transformation and renewal that is at the heart of true healing and reconciliation. This book is well organized in a way that makes it accessible for all to read. One can readily understand the love for Christ and His work in this text and Sister Nuala’s ability to assist us all in transforming our lives and our souls through her work with the Holy Spirit.

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