Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Restorative justice and clergy sex abuse

Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske, MULS Restorative Justice Initiative, and the Milwaukee Archdiocese completed a documentary, The Healing Circle, to help create greater understanding of clergy sex abuse and the victims.

A few years ago, I started thinking about how the Catholic Church, as a community of people, really needed to look from different perspectives at the deep-seated and far-ranging effect of the sex abuse scandal. So the RJI, with the assistance of Amy Peterson, Victim Assistance Coordinator of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, began the project of gathering people for a circle.

The circle included clergy-abuse survivors and a variety of other kinds of people: then-Archbishop of Milwaukee Timothy Dolan (recently installed as the New York Archbishop), parish staff, an offending priest, two parish priests, a woman who left the church over the scandal, and another parishioner whose children are no longer Catholic. All the participants knew that the secondary purpose of the healing circle was to create a documentary, The Healing Circle (http://www.healingcirclegroup.com ), that would promote dialogue in churches (all denominations), victims’ groups, seminaries, and other community groups about sexual abuse of children by trusted adults. I wanted people to see and listen to the victims to better understand why, despite some people’s beliefs, they can’t “just get over it.” I also wanted the viewers to recognize that the institutional response to the abuse had in of itself also created great harm. The only way I believe that the Church will heal from the incredible harm that has occurred is for its members and hierarchy to recognize the ripple effect and to discuss openly how everyone can work together toward repairing the harm.

Last month, we finally completed the The Healing Circle project, which brings the viewer into the restorative justice circle along with some of the actual participants. who included a mother whose son committed suicide after clergy abuse and a priest who was fondled in seminary. Archbishop Dolan introduces the film and offers a prayer for healing. The RJI has offered a number of showings of the film and it has received great reviews.