Last week, Bishop John LeVoir and the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota released an online video discussing, and apologizing to Survivors for, the terrible harm caused by clergy sexual abuse. LeVoir said in the video that he has learned from listening to Survivors that sexual abuse by clergy results in a “hurt so great that it never goes away.” Unfortunately, LeVoir follows up what appears to be a sincere, heartfelt apology to Survivors with an invitation to them to return to the church. Bishop LeVoir says that returning to the church is in fact the only way for Survivors to heal.
In thirty years of representing Survivors of clergy sexual abuse I have learned that the Catholic Church knew it had a problem with sexual abuse long before anyone in the unsuspecting public did. Bishops like John LeVoir have encountered Survivors of sexual abuse for decades and presumably learned of its terrible effects and the severity of the harm it causes. Yet despite that knowledge the church has chosen to protect abusers to prevent scandal and protect its own reputation time and time again. All of that posturing done at the expense of innocent Survivors. And now as recently as last week this top official has the nerve to tell Survivors that the church is the only way for them to heal. We believe the Survivor has the power and should be able to choose his or her path to healing and not be told what that path is. This Bishop doesn’t get it.
In a seemingly unrelated event late last month, British Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to resign due to allegations that for years he used his power to pressure subordinates into sex. Cardinal O’Brien was the first cardinal to be forced out of power in nearly 90 years. Given these two events, my advice to the church would be that if bishops begin to make the same impassioned, public pleas to remove, prosecute and punish pedophile and predator priests that Bishop LeVoir made to Survivors to return to the church, perhaps the church will remove abusers more frequently.