Working together to rebuild trust, address abuse

Lord, to whom shall we go?” Peter responds with honest affirmation, firmly resolving to remain with Jesus because of his belief. The crowds dispersed, finding it hard to believe that Jesus was the means to eternal life. But the 12 remained: “To whom shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Last week at my Jesuit university, the theology department hosted a dialogue about the abuse within the church. It was, for many, a time of healing. A panel of clergy, campus staff from campus ministry and professors led the conversation. 

As students enter a Catholic university – some for the first time – there is bound to be some hesitancy, some fear, some distrust. In an effort to open wide the gates to transparency and dialogue, this panel did much to not only discuss the history of abuse, but the church’s teachings, recalling the Catholic Church’s strong tradition of social justice and its message affirming the dignity of all life.

In the face of trauma and tragedy, we turn to our communities to heal. We turn to our neighbors to express our hurt, our anger, our frustration. Open conversation and dialogue are necessary to alleviate these feelings and restore trust in our beloved church. 

Following the conversation, students requested a prayer service, led by members of the laity and open to members of all faiths, that would allow our community to come together, pray and heal in a group setting.

Openness, inclusivity, transparency lie at the heart of this request. “Lord, to whom shall we go?” We turn to Jesus – to our faith – for prayer and guidance. But we also turn to our community – the 12 disciples – for the strength to stand firm in our beliefs.

Following my initial column after learning of the Philadelphia scandal, many of my readers reached out to express gratitude. But a few wanted more: they wanted concrete answers, concrete plans forward.

I wish I had those answers – and I’m sure many within the church wish they did, too! 

We must work together to find these answers. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has referred to a new reform plan. This plan, he says, should have input from the laity. New avenues need to be put in place for reporting and responding to allegations, but intentional transparency must also be at the forefront. What that transparency looks like remains to be seen. And this is where dialogue and conversation become vital.

True dialogue occurs when individuals come together to listen. We may not all share the same viewpoint, but we all certainly have a common goal in mind – to end the cycle of abuse, to hold those who have been convicted responsible for their actions, to encourage those victims to speak out and seek justice. 

With that common goal in mind, dialogue encourages us to share and listen, to seek out the commonalities and work to promote change. We must set aside our individual differences and work for the overall good of the church and, importantly, for its members. 

We must recognize that the Catholic Church is not alone in attempting to end this cycle of abuse. This is an ongoing and recurrent problem within many aspects of society. 

This scandal does not detract from the beliefs and doctrines of the church; the church is more than its priests and religious. 

All people make mistakes; all people are sinful. Our actions now must be to rebuild trust, not to blame church doctrine for individual human failings.

Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at

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