Pastoral Response Assistance Team, Inc.
9 Kinsman Place
Natick, Massachusetts  01760-2732
(508) 650-1811
Fax (508) 650-3621

When we think of the word "home" we immediately envision a place of origin or a place of destination. For most people, home means "family", where you are embraced and feel safe, and where members will always be there for one another in times of crisis.

The Church, too, is a family which finds itself in crisis. As members of this family we need to do all that we can to "be there" for each and every member, to create a place where all feel embraced and safe.

When written in Chinese, the word "crisis" is composed of two characters. One represents danger and one represents opportunity.

In 1992, the case of a former Roman Catholic Priest, James Porter, made national headlines. At that time a crisis was facing institutions of all faiths, but particularly the Catholic Church, where an increasing number of allegations and evidence of sexual abuse by priests had rocked churches nation wide.

Methods were considered and attempts were made by some church administrators, institutions and clergy to make an appropriate "pastoral response" to the crisis. These efforts were not only aimed at making certain that no other case of child sexual abuse would occur in a church setting, but (equally as important) to reach out to the victims or "survivors" of past abuse, in a manner adequate to the individual's circumstances.

At that time in Boston, a multidisciplinary group of professionals, therapists, attorneys, educators and others, calling themselves the Pastoral Response Assistance Team {PRAT}, seized the opportunity to bring their expertise in child sexual abuse, child welfare, and work with families, and began working informally in parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston which had been impacted by the issue of clergy sexual abuse.

Just south of Boston, at St. Paul's in Hingham, Massachusetts, the well-loved pastor had been accused of sexual abuse of boy in a former parish assignment. Initially the pastor enjoyed the financial and moral support of a majority of his parishioners. This support dwindled over time as new allegations surfaced, during two trials in 1993 and 1994. Ultimately the priest was sentenced to life in prison.

Just northwest of Boston, at St. Charles Borromeo in Woburn, another priest was observed by his pastor, at best, to be acting inappropriately with a young boy in his rectory rooms. That case ended in a 1994 trial with a not guilty verdict, televised by Court TV. N.B.C's Dateline, a national television show later outlined the case to millions of viewers. The trial left many questions unanswered, and a parish still divided.

In 1993, PRAT made its first national presentation on "professionally assisting" the church in a response to this crisis. The presentation took place at the Research and Treatment Conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, held in Boston.

In 1994 PRAT also did their first day long workshop for Women Religious and others at Regis College.

In the midst of the parish crises, in Hingham and Woburn, in 1994, PRAT formally incorporated; to support, consult, educate, help empower the survivors of sexual abuse to take positive action, to promote an open honest discussion of the issue of sexual abuse within the church setting, and to fill gaps that exist in the provision of services.

In 1996, PRAT journeyed to Irelandand not only met with clergy while traveling around the country, but did a radio broadcast concerning the crisis of sexual abuse in the church in the United States and in Ireland. The group also did a presentation at the International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect in Dublin. Both the Irish press and Irish television gave coverage to the group's presentation.

PRAT has continued over the years to reach out to anyone seeking services individually or institutionally and going to wherever the victims are. The Team remains concerned for the welfare of victims of clergy sexual abuse who have not been able to reach out for help. We are there for victims who, for whatever reason ,have not been able to seek out support from their church, other survivors or elsewhere.

PRAT continued to meet with parishes, in different dioceses both within and outside Massachusetts, affected by the crisis.

In August of 2001, PRAT did a presentation at the Child Welfare League of America's Conference in Danvers entitled Effectively Dealing with a Crisis in the Institutional Setting. PRAT redesigned this presentation for use at the EUSARF Congress in Trondheim, Norway, in September of 2002.

There have been many notable cases in the Archdiocese of Boston, and throughout the United States. Additionally cases in Australia, Canada, France, Germany Ireland, and elsewhere, have only served to intensify pressure on individuals and institutions to take action. Evidence indicates that little action to ameliorate the anguish of the victims and their families took place prior to the intense media coverage.

In the past ten years, the institutional Church has continued to be portrayed as unwilling or unable to deal with the issue. Unfortunately, the depiction in the media has conveyed a message that this is the way the Church does business; that there is a lack of commitment by the Church in addressing the problem, or that the primary commitment is towards damage control. This no longer appears to be just a media depiction, but a view being held by many members of the Church.

Sadly, some Church policies, at least in appearance, delivered the perception of issues being dealt with in a shroud of secrecy, or as part of a cover up, which now can only be uncovered and revealed by the press.

Still other Church policies, including the much-debated Zero Tolerance, give the perception of a rush to judgment about an alleged perpetrator, who may be completely innocent and the victim of charges, grounded in complex motivations. In most dioceses there is no clear process for adequately investigating allegations.

Some policies appear to leave the alleged perpetrator unsupported, isolated, dangling on the vine, which is equally intolerable for many church members.

For several years, PRAT had underlined the need for a competent, thorough, professional investigation of allegations, in a timely manner.

The issue of an investigation is complex and requires not only an understanding of state systems competing interests and responsibilities, but how the institutional church can work with outside agencies. It also requires an understanding that the church responsibility to the victim does not end with a referral to a governmental system.

The Church may also be forced to make decisions after state officials have completed their work. At that time, they may have to take some action using a different standard from that of the state. For example, just because a party has been found not guilty, in a criminal trial, because of reasonable doubt, it does not mean that the church should avoid affirmative action when it has reason to believe something has occurred.

At the same time, an individual parish or the larger church, for many legitimate reasons, may also find itself in the middle, unable to take sides, while awaiting the activity of others, and therefore feeling powerless to take any action.

There have been some church policies that have included methods for reaching out to the victim - making a promise of swift and appropriate action - while trying to regain the sense of  trust that may have been lost. However, few policies actually seek out other possible victims of clergy sexual abuse.

It is also clear that most policies do not adequately begin to address the impact on the victim. Some polices may allow for a monetary amount to be attached to the crimes committed against them, and/or offering psychological counseling, but do not acknowledge any spiritual responsibility to victims.

Because the Church is typically viewed as a safe harbor, particularly for the sound moral development of a child, some victims say that they want their Church to share their sense of outrage when the abuse is revealed. They also want the church to be a safe place not only for the victims of clergy sexual abuse, but those who were victims of other trusted adults professionals, family members, and others. The crisis of clergy sexual abuse has brought up issues for these victims as well; and has brought with it the opportunity for the church to deal with those issues.

 



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