Real love, support key to battling abuse
By Michael Swan
TORONTO (CCN) — For most of her career as a leading pediatrician and professor of medicine, Sister Nuala Kenny diagnosed cancers, complex infections and syndromes in some of the smallest, frailest and most precious bodies among us.
In Healing the Church: Diagnosing and Treating The Clergy
Sexual Abuse Crisis, Kenny examines the history, cause and symptoms of
the greatest crisis the church has faced in its modern history — sexual
abuse of children and youth by priests, and bishops who protected and
reassigned offending priests.
She doesn’t come at the subject out of nowhere. Kenny was there
at ground zero, when the first major sex abuse scandal in North America
broke in Newfoundland. She served on then-St. John’s Archbishop
Alphonsus Penny’s unprecedented commission of enquiry when the
Mount Cashel scandal was followed by Rev. James Hickey’s 1988 arrest
on 32 counts of sexual misconduct.
From the 1990 Newfoundland report, Kenny went on to contribute
to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ guide to sexual abuse
policies called From Pain to Hope. She has been consulted by individual
bishops and bishops’ conferences ever since. In February this year
she spoke at the Vatican-sponsored symposium Towards Healing and Renewal
If people think tighter screening of seminary candidates
or stricter enforcement of canon law will somehow solve the problem,
then they don’t
understand, Kenny told The Catholic Register.
“Somehow or other, the response of our leaders in the church still
sits with a diagnosis of this is the sins of individual men — either
individual perpetrators or individual mismanagers — and therefore
the treatment has to do with protocols, policies, screening and education,” she
Kenny admits to passion and righteous indignation, but not anger.
But she doesn’t blame priests and bishops any more
than she blames lay people who insist on putting their priests on pedestals.
“It’s a kind of superficial deference, a superficial bowing
to power and authority that is not based on any real, loving kind of
relationship,” she said. “We have lay people who have not
The cure will be long and difficult, but it will start with replacing
artificial and superficial relationships with real love and support,
“I want us to find a new way to be of support to
one another, priests and people.”
The book itself aims to be part of that culture change,
Kenny said. The 127-page softcover book is the size of a school workbook.
Each chapter ends with Scripture passages, questions and reflections
intended to spark conversation. It’s a book meant to be read and
talked about by priests and parishioners together.
“We have a church that doesn’t have a tradition of talking
together about things,” she said. “The key in all abuse is
to allow people to speak of it. If you can’t name it then you can’t
identify what must be healed. There’s nowhere to go unless you
name it first.”
Healing the Church: Diagnosing and Treating The Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis is available from Novalis for $24.95.