LCWR Statement on Sexual Abuse by Clergy
August 23, 2018
[Silver Spring, MD] The recent news detailing the extensive and sometimes brutal sexual abuse committed by Catholic priests in the United States has left us at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious sickened and ashamed of the church we love, trusted, and have committed our lives to serve. We weep and grieve with all who over the decades have been victimized by sexual predators within the faith community and feel their pain as our own. We recognize that the damage done to many is irreparable.
Sexual abuse is a horrific crime, and the horror is so much worse when committed by persons in whom society has placed its trust and confidence. Equally difficult to comprehend is the culture within the church hierarchy that tolerated the abuse, left children and vulnerable adults subject to further abuse, and created practices that covered up the crimes and protected the abusers.
We call upon the church leadership to implement plans immediately to support more fully the healing of all victims of clergy abuse, hold abusers accountable, and work to uncover and address the root causes of the sexual abuse crisis. We believe that the work to implement the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its subsequent revisions has been an important and effective step in addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. We have watched the Conference of Major Superiors of Men diligently work to assure the protection and safety of children and youth and applaud its efforts. However, it is clear that more serious action needs to be taken to assure that the culture of secrecy and cover-up ends.
We also call upon church leaders to attend to the severe erosion of the church’s moral standing in the world. Its members are angry, confused, and struggling to find ways to make sense of the church’s failings. The church leadership needs to speak with honesty and humility about how this intolerable culture developed and how that culture will now be deconstructed, and to create places where church members can express our anger and heartbreak. We call on the leaders to include competent members of the laity more fully in the work to eradicate abuse and change the culture, policies, and practices. We are committed to collaborate in the essential work of healing and transformation that our church so desperately needs.
Finally, we recognize that the vast majority of priests have not committed abuse and are suffering greatly because of the actions of some of their brothers. We offer them our prayer and support as they continue their ministries in these very challenging times and as they too struggle to understand the complexity of factors that led to this deplorable situation.
Contact: Sisters Annmarie Sanders, IHM| Director of Communications| Leadership Conference of Women Religious
For the love of God and inspired by the Gospel call, Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart welcome the stranger and extend compassionate care to those in need. We join with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious as one voice in support of the following statement:
A Reflection by Sr. Clare Walsh, MHSH
Pange Lingua, the smell of incense, The Stabat Mater, ” Were you there…?”, crucifixes draped in purple cloth…. just a few of the sights and sounds of a Holy Week long embedded in memory.
When we are familiar with something, it can lose its edge, its ability to disturb us, move us to action, or rest in its solace. The scriptures of Holy Week are not immune from this familiarity. We know the narrative, we know how it ends. At least, we think we do. Familiarity can lead us to dismiss the mystery, to fail to let it engage us, and to escape from “going the distance” with Jesus.
When Columbian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked about his relationship with his wife, Mercedes, he replied, “I know her so well that I have not the slightest idea who she really is.” For Marquez, rather than dismiss, familiarity contained an invitation. An invitation to adventure, intimacy, and mystery.
Marquez’s words challenge us to enter these holy days more porous, more vulnerable, more willing to render our hearts. Do we know Jesus so well that we have not the slightest idea who he really is?
How can we accompany Jesus through Holy Thursday and Good Friday? How can we experience these days as if for the first time? How can we console Jesus for the betrayal, the loneliness, the feeling of abandonment? How can we be with Jesus at the table, walk with him in his suffering, and companion him in death?
As scripture scholars remind us – Jesus’ passion for the Kingdom of God led to the passion of his death. We cannot separate them.
Does my life story reflect the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Caesar? With whom does Jesus stand today? Are we at his side?
What if, as Jesus did, we let the stranger break our heart and enter our prayer? The refugee, the prisoner, the person brought low by poverty, the neighbor who annoys us, the one burdened by life? What would it take for us to wash the feet of the stranger, to accompany the one forsaken, to be Simon of Cyrene?
What if our prayer these Holy Days led us from the beauty of a Holy Week liturgy to the streets where Jesus lives?
By Sister M. Martha Pavelsky, MHSH
Last spring, during the Easter season, we enjoyed the beauty and fragrance of several hyacinth plants. After they had bloomed and then gradually wilted and dried, I continued to water them in the hope of a second bloom. Nothing happened and after a while I gave up and put the pots aside. Almost a year has passed and the other day something in the neglected flower pots caught my eye.
What was that yellowish, white thing? Could it be? Yes, it was a tender shot pushing through the earth saying, “I died and was buried but now, here I am emerging from the earth alive and new.” It took time, but the transformation happened. Another and another bud pushed through and I was awed at the miracle and determination of life over death.
We hear about such surprise and transformation in the Lenten readings. Jesus tells us that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.”
Being the servant, the follower of Jesus means that we understand the story of the seed, the lesson of the plant. Those periods of death, darkness, loss, doubt and confusion that every one of us experiences in our lives, are the environment, the incubation period from which faith, enlightenment and rebirth emerge.
And where is the nurturing place for such a faith? We hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts. I will be their God and they shall be my people.”
God has placed the seed of faith in our hearts. Our hearts are that place of incubation for renewal, discovery, transformation, birth. Our Lenten discipline enables us to clarify the direction of our lives, to face and deal with the dark places within and to accommodate the challenges of daily dying and rising.
May we nurture in our hearts during this season of incubation new stirrings of hope, possibilities and responsiveness to the call of the one who “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
By Sr. Elizabeth Langmead, MHSH President
Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) was a German mystic, theologian and philosopher. He was a member of the Dominican order. He spoke of the Feast of Christmas and the Eternal Birth borne by God and which God never ceases to bear in all eternity. He says, “but if it takes not place in me, what avails it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me.”
During this year’s Advent time, I have been “sitting with” the words and meaning from the Christmas story: “…and there was no room in the inn.” Of course, that phrase calls to mind and heart all those in our world who are seeking refuge, acceptance and inclusion. How welcoming and inclusive am I/are we?
I reflect upon our Mission Helper outreach to women, men and children seeking asylum. Those who flee from unspeakable, unimaginable persecution to save their lives. They are bearers of the suffering, persecuted face of God. They are bearers of hope and incredible courage as they leave all to begin anew. What of my inclusion of those who may perhaps think or believe differently then I /we do? Can I/we make room for those people and life events that sometimes disappoint, exclude or dismiss me/us? Can I/we make room for God’s surprises?
The phrase further calls me to reflect on how open my heart is to make room for God. Do I welcome God into all of who I am? Do I sometimes try to hide from God and clutter my life, thus leaving little room for that still, small voice of a God? Have you noticed, usually in retrospect, how people and situations come into our life and stretch or challenge us to make room for a new way of being? We are all called to be bearers of God and to open ourselves to those many God bearers all around us. Do I allow the Light of Christ to illuminate those dark, fearful, broken parts of myself that can only be healed by the love and compassion of God?
This Christmas may we truly experience the awesome gift of God’s very self coming to dwell within and among us! May we welcome the Light of Christ that dispels the darkness and calls us to be light bearers. Let us celebrate Emmanuel – God with us!
We wish each of you a blessed Christmas and a New Year of peace and joy. We extend our deepest gratitude to all our dear friends, donors and families who assist and support us in our efforts to give birth to Christ—the true Light of the World! Let us continue to raise our hearts and voices in prayers for Peace.
Let me end this Christmas greeting by sharing the following reminder of the Divine’s call to become the bearers of God:
“Not to one
but to many you have called:
on the dancing wind
from the deepest forest
from the highest places
from the distant lands
from the edge of darkness
from the depth of fear
the bearer of God.”
–Jan Richardson, Night Visions
On Saturday, December 2, approximately 70 people convened at the Mission Helper Center for the annual Advent Day of Prayer. Facilitated this year by Sr. Mary Therese White, OSF, the theme was “The Radiance of Christmas: Celebrating Christ’s Light Within You”.
The morning session focused on celebrating not only the historical event of Christ’s birth, but his continuing birth in his people through the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism. We were invited to consider what is being birthed within us at this time, and what God desires to bring forth in us and others.
Attendees enjoyed a delightful meal prepared by Carolyn Rodgers and her granddaughter, Alex Holmes.
In the afternoon, we considered how we act as Christ’s light in the world. We were invited to reflect on the question of who has been light for us, revealing God’s presence. We also reflected on how we bring the light of Christ to others.
Sr. Mary Therese’s presentations were accompanied by evocative music and prayers. Participants’ feedback indicated that the day was highly enjoyable, and extremely helpful to their spiritual journeys during Advent.
The day ended with Mass for the first Sunday in Advent, celebrated by Fr. Bill Watters, SJ.
[Background: The Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart are one of eight women’s religious communities who collaborate to support Asylee Women Enterprise (AWE), a non-profit organization that assists women asylum seekers as they build new lives in the United States. The women hail from a variety of countries, and fled their homelands because of persecution. They come to the US legally and go through an extended vetting process to gain asylum here. AWE and the other religious congregations support these women by assisting with housing, employment and education, and with building community.]
Recently, several asylum-seeking women who lived with the Mission Helpers have moved on to independent living, along with jobs and/or further education. During their time living among the Sisters, the women and the Sisters formed close bonds. We cherished their time with us as we got to know each other. As we listened to their stories, we were filled with admiration for their strength, courage, faith and resilience in leaving home and loved ones behind, and starting over in an unfamiliar country. The following are excerpts from letters that they wrote to us.
“I wanted to thank you for your love and care these last years. As a 19 year old girl in a new country, my only question was, what am I going to be? Today, I can firmly say that I have a good future. I stayed at MHSH, and not a single day did I feel like I was not at home. I was surrounded by love, and good people. I will never forget how you made me feel special on my birthdays. You celebrated my life! Today, I am leaving MHSH not as a stranger but a child of MHSH who is going to follow her dream.” -G.
“To my amazing Sisters: Thank you for opening the door for me when I was homeless and had nowhere else to live. The years that I lived with you made me so attached to Mission Helpers. I feel like family and proudly call this place my second home. The words “thank you” are not enough to express how grateful and indebted I am to the entire community”. -S.
In reflecting upon our time with these women, we are profoundly grateful for their presence among us.. They have enriched our lives beyond measure.
We are also very grateful for you, who love and support us in so many ways. We wish each of you a blessed Thanksgiving with your families and friends.
At our annual congregational meeting in June, Mission Helpers celebrated seven Jubilarians. Ranging from 25 years through 75 years, collectively these Sisters have dedicated 375 joyful years of service to the people of God. Last week we profiled four Jubilarians. In this issue, we profile Sr. Dolores Beere, Sr. Barbara Wills and Sr. Mary Margaret.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Sr. Dolores entered the Mission Helpers Community in 1942. Within the first years, her ministry began to focus on the deaf, beginning at the Mission Helpers School for the Deaf in Irvington, Maryland.
“I took to that ministry right away,” Sister Dolores recalled in a 2012 interview. “The Sister I worked with was quite the talker, and she talked and signed at the same time, so I learned quickly.”
In 1948 she was called to Puerto Rico and taught at St. Gabriel School for the Deaf, the first such facility on the island, begun by the Mission Helpers in 1902.
Following a year there, Sr. Dolores moved on to serve in New Jersey, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, West Virginia and New York. In all these places, she managed to minister to the deaf in the community, even if that wasn’t her primary ministry.
Assigned to the Diocese of Detroit in the Apostolate to the Deaf in 1969, Sr. Dolores and the Cardinal established what was essentially a parish totally devoted to the deaf community. Finally she was able to work with the deaf full time, establishing a seniors’ program and training deaf Eucharistic Ministers and lectors. “I was determined that the deaf would be able to do everything in the church that anyone else could do,” she said.
She served there for 16 years. Returning to Baltimore in 1985, Sr. Dolores established a relationship with the deaf community in the area. Well into her 90s, she held monthly luncheon meetings for a group of deaf seniors; she usually did the cooking and baked the bread. Now, at age 94, she lives at Mercy Villa, but comes to Mission Helper Center once a month to meet with the deaf.
These words from scripture (John 10:10) have motivated her ministry: “I have come to bring you life and to bring it in abundance.”
“That’s what I want to bring to the deaf—I want them to live their lives to the fullest.”
A native of Baltimore, Sister Barbara first met the Mission Helpers while attending Baltimore’s Catholic High School. “Sister Justina came to talk with us about vocations,” she says, “and I visited the Motherhouse for a day of recollection. I thought that if I ever entered a religious community, it would be the Mission Helpers. I loved children, and I knew the Sisters ran orphanages and worked with children.”
Still, it was seven years before she joined. During that time, she worked for Studebaker, the automobile manufacturer, first in Baltimore, then in Washington, D.C., before joining the Mission Helpers in 1952.
By the time she began her ministry as a Mission Helper, the orphanages had been closed, “But,” she says, “I loved being a Mission Helper from the beginning.
I sent my clothes and suitcase home on the very first day, and never, ever thought about leaving. I loved it. And I still do.”
She has taught religion at all levels from elementary school to programs for adults, serving as Director of Religious Education (DRE) in many parishes and dioceses in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Colorado and Arizona.
“I loved it out west,” she says, “especially Arizona, where I worked with the same priest in three different locations. I had children’s classes—pre-school through high school, and adult education, which I especially loved.”
She served for 39 years as the Mission Helper Archivist, painstakingly maintaining the records of the Community’s long history and the lives of the hundreds of women called to service as Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart. Anticipating the sale of the Mission Helper Center, the Archives have been moved to Catholic University of America’s Archives in Washington, D.C. The Archives staff at CUA has praised Sr. Barbara’s diligent and meticulous care of this historic treasure.
Sister Barbara holds a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a master’s degree in Doctrinal Theology from LaSalle University in Philadelphia.
Growing up in Indiana, Sister Mary Margaret says that one of her early memories was a “strong nudging that kept coming back to me. I knew I wanted to spend my life with what is really important, and that seemed to be knowing that God loves us and that we are invited to love God in return.”
After researching religious communities specializing in teaching religion, the name and spirit of the Mission Helpers stood out, and she entered the Community in 1957.
Most of Sister Mary Margaret’s ministry has been in diocesan or parish missions with a focus on religious education. She has served in Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Texas where she visited small, rural parishes where a priest was rarely available.
“There weren’t many Catholics in those areas,” she recalled in a 2007 interview. “We had adult classes in which we just taught the basics of the Bible and prayer. We visited the people in their homes; everyone was so open and faith-filled, hungry to learn more about their faith.”
She remembered another special mission in Baltimore: “I had the unique opportunity to spend time in St. Martin’s parish, where our foundress Mary Frances Cunningham began. We rang every doorbell and welcomed the people to the parish. Some of them remembered our Sisters from the old Biddle Street convent, and a few had even known Mother Demetrias!”
Sister Mary Margaret holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and a Master’s degree in Catechetical Theology.
To read the profiles of our other 2017 Jubilarians, click here.