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Saint Mary’s campus ministry discusses sexual abuse scandal

| Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Members of the Saint Mary’s community had the opportunity to gather for a discussion of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church on Tuesday in the student center.

Jess Kimmet, campus minister for music, said the scandal offered an opportunity for individuals to reflect on their relationship with the Church.

“I think the whole crisis is a great opportunity to remind ourselves as laypeople that we are also the Church and have responsibility for that,” she said. “What that means for each of us is going to look different based on our different calls in life.”

Campus Ministry’s priestFr. Steve Newton said he thinks many students might wonder why such abuse has been occurring in the Church.

“I would have to say — and this is opinion, this is not scientific by any stretch — that it has to do with two things: the retention of power by the clerical state and the admission into the clerical state people with very poor psychosexual development,” he said.

Additionally, Newton said the structure of the Church played a role in abuse.

“When you read some of the statements that the victims heard from their abusers about how it was ok because they were a priest … It’s just sickening to see how they abused the power,” he said. “My tendency is to say that [the victims of abuse] didn’t believe it [was OK], but it certainly confused the victims. I can’t say for certain they didn’t believe it.”

Newton said there are various theories as to why priests behave in an abusive manner.

“Some people say it’s because of celibacy,” he said. “Others because of the conviction of being in a special state, but it has to be combined with poor sexual development, which is not surprising given the structure of the seminaries.”

Kimmet said another factor to consider when trying to understand the complexity of the sexual abuse scandal are the coverups that have come to light.

“There’s a second layer of the coverups, which has I think more to do with an unwillingness on the part of the Church to talk about sexual matters,” she said. “And it’s not just the Church. I think this was a societal issue. These issues would have been dealt with privately if it were happening in places other than the Church. But the Church’s structures and some of the privilege … fed into the ability to keep covering up and allow the abuse to go on a lot longer than it should have.”

When Bishops sought to handle cases quietly, Newton said, they did not always seek to do so with harmful intentions.

“I think that sometimes there was a misplaced but good intention to not want to cause more harm,” he said. “I think that sometimes these things were kept secret and priests were quietly moved because bishops were afraid that letting it become public would cause more harm to the parish or to the family … but I think that with what we know now about trauma and abuse and the way it has lasting effects, we can look back and see that this was very poor management of these kinds of issues. I think they’ve all been educated enough to realize that reassigning and keeping it secret has caused more harm than, in some cases, the abuse itself, in terms of number impacted.”

Despite the magnitude of the scandal, Newton said positive changes within the Church are becoming more visible.

“The role of women and how they can be more brought into equal status in all aspects of Church life is being discussed,” he said. “I don’t know how much of that will happen, certainly in my lifetime, but I think it portends a trend that will have to be dealt with. Signs of hope are important at [this] time of scandal and darkness, and there are some — small, beginning but potentially significant.”

There have been recent movements toward more open discussion of sexual abuse that might have contributed to the illuminating of some of these coverups, Kimmet said.

“I sort of suspect the #MeToo movement has something to do with it because we listen to stories of sexual abuse and violence in a different way in this moment in history,” she said.

The scandal has hit close to the campus community, as names of priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors were released by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in September, including one who spent time assigned at Saint Mary’s Convent.

“His incident had nothing to do with Saint Mary’s Convent,” Newton said. “That’s where he was when the accusation [occurred], but it was unrelated to his job at Saint Mary’s.”

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend is set to release the names of two more priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse on Tuesday afternoon.

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