Healing the Church: Conference on clergy sexual abuse in Kingston this week
Clergy sexual abuse is a topic loaded with pain and hurt. Sister Nuala Kenny calls it a crisis in Canada and offers a way forward. On Friday and Saturday, she will be giving a conference in Kingston on “Healing the Church” in the wake of the sexual abuse crisis. She is a physician – a paediatrician – and takes a medical approach to the subject, treating it like a disease in need of diagnosing and treating. Her 2012 book “Healing the Church” is the foundation of her presentation.
More than 320 people have signed up to attend the conference. It is being held by the Healing Violence Committee of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul who have held eight other conferences on topics of healing violence over more than 17 years.
This is not the first time the committee has addressed this topic. A few years ago they worked with two local parishes as allegations of sexual violence emerged against some priests in the Archdiocese. They wrote, in a recent article:
“From these experiences, we heard about the confusion and suffering experienced when priests were removed quickly from their parishes. People felt helpless in the face of very little communication and could not reach out to the alleged victim, priest or their families. We learned that providing a safe environment for people to talk about their feelings brought some healing from the suffering.”
It was a natural fit, then, to invite Sister of Charity Dr. Nuala Kenny to present to the people of the Archdiocese of Kingston. With the Archbishop’s endorsement, so many people signed up for the conference that it was expanded to two – the one-day conference will be held on Friday and, again, on Saturday.
“We have been overwhelmed by the response to this conference,” says Healing Violence Committee chair Sister Frances O’Brien, sp. “There is a hunger to have an open dialogue about these painful topics and to learn how to move ahead. We very much look forward to Sr. Kenny’s wisdom.”
The conference will unfold in three sessions. In the first session, Sister Nuala will review this crisis and the response to date from Church leaders and laity, and clarify what is now known about the sexual abuse of minors by clerics. She will then explore the identified dynamics of sexual abuse of minors for insights into the systemic and cultural factors which have shaped responses.
In the second session, Sister Nuala will identify all sexual abuse of children and youth as an abuse of power in the realm of human sexuality. She will describe key features of power and relationships in the Church. Clericalism will be identified as the particular “temptation of the Church” (Pope Francis). The focus will be on lessons learned about the relationships of clergy and laity – and about the life, health and support of our clergy.
In the third session, Sister Nuala will reflect on the elements of an effective prescription, based on our present knowledge and experience. Finally, she will have us reflect on our willingness to accept the fundamental call to transformation and renewal that is at the heart of true healing and reconciliation.
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