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Religious Communities and Sex Abuse View Comments
By Christopher Heffron

Though she has the work history, the education, and the resources to sit back and theorize on the clergy sex-abuse crisis from afar, Monica Applewhite, PhD, has, for over fifteen years, been in the weeds of this crisis, working closely with dioceses, religious orders, and review boards on matters of abuse, abusers, and protecting the innocent.

Renowned as an expert in the prevention and response to abuse of vulnerable people, this Texas resident and Catholic parent of two young children has spent her career working to identify the reasons why abuse occurs, creating ways to prevent it, and responding to accusations appropriately.

A major, though not exclusive, focus of Applewhite’s work has been religious communities. Since the crisis erupted in the media in 2002, dioceses across the country received the lion’s share of scrutiny. Religious communities, on the other hand, were spared much of the negative focus. Why?

Applewhite answered that question and many others when she spoke to St. Anthony Messenger recently. She discussed her work throughout the crisis, the roles of religious priests and brothers, the contributions of Catholic and non-Catholic laypeople, and what the future holds for our Church

Q. Describe your role during the crisis.

A. I started working with religious orders and congregations in 1996. At that time, it was not out of the question for an offender to go back into ministry. So how do you set up a supervised ministry so that offenders can’t cultivate relationships with minors?

One of the things that we learned over the next several years is that you can supervise a ministry, but it’s not possible to identify a “safe ministry” that will allow you to put a person there and never worry about them again. They will find ways to transition that ministry into something that is closer to what they’re looking for.

In 2002 there was not openness about men who had sexually offended but were taken out of ministry. That was normally how I worked: with a handful of men’s communities who wanted to develop safety plans.

Q. Were you shocked when the crisis hit in 2002?

A. It wasn’t a crisis where we suddenly had new cases. The crisis was that more people were coming forward and saying they had been abused. Suddenly we had knowledge about how much abuse had occurred. We knew that it had happened, but the volume had never been recorded to this scale before.

The commitment that was made by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was that men would be laicized if they had committed sexual offenses. And in some cases that did happen. The religious communities recognized that some of their own had to be laicized because they weren’t living as religious anymore.

But there are a significant number of men who were still part of their communities and wanted to live as religious. We continued our commitment to helping them walk the path, and we wanted to do that properly and safely.

In 2003, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) contracted with the company I was working with at the time—Praesidium—trying to figure out what could be the standards for prevention, response, and supervising men who had abused. The CMSM adopted accreditation standards that would guide that supervision.

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Christopher Heffron is an assistant editor and the social media editor of this publication.


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Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta): Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the tiny woman recognized throughout the world for her work among the poorest of the poor, was beatified October 19, 2003. Among those present were hundreds of Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded in 1950 as a diocesan religious community. Today the congregation also includes contemplative sisters and brothers and an order of priests. 
<p>Born to Albanian parents in what is now Skopje, Macedonia (then part of the Ottoman Empire), Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu was the youngest of the three children who survived. For a time, the family lived comfortably, and her father's construction business thrived. But life changed overnight following his unexpected death. </p><p>During her years in public school Agnes participated in a Catholic sodality and showed a strong interest in the foreign missions. At age 18 she entered the Loreto Sisters of Dublin. It was 1928 when she said goodbye to her mother for the final time and made her way to a new land and a new life. The following year she was sent to the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling, India. There she chose the name Teresa and prepared for a life of service. She was assigned to a high school for girls in Kolkata, where she taught history and geography to the daughters of the wealthy. But she could not escape the realities around her—the poverty, the suffering, the overwhelming numbers of destitute people. </p><p>In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as “a call within a call. The message was clear. I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them.” She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to “follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.” </p><p>After receiving permission to leave Loreto, establish a new religious community and undertake her new work, she took a nursing course for several months. She returned to Kolkata, where she lived in the slums and opened a school for poor children. Dressed in a white sari and sandals (the ordinary dress of an Indian woman) she soon began getting to know her neighbors—especially the poor and sick—and getting to know their needs through visits. </p><p>The work was exhausting, but she was not alone for long. Volunteers who came to join her in the work, some of them former students, became the core of the Missionaries of Charity. Others helped by donating food, clothing, supplies, the use of buildings. In 1952 the city of Kolkata gave Mother Teresa a former hostel, which became a home for the dying and the destitute. As the order expanded, services were also offered to orphans, abandoned children, alcoholics, the aging, and street people. </p><p>For the next four decades Mother Teresa worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor. Her love knew no bounds. Nor did her energy, as she crisscrossed the globe pleading for support and inviting others to see the face of Jesus in the poorest of the poor. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. On September 5, 1997, God called her home.</p> American Catholic Blog A healthy marriage is that it is a witness of Jesus’s love for the 
Church. We are the bride of Christ, and the greatest declaration of the groom’s love is found at the cross. The complete gift of self by Jesus at Calvary is so entire that it is life-giving.

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