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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.


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

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Bruno: This saint has the honor of having founded a religious order which, as the saying goes, has never had to be reformed because it was never deformed. No doubt both the founder and the members would reject such high praise, but it is an indication of the saint's intense love of a penitential life in solitude. 
<p>Bruno was born in Cologne, Germany, became a famous teacher at Rheims and was appointed chancellor of the archdiocese at the age of 45. He supported Pope Gregory VII in his fight against the decadence of the clergy and took part in the removal of his own scandalous archbishop, Manasses. Bruno suffered the plundering of his house for his pains. </p><p>He had a dream of living in solitude and prayer, and persuaded a few friends to join him in a hermitage. After a while he felt the place unsuitable and, through a friend, was given some land which was to become famous for his foundation "in the Chartreuse" (from which comes the word Carthusians). The climate, desert, mountainous terrain and inaccessibility guaranteed silence, poverty and small numbers. </p><p>Bruno and his friends built an oratory with small individual cells at a distance from each other. They met for Matins and Vespers each day and spent the rest of the time in solitude, eating together only on great feasts. Their chief work was copying manuscripts. </p><p>The pope, hearing of Bruno's holiness, called for his assistance in Rome. When the pope had to flee Rome, Bruno pulled up stakes again, and spent his last years (after refusing a bishopric) in the wilderness of Calabria. </p><p>He was never formally canonized, because the Carthusians were averse to all occasions of publicity. However Pope Clement X extended his feast to the whole Church in 1674.</p> American Catholic Blog The saints in heaven love and care for us, and so it is fitting that we pray to them and ask for their prayers, as we on earth assist one another through prayer.

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