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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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Scholastica: Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict (July 11), established religious communities within a few miles from each other. 
<p>Born in 480 of wealthy parents, Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left central Italy for Rome to continue his studies. </p><p>Little is known of Scholastica’s early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino at Plombariola, five miles from where her brother governed a monastery. </p><p>The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters. </p><p>According to the <i>Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great</i>, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day. </p><p>He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey. </p><p>Benedict cried out, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” Scholastica replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” </p><p>Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.</p> American Catholic Blog In all the sacraments, Christ gives to us the transforming power of his love, which we call “grace.” But in the Eucharist, and only in the Eucharist, Jesus gives us even more. He gives us his entire self—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Of course, the proper response to a gift of this magnitude is gratitude.

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