ROME – Karna Lozoya, the host of a new podcast documenting the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the United States, has said the message those behind it want to send is that while important steps have been taken, it is far from over.
She also spoke of the anticipation among U.S. Catholics for the Vatican’s long-awaited report on the rise of ex-cardinal and ex-priest Theodore McCarrick, the impact on American Catholics of allegations made by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò that Pope Francis knew about McCarrick’s misconduct and did nothing, and the importance of listening to survivors.
Speaking to Crux, Lozoya said that “at the end of the day the message we want to send is that the sex abuse crisis isn’t over, we’re still in it.”
“We’ve done a lot as a Church, and I think we go to great lengths in the podcast to highlight everything we have done, and I think we should be proud of that,” she said, but insisted that the 2018 “summer of shame,” as it is now called, demonstrates that “this is far from over. There are still issues and realities in the Church that we have to continue to face.”
Called, “Crisis: Clergy Abuse in the Catholic Church,” the 10-episode series launched Sept. 9, with new episodes available every Wednesday.
Numerous bishops, survivors, reporters, lawyers and social workers were interviewed for the podcast, including James Grein, who was abused by McCarrick; Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who was president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops when the McCarrick scandals struck; Tom Rogers, whose paper, The National Catholic Reporter broke the early abuse scandals in the 1980s; and Kim Daniels, associate director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown University, among others.
It is part of The Catholic Project of the Catholic University in America, where Lozoya serves as director of strategic communications. The project, she said, was launched in response to the 2018 scandals as a platform for clergy and laity to discuss together the tough questions the Catholic Church faces and have the “uncomfortable conversations” that are needed.
Last summer’s scandals began in June when the Archdiocese of New York revealed they had received credible allegations that then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had sexually abused a minor. A month later, further reports emerged detailing serial sexual harassment of seminarians during McCarrick’s years in Metuchen and Newark, New Jersey.
As a result, Pope Francis removed McCarrick from public ministry and accepted his resignation as a member of the College of Cardinals. Less than a year later, he would be defrocked.
In August 2018, the Pennsylvania grand jury report was released detailing the abuse of more than 1,000 minors at the hands of over 300 predatory priests over a span of seven decades, prompting dozens of states to announce their own plans to conduct similar investigations.
The already blistering scandals in American Catholicism reached a fever pitch when at the end of that month Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S., released a lengthy letter insisting that Pope Francis knew of rumors about McCarrick’s misconduct but did nothing, and called for his resignation.
Amid the fallout of the Pennsylvania report, Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., one of the most powerful members of the American Catholic Church, resigned from his post in October due to dispute over his handling of abuse cases during his time as bishop of Pittsburgh in the late 1980s and 1990s.
In the wake of the uproar surrounding the McCarrick scandals, the Vatican promised to conduct and release “in due course” an in-depth investigation into how McCarrick, despite open rumors about his misconduct, was able to rise in power and prominence in the Catholic Church. Two years later, that report has yet to be published.
According to Lozoya, in the U.S. “Everybody is waiting to for the McCarrick report, everybody from victim assistance coordinators to Cardinal Daniel DiNardo himself.”
“Everybody any time we mention the McCarrick report in our interviews, that’s the number one concern of people; they want to know what’s in that report, they want to have some sense or some answer as to how a predatory sexual abuser could become a cardinal in the Catholic Church,” she said.
The fact that this could happen “is baffling to all Catholics,” she said, “and we do want an answer to that. That’s what set off the crisis of 2018, is the revelation surrounding Theodore McCarrick.” Everyone, she said, is “waiting with bated breath.”
Lozoya said there are no specific expectations as to what the report will say, so it’s difficult to know how it might influence future child protection policies. However, what it will provide, she said, is a chance to evaluate “who we hold up as leaders in our Church and how we choose those leaders and what characteristics we want them to have.”
In terms of Viganò’s letter and his accusations against Pope Francis, Lozoya said the podcast doesn’t get into the details, as most of his allegations would be difficult if not impossible for them to prove, but they cover his letter because “It was a very important part of the story of that summer.”
Quoting a soundbite from an interview with Greg Erlandson, Editor in Chief of the Catholic News Service, she said Viganò’s letter “was like pouring gasoline on a raging fire,” and voiced hope that the McCarrick report will address the accusations Viganò made.
One of the questions the podcast tries to answer is how the Catholic Church got to the point of such scandal, and how in 2018, over 15 years after abuse scandals first rocked the U.S. in 2002, it was possible to still have stories as shocking as these come out.
Lozoya said that while the answer is complex, based on her conversations in the podcast, she believes there are two main factors, the first being the Church’s “inability to address it in the moment.”
In the 1960s and 70s, abuse was still considered a cultural taboo, she said, recalling how in an interview with Ray Mouton, who served as the defense attorney for Father Gilbert Gouthe, the first priest indicted for child sex abuse in 1985, Mouton said that when the case was opened, he had never heard the word pedophilia before.
“Even in 1985 our culture just didn’t have the language to talk about the sexual abuse of minors,” Lozoya said, adding that another factor she believes contributed to the crisis was how the Church “tried to deal with these issues quietly, leaving the laity in the dark and their children vulnerable to abuse.”
“If the bishop, or the parish priest had responded in a different way in the moment, they didn’t have to be abused,” she said. “A lot of young lives could have been saved if they had responded in the moment.”
Lozoya stressed that there are more issues at play, and that getting a complete answer likely won’t happen for a long time, since the Church is still dealing with abuse scandals on a daily basis.
“In 100 years, I think we’ll have a much better perspective to really evaluate and analyze everything that went on in the Church,” she said, and praised the steps have been taken, including the 2002 Dallas Charter on child protection, drafted after the scandals earlier that year.
Among other things, the charter imposed a “zero-tolerance” policy, meaning permanent removal from ministry, and, in most cases, laicization, for just one credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.
“It was a game-changer for how the Church deals with sexual abuse cases,” Lozoya said, pointing to the slew of safe environment trainings, mandatory reporting mechanisms and “safe-touch” programs teaching children what is appropriate that have been implemented since 2002 as examples of progress made.
Turning to the Vatican’s February 2019 summit on child protection, which was attended by the heads of all bishops’ conferences worldwide, Lozoya said this was “an important step” and “a huge milestone” for the Church in terms of getting everyone on the same page with child safety.
“I think the quibble, and I might put it in stronger language, would be, why did it take so long?” she said. “But, okay, it took a long time, we got there. So, let’s recognize where we are, and we are a lot further along in this than we were in 1985 and even before then.”
Lozoya said her biggest takeaway from the podcast is the importance of listening to survivors of clerical abuse.
“It’s important for us to listen to the survivors of sexual abuse. I knew that going in, I know that on a different level now,” she said. “These are men and women, these are brothers and sisters in the faith, they have been very severely wounded by clergy and their wounds are our wounds. That’s why we can’t let this issue go to the backburner.”
Listening to survivors is also important in terms of learning how to bring healing, she said, adding that she believes “bishops could benefit a lot from hearing that perspective.”
“From the bishops that we spoke to, they’re willing to do whatever it takes…to help survivors, and I think it’s up to survivors to help us understand what it is we need to do,” she said.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen