September 2018

Healing Wounds

Fran Whelan


I first heard about the Servants of the Paraclete treatment center when I moved to New Mexico in the mid-1980s.  It was an unassuming property located in Jemez Springs, NM. Driving by it, you thought it was an abbey or retreat center. The Servants offered their services to “wayward” priests and vowed religious Brothers. It was a place for priests to discern their vocations, deal with their addictions (alcohol, drug, food), and pedophiles.

People knew about the treatment center, but not necessarily the pedophiles. That was a great sin, scandal that had to be hushed-up. Then in the 1990s, when the scandal broke here in NM, we definitely heard about the pedophiles. I met three priests in the early 1990s who had gone through the program in Jemez. Priest “M” was having an affair with a woman, eventually left the priesthood and Church and married her. Priest “J” actually dated a Protestant friend of mine at the time. When she told me, I gave her the Spock eyebrow and retorted, “Do you have any idea of what you are getting into dating a priest, especially from Jemez?!” They ended the relationship when his sabbatical was up and he is still a priest in another state. Priest “P” I believe was a pedophile. He was caught with a 17 year-old boy and did jail time. I think it was recommended in Jemez that he leave the priesthood and it brought him such anxiety and depression. He committed suicide.

My other encounter with the Scandal was when Archbishop Emeritus Sheehan replaced Archbishop Sanchez. By the time the lawsuits started racking up, Sheehan was hell-bent on cleaning up the pedophile scandal and the personal scandals of former Archbishop Sanchez himself. Archbishop Emeritus Sheehan claimed at the time that he would not close or sell-off parishes to pay for the lawsuits. No, instead he sold the former Dominican Retreat House, run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine de Ricci (aka Dominican Sisters of Peace). I was livid at the time and wrote a letter in protest! For me, the retreat house was sacred and helped many people to find God, more so than many parishes. It took me until 2011 to step foot on the old property. I met Abbot Joel and the Norbertines have done a marvelous job of honoring the Sisters and establishing an Abbey.  But, the irony at the time in the 1990s, because of the actions of the Paracletes, the Sisters had to move. And where did they move? Into the old Paraclete property in the South Valley!

I always thought the Pedophile Scandal was a local New Mexico problem until the Boston Globe broke open the world-wide problem in the early 2000s. I’ve seen the movie, “Spotlight”, and watched the Netflix series, “The Keepers”, about the unsolved murder of Sr. Catherine Cesnik in 1969, after she had discovered pedophilia going on in the school where she taught. It is a problem that keeps rearing its ugly head. It needs to in light of the recent Boston Grand Jury reports. Because of those reports, Archbishop Wester asked parishes to hold healing services on the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross. I attended the one at the Norbertine Abbey for closure regarding the Dominican Retreat House. It had the opposite effect. The anger I had from the 1990s came boiling up to the surface. Maybe that is a good thing!

The pedophile issue has been going on for well over 70 years in the American Church and world-wide. It is a very deep wound, and, unfortunately, the second sin is to keep covering it up! Covering it up makes the wound fester. Covering it up with a band-aid of clericalism makes it worse and causes the Body (of Christ) to become septic! So what is the best way to treat a deep wound? To pack it and repack it with medicated bandages. And those bandages are TRUTH, TRANSPARENCY, and TIME.

  • TRUTH: No-holds barred truth. Come clean in every diocese. Who were the perpetrators, when, where, and how many victims?
  • TRANSPARENCY: Be open! Change how we vet seminarians. Open the Church to more Lay leadership. Rethink the hierarchy. Teach seminarians about Servant leadership instead of a romantic version of the Church as pomp and circumstance and pageantry (Pre-Vatican II days)—a culture that led to the cover-up.
  • TIME: It took decades to get to where we are today – a fragile and wounded Church. It will take time to heal. We must come together as a community to face the problem (sin). We are all baptized into Christ’s priesthood. The Laity must make sure the hierarchy is held accountable.

Forgive us, O Lord, for we have sinned.


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