Clergy train for ministry to those affected by child sexual abuse

By Jack Smith
Catholic Key Editor

In 2016 at a Service of Lament, Bishop Johnston made five public commitments to enhance the protection of children and vulnerable adults and for the healing of those affected by child sexual abuse. Fulfilling one of those commitments, a full day training session on ministering to survivors of sexual abuse was held April 16 at St. Therese Parish in Parkville. The training was mandatory for all priests and deacons active in the diocese.

“The purpose of targeted training for priests and deacons is to help better equip them to minister pastorally specifically to those harmed by sexual abuse,” Bishop Johnston declared at the 2016 Service of Lament. “This is something that I hope will help you with your ministry with those who will come to you with needs so that you’ll be better able to welcome them and help them in their ongoing journey of healing,” he said, opening the training day at St. Therese.

Bishop Johnston reminded the assembled priests and deacons that one in four women are affected in some way by sexual abuse as are one in six men at some time in their lives. “If you think about those statistics, it seems to me there’s a high likelihood that a number of us have been affected by this,” he said. “I want us to be encouraged that we are a key part of helping those who have been hurt in the Church and even those outside the Church,” Bishop Johnston said. “Very often people will approach us for help, and I don’t want us to be intimidated. I want us to begin that process of preparing ourselves as best we can to be able to help people who come to us in need.”

The day proceeded with four sessions led by Fr. Larry Dowling and Mr. Glenn Hymel. This is the first time Fr. Dowling and Mr. Hymel have led a workshop together and it may be the first such workshop in the country.

Fr. Larry Dowling is Pastor of St. Agatha Parish in Chicago. He served for many years on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Review Board, is a contributor to Healing Voices, a newsletter created by victims of clergy sexual abuse, and serves on the Healing Garden committee of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Fr. Dowling became committed to accompanying abuse victims in need through a series of unfortunate circumstances. His first assignment as pastor followed the pastorate of an abusive priest. A couple of years into that assignment, he was appointed to the archdiocesan Review Board. In that capacity, he learned that the pastor at the first parish he served in as a priest was also an abusive priest. Fr. Dowling’s next and current assignment as Pastor of St. Agatha also followed the pastorate of an abusive priest.

But the trauma of abuse came even closer to his life. It was around this time that he learned his oldest brother was sexually abused in minor seminary. Some time later, Fr. Dowling’s mother died, and at a family gathering, discussion turned to the creepiness of a priest at the family’s childhood parish. One brother spoke privately with Fr. Dowling saying that he himself was not abused by this priest, but he thought another brother was. Later, Father Dowling asked this other brother if anything happened. “And he just looked at me and he said, ‘He raped me.’”

“Of my six brothers and two sisters, those two brothers, I can look back on and say that they had the most difficult time of any of my brothers and sisters in getting through life,” Fr. Dowling said. “It just reinforced in me this need to really walk a journey with people who have gone through this, to be very aware of my own feelings around it, and my own struggles around it . . . and to be able to do that with people who are very passionate about doing this work.”

Presentations were tag-teamed by Fr. Dowling and Mr. Glenn Hymel. Fr. Dowling introduced Hymel as “a man of deep faith and deep conviction.” He is a husband, father, teacher and IT manager at a Jesuit high school in another state. The first thing Mr. Hymel did was to thank Bishop Johnston and the priests and deacons assembled “as a group of men who are generous with your lives. . . I’m grateful to you who have followed the call you have . . . and the generous way you have decided to share your life.”

It was a curious and profoundly gracious remark, as the assembled were about to learn that Mr. Hymel was abused, beginning at age fourteen, by a bishop.

Hymel displayed a picture of an adolescent boy. “That’s me when I was fourteen years old. . . My life changed shortly after this photo was taken. . . And that’s a long story. . . It’s a story that has depth and darkness. It’s also a story that has new life in it and hopefulness to it,” Mr. Hymel said. “It took 35 years to live out that story.”

Hymel credited his wife with being the most instrumental person in making that path from darkness to light. “I am the person I am today because she walked this path with me.”

Hymel said there is a myth about abuse that we teach our children about “stranger danger,” when in fact those who commit abuse are most often not strangers. “The person who most affected my life at that point in time was not a stranger. He was someone who was a pillar of the community; someone who in many respects, my parents implicitly trusted.”

The powerful examples of faith in his parents, his godmother and his parish priest growing up led, in part, to Hymel deciding to enter minor seminary.

A picture was displayed of former Baton Rouge Bishop Joseph Sullivan with his arm around Hymel around this time. “Less than a year later, we’d be in Hawaii together,” he said. He and the bishop stayed in a place owned by a family the bishop knew. “We had our own bedroom. Everybody just assumed it was all kosher.” Hymel was abused by Bishop Sullivan from age fourteen to age seventeen when Bishop Sullivan died.

“It’s not a fun story to remember and it’s not easy to tell – especially here. And there’s a reason for that,” Hymel said. “Bishop Sullivan, before he was appointed to Baton Rouge in 1974, spent his entire life in Kansas City.” Bishop Joseph Sullivan was a priest and auxiliary bishop of Kansas City before his appointment to Baton Rouge.

“This completes the circle for me. Being here. Seeing you. Grateful that you’ve given your lives and that you are working on this,” Hymel said. “Because I know in my heart of hearts that people are not born abusers. Something happened to them. And I know that whatever happened to Bishop Sullivan happened here.”

Hymel later in the day said that when someone who has suffered abuse “comes to you, they are looking for a way out of the darkness.” He suggested “spiritual friendship, not direction.” His own path toward new life was very much helped along by a Jesuit priest.

While the two presenters had specific connection to clergy sexual abuse, the day was a training for providing care for all victims of sexual abuse. Hymel and Fr. Dowling used their own experiences in helping the men assembled understand topics such as the constancy of God’s love, the prevalence of child sexual abuse, offering pastoral care and resources for healing, ministering to people harmed by sexual abuse and best practices for working with survivors of sexual abuse.

At the end of the day all the priests and deacons were given a book, “Veronica’s Veil: Spiritual Companionship for Survivors of Abuse: A Guide for Integrated Faith with Recovery.”

“I am grateful to Bishop Johnston for his support of the development of this training for our diocese’s priests and deacons. Sexual abuse survivors are our friends, our neighbors, our family members, and those sitting next to us in our church pews,” said Sherry Huffman, Safe Environment Program Coordinator for the diocese and principal organizer of the clergy training day. “I hope that this training day helped better equip our clergy to support sexual abuse survivors with gentle care and compassion as they accompany them on their healing journey.” She also expressed her hope that “other dioceses will take what we have done and be inspired to provide more training for their priests and deacons too.”

Five Commitments

Another of Bishop Johnston’s Five Commitments was to establish an Annual Day of Prayer for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, for healing, for prevention and in atonement. The Second Annual Day of Prayer was held by parishes schools and the chancery on April 26. An article on that day appears in this issue.

Bishop Johnston also promised to create a Task Force whose purpose is to “review all diocesan policy and protocols relating to the Office of Child and Youth Protection. Members on this task force will be appointed based upon their expertise from various fields related to child protection.”

This Task Force has been formed and has been meeting since September 2017. It consists of Carrie Cooper, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection; Sherry Huffman, Safe Environment Program Coordinator; JoAnn Axtell, Facilitator Trainer for Protecting God’s Children; Jim Caccamo, former Internal Review Board Chair; Brigeete Kurtenbach, youth minister and Holy Spirit parishioner; John Larson, Ph.D., IRB member and psychologist; attorney Will Nulton; and Katie Reddig, volunteer and parent at Our Lady of the Presentation.

The Task Force has already created a Safe Environment Policy which pulls together and codifies practices already active in the diocese, according to Carrie Cooper. They are now working on revising the diocese’ code of conduct called Ethics and Integrity in Ministry. In the future they will be revising the diocesan Social Media Policy and codifying policies and procedure for the Ombudsman and for Victim Services.

In all of this, Cooper explained, members of the Task Force are reviewing policies from other dioceses and choosing best practices. The group works together on Google Classroom and is keen to “make policies that are clear and easy to understand,” Cooper said. “Not legalese. It is not necessary. Just say what you’re doing.

Bishop Johnston’s two other Commitments deal in the area of Victim Services. A Spiritual Guide Program “to better equip Church members with skill sets regarding how sexual abuse, particularly by the hands of someone in the Church, impacts the faith journey of OCYP clients,” is being investigated by Fr. Greg Haskamp, Fr. Joseph Cisetti and Victim Services Coordinator Kathleen Chastain.

Chastain has also pulled together a Remembrance Committee “to explore and recommend a manner in which the diocese could build a memorial to honor sexual abuse victims and survivors harmed by someone in the Church. The goal of this memorial is to serve as a place of prayer for all; a lasting reminder of the sins of the past; and a gesture of healing, outreach, and reconciliation.” Early internal discussions indicate the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is a strong contender for the location of the memorial.


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October 30, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph