July 26, 2002

Mercys Express Concern for All Touched by Current Catholic Church Crisis

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas are actively involved in efforts to bring growth and healing out of this time of ecclesial trauma and clerical scandal.

The Institute Leadership Team and 25 regional community presidents sent a letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, current president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), offering their prayerful support. The letter also urged the Bishop to invite to the June USCCB conference in Dallas, Texas, persons "whose experience and/or expertise can assist the bishops in their analysis and understanding of our current reality."

The Institute Commission on Women in/of the Church responded to comments reported in the media after the Cardinals visit in Rome. In a letter to Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, they asked that the Cardinal to use his position and skills to ensure that significant dialogue with lay leaders, men and women, precede decisions and statements to the press at the time of the Bishop's Conference.

The Institute Justice Team prepared a statement, which was included in a press packet distributed at the Dallas Conference of Bishops on June 13.

Institute Justice Team Statement: As women religious committed to mercy and justice throughout the world and especially in the Catholic Church, we are very troubled by the continuing revelations of instances of sexual abuse of children by clergy.


  • We offer our sincere concern and support to persons who have been victims of sexual abuse by clergy;
  • We are angry and saddened that such abuse would happen at all, that persons trusted to care and minister, would bring abuse and harm to the very persons they are called to serve;
  • We are outraged that conditions existed that would allow repeated violations of the trust that has been extended to members of the clergy;
  • We denounce the implication and the fallacy that sexual abuse tendencies are inherent in the homosexual orientation or the vowed celibate life;
  • We are heartened at the efforts to assure that systems are in place to immediately remove clergy who are perpetrators of child sexual abuse from contact with minors;
  • It is our hope that these events will move the hierarchy of our church to eliminate the patriarchal structures of domination by increasing participation of the laity and developing greater transparency in church decision-making.

Sisters of Mercy have participated in local forums scheduled in various dioceses in recent weeks. Sister Karen Donahue (Chicago) attended one of 40 such forums held throughout the Archdiocese of Chicago. She found participants very honest and forthright, very conscious of the significance of their role in the church, and able and willing to assume their rightful role in the church. "I think we are on the verge of a new moment in the church," said Karen. "The monarchical model no longer serves the needs of the faithful in an age of literate and educated laity."

Sister Donna Ryan (Omaha), a parish minister at the cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri, As chaplain and host to many groups, she has heard many people express anger about abuse of power and authority, especially when support from the church in their times of need was denied. She tries to say, "Trust the church again." She believes that Mercys' challenge "is to help the church articulate clearly the real, systemic abuses."

"We have taken many risks before," she says, (walking with immigrants, nuclear weapons protestors, civil rights activists), "and I never remember being told to be careful and quiet."

Sister Mary Aquin O'Neill (Baltimore) and Dr. Diane Caplan of Mount Saint Agnes Theological Center for Women, appeared on the Marc Steiner talk show, participated on a parish panel, and was interviewed by several newspaper reporters. She noted that feminine voices in these conversations tend to be in the minority. Mount Saint Agnes has provided local parishes with the names of several women willing to serve on panels.

In Manchester, New Hampshire, Sisters of Mercy joined several groups seeking justice and healing for a Prayer Vigil for Victims of Sexual Abuse. "If we don't speak, who will?" they asked, "If we don't speak out now, then when? If not here, where?"

For a broad review of the issue, sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, go to the May 27 or June 3, 2002 issues of America magazine (www.americamagazine.org), and the April 19 and June 1, 2002 issues of Commonweal. As this issue continues to evolve, the possibility of new allegations against women religious is real. The Institute Communications Office will keep members and associates informed as fully as possible.

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