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The Ongoing Problem of Power and Control for the Church

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

by M. MacPherson


The diocese in my community of London Ontario recently made decisions to limit supports to survivors, citing “industry standards” that stipulate “reasonable counselling” for survivors of priest sexual abuse is three to five years with a limit on professional fees of $120 hour. The Safe Environment Advisory Committee of the diocese will assess any petitions for further counselling. I listened to Rev. John Comisky being interviewed on CBC to defend the policy. He was directly challenging statements made by John Swales in earlier interview. John does not believe the church is sincere in the many public apologies recently made. He cited this decision by the London diocese to cut off supports for survivors as evidence. In his response, Comisky openly expresses the perspective of an institution that is grudgingly forced to provide supports for the people it has harmed. As I listen, I hear that the problem is in having been caught, not the deeds themselves.


In this way, the Church actively promotes the idea that survivors should be grateful for any crumb of support it provides. Unfortunately this idea gets picked up in the public sphere and echoed with the underlying resentment that is built in. ‘Do you mean to tell me that the church should just open the coffers and pay whatever people want?’ I say, ‘yes’ and ‘why not?’ Why not?


We’ve have been questioned about suggesting the church needs to become “willing to bankrupt itself” to make amends. “The church will never do that” is the response I hear most often. That is not a reason not to propose it. It is the right thing to do. Why shouldn’t the church become willing to use all of its material wealth to do everything it can to support the people it has hurt? Of all the corrupt institutions in the world, the church places itself as the moral authority. That means there is a compelling mandate for the Church to lead the way for healing. The wealth of the church has come from the people. It’s time to give it back.


This is a radical idea that goes to the root of the problem. As long as the church continues to hold the power and control that decides on the degree of harm it has caused and then limits the support that is doled out in measured amounts, the abuse continues. There is no other interpretation possible. For the church to actually stop its abusive behaviour as an institution, it must give up all power to decide for people what they need to heal. It’s up to each individual. We need to insist on respect for individual healing journeys and acknowledge the impacts of trauma are over a lifetime. Humility is action that requires a practice.


The church must become willing to go to any length to support every person it has hurt. This includes family members. And, I would argue that this debt will be life-long. Dioceses will have to be supported financially by the Vatican for this to work. Whatever people need to achieve their potential should be provided. In providing the means for this to happen, there will be healing for individuals, for society and maybe even for the Church. Divesting itself of the glut of material wealth for the good of the people is the right action.


Let’s start a conversation in our communities about how to organize and engage the local dioceses in moving on the proposed actions. We don’t have to wait for the Pope. The church actually needs the ideas to come from survivors to lead them out of the darkness. And, we must continue to press Pope Francis to make it a global action.




Photo by Kyler Nixon @knixon

M.MacPherson is a freelance public servant with an unwavering belief that as a species, we can do a lot better.


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© 2018 Dear Pope Francis: Letters from survivors, family and friends