A Theology of Memory in Response to Clerical Sexual Abuse

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Marcel Uwineza, SJ

 Marcel Uwineza, SJ / Church Life / 3 November 2021


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On October 5, 2021, the Report of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuses in the Church in France was published. It was requested by the French Bishops’ Conference and is now available for in-depth examination so that more effective strategies can be taken in the fight against abuse.

The Report shows that over a period of 70 years some 3,000 priests and religious sexually abused minors or vulnerable persons. A total of 216,000 people in France today (with a margin of error of 50,000) have been abused by Catholic priests and religious. If we include assaults committed by lay people (especially in schools), this estimate rises to 330,000. However, this is only one piece of a larger picture.

The worldwide crisis of clergy sexual abuse has inflicted wounds that will take many years to heal. Yet there is still  denial of abuse. The terrible tragedy perpetrated against children and vulnerable adults by clergy still leaves extensive  scars on God’s people and calls for a theology that assesses the role of memory. Being convinced that a family that does not remember disappears, we believe that memory is a theological imperative. But what kind of memory? How does one heal memories? As Johann Baptist Metz pointed out in regard to the Jewish Holocaust,  God’s people must “not allow themselves to be talked out of such unreconciled memories, even by theology, but rather  have faith with them, and with them to speak about God”[1]

 

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