by Jenifer Valenti
As director of the Office of Protection and Care and former ombudsman serving the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, I have been in church abuse ministry for over a decade. While he has experience dealing with victim crimes as a former prosecutor, I have learned so much from this ministry.
The church’s prevention efforts over the past 20 years, coupled with society’s improved understanding and response to sexual abuse, have significantly reduced its incidence. It takes each of us to create a strong protective safety net. We are grateful to all of you who have done your part to strengthen our awareness and prevention efforts.
The Office of Protection and Care Ministry includes both abuse prevention and sexual abuse response, caring for abuse victims who have been harmed by someone in a trusted position in the church. Our team is responsible for responding to abuse by conducting investigations and accompanying victims on their healing journeys. I have seen the wounds caused by abuse, but it has been especially painful to witness the devastation caused when our response to a victim’s disclosure falls short of our Catholic values.
Several years ago, I decided to help the church take a different approach to responding to abuse, one based on remedial principles. Restorative principles recognize that humans are fundamentally relational, and church sexual abuse creates harm in a variety of relationships. According to these principles, whenever harm is caused, it creates needs in those who have been injured and creates an obligation on the part of the person or institution that caused the harm to work to remedy it.
I wish we could go back in time and stop the abuses of the past, but since we can’t do that, we must, as a church, work to meet the needs that have arisen from that harm. Often sexual abuse steals dignity and control and creates deep feelings of shame, denial, anger, depression, shattered trust. Restorative practices are designed to empower the victim and support them on a healing journey by aiming for true accountability.
I often hear well-meaning people say that this is a past church problem. While our prevention efforts have made great strides, the wounds of abuse and, often, the church’s response to such abuse, remain. Trust has been broken.
Our team is committed to serving this important ministry with humility and grace, recognizing that we still have much to do and learn. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused by an archdiocesan cleric, employee or volunteer, it would be our honor to visit you in the hopes that we can work to atone for those sins.