Sexual abuse crisis has 'unfinished business' — Kenny

March 14, 2011
Sr. Nuala Kenny

Sr. Nuala Kenny


WINNIPEG — She is passionate about her Church and even more passionate about the topic of abuse of children by priests in the Church and why it happened.

Sister Nuala Kenny, a Sister of Charity of Halifax and a retired pediatrician and medical ethicist, says there is still "unfinished business" from the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

"We have not yet identified and dealt with these underlying causes of clergy sexual abuse," Kenny told members of the Catholic Women's League here Feb. 12. "Denying or avoiding these deeper questions is to fail our Church in its time of need."

Kenny believes the laity, and especially women, have a special role to play. Apologies are important, she said, as are screening, education, protocols and policies.

But treating symptoms without getting to the cause of those symptoms not only prolongs suffering but can cause death, said the sister who served on the archdiocesan commission on clergy abuse in St John's, Nfld., and later the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' ad hoc committee on clergy abuse.

Kenny praised the important early leadership of the Canadian Church in dealing with the issue.

That leadership focused on the important issues of the screening of candidates for priesthood, priestly formation and protocols and policies for dealing with allegations, she said.


However, the underlying questions of why the abuses happened and why bishops, priests and laity allowed it to happen have not been followed up.

Since she introduced the subject to the CWL national convention in 2010, Kenny has been invited by CWL groups across the country to talk about the "unfinished business" of clergy sexual abuse.

In Winnipeg, she spoke to 145 league members from across Manitoba who were gathered for their annual provincial day of celebration.

The victims of abuse are first and foremost children, but the whole Church is suffering from this crisis, Kenny said.

Innocent bishops and priests have been particularly affected. They can no longer have an informal relationship with teens or children or women in case they are implicated in something improper.

"They have become watched, lonely men at a time when they need loving support more than ever," she said.

A priest who attended the session said Kenny's comments were true.

He said he is extremely careful around children lest a sympathetic hug or touch on the shoulder be construed as something else. He felt he has to be constantly on guard, and the constant watchfulness is stressful.

Kenny said there are no simple or single answers to why abuse happens. "We need to return to the notion of the priesthood of the baptized and prayerfully address how we are with each other and for the world," she said.

"While denial and avoidance are strategies for many, we must commit to reflect prayerfully on the underlying issues and learn from them."