End the Era of ‘Hand Slaps’ and Speak Up

by Kathy Kane

The section of the 2011 Grand Jury Report regarding the case of lay teacher Bernard Shero, documents that a mother had safety concerns about him when he taught at her child’s parish school. She contacted the local police to share her concerns. Subsequently, the pastor called the mother to the parish rectory and chastised her.

Think of the “hand slap,” familiar to many Catholic school graduates of a certain age, involving a ruler and an extended hand. The pastor was not pleased this mother made her concerns public and she received a verbal hand slap. This happened in the 1990’s, not that long ago.

I’ve been thinking about all of the Archdiocesan news developments this past year. When the high school teachers went on strike in September of 2011 and the Archdiocese would not agree to use a mediator, a local mother called a press conference and formed the group Catholic Parents Respond. When the Blue Ribbon Commission called for the closing of many schools in their 2012 report, people organized within hours to protest and challenge the decisions. People were very public with their opinions in broadcast interviews and newspaper articles. Some schools held rallies that the press covered. Social media was flooded with Facebook pages set up to protest the closings and the comments left on Archbishop Chaput’s pages were anything but passive.

There were other stories in the news. A student from Archbishop Carroll was banned from attending the prom without a date. That made local and national news. In recent weeks, a young girl made national headlines for protesting the Archdiocesan policy that prohibits her from playing football on her local parish CYO team. The petition on Change.org has over 30,000 signatures and was “retweeted “by Ellen DeGeneres.

Clearly, many Philadelphia Catholics can speak up now if an issue moves us.

We often talk about clericalism on this site and the damaging power and influence it can wield. Clericalism is not just a mentality of the clergy, but of many people within the Church. There are those who think an opinion should not be voiced, a thought not expressed, a voice not heard. I imagine it must have been shocking them in this very conservative, clerical Archdiocese to hear people boldly speak up, speak out during this past year.

The mother who was chastised for going to the police concerning Bernard Shero is to be commended. She spoke up at a time when many in the Archdiocese were probably having their “hands slapped” when they voiced concerns. Obviously, if the past year is any example, those days are over.

The trick to avoid having your hand slapped is not to pull your hand away, but to remove the ruler from the hand of the person who is inflicting that punishment.

30 thoughts on “End the Era of ‘Hand Slaps’ and Speak Up

  1. I know that Chaput continued to try to slap hands after he arrived here and was very adverse to criticism, Perhaps now that so many have spoken up he maybe got the message. I hope so.

  2. I cannot emphasize enough to everyone to do what the Mother did in the Shero case. If you see anything suspicious at all..anything on a school campus,within a school, etc.. call the police. Do not wait for permission..you do not need someone’s permission to call the police..You are a citizen ,a parent..no one can tell you what you can and cannot do. File a report,make record of your concern.

    1. Kathy, If one were to report an incident to the police, wouldn’t it be best before AND afterward to exchange no information and have no discussion with the parish, school or the AD?
      Reading through the hundreds and hundreds of victims’ accounts available online, nothing good ever seemed to happen when parents reached out to “work with” the AD.
      ( But for that matter, as i have come to see it, abuse or no abuse, exchanging nothing and having little to do with the AD, is probably the wisest way for any of us to proceed.)

      1. Crystal you ask a great question. The problem is when things may not necessarily be a “crime” that could ONLY be handled by police. For example the priest that was arrested last year for soliciting prostitution and then the 17 year old came on the C4C site claiming that the priest had texted him the following day. Texting a 17 year old is not a crime,it is breaking the policy of the AD . So I contacted the AD to let them know that this priest violated their policy but I also contacted ChildLine to make a report. Child Line and police cannot prosecute an adult for texting a minor BUT that is now a matter that has been recorded should in the future it be pertinent to any other investigation that should take place. So in that case I did both..I always will do both because if you do not contact the AD, then they can say they did not know and could do nothing about it. I will never let someone be in the position of being able to say they did not know.

    2. “The section of the 2011 Grand Jury Report regarding the case of lay teacher Bernard Shero, documents that a mother had safety concerns about him when he taught at her child’s parish school. She contacted the local police to share her concerns. Subsequently, the pastor called the mother to the parish rectory and chastised her.”

      I also think that pastor who “chastised her,” should be named.

      Sister Maureen

  3. Handslaps are good, but handcuffs are better. Australia is about to spend $100 million to investigate, and refer to prosecutors, organizational child abusers, especially in the Cathoilic Church. The bishops there are trembling in fear. Why hasn’t C4C strongly called on President Obama to have a similar commission here? If C4C has, forgive me. I missed it. Whatever, cuffs not claps are what is needed!

    1. The situation is bad enough already. Let’s not make it 100 time worse by getting King Obama into the mix.

      1. Right, John. You are going to beat Chaput by blogging him to extinction. Get real, please, and spare me the right wing nonsense. We have a government to protect us and our children. Obama heads it whether you voted for him or not. Let’s demand he does his job like the Australian Prime Minister is doing hers.

        Is Seth Williams going to do it, as he weaves his way to try to become the next Philly mayor with the desired support of Chaput and ex-Gov. Rendell, whose reported law partner, Gina Smith, presumably for big fees helps Chaput save suspected priests that Rigali suspended almost two years ago yet still remain unsupervised and unresolved, apparently?

        Meanwhile, in the current trial, the hand picked judge who replaced Judge Sarmina pushes for almost absolute secrecy.

        Wake up, Philly! Handcuffs, not hand claps. And other than some sacrificial subordinates like Lynn, you will never see any PA handcuffs on any of the hierarchy!

    2. I’m sure you recall Pam Krstic’s evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry last year, she lost her job as a teacher at a Catholic school over her concerns about a priest… disgusted with the disregard for the ongoing plight of many students placed at risk by the convicted pedophile priests in her parish.
      Former teacher weeps at priest’s betrayal of children.The Age Nov. 13 2012.

      1. L. Newington, I would like to hear more individually and collectively, from the teachers and principals of the victims of the archdiocese of Philadelphia…the faculty…the professionals who were hired and trusted to protect those children during the school day. A few have spoken, but there were hundreds of these professionals…their input would be powerful. What did they see and hear and think at the time? What do they feel went wrong in their institutions? How did this happen? ..What was the problem? …Name the problem! Show some responsibility…show some regret.

        How did so many students slip through their hands and into the hands of sexual predators, often right on school/ church property?! These children were their “life’s work”….Don’t they now, in 2013, have anything collectively to say about a scandal so monstrous? These professionals were on the front lines of this scandal. Their employer, the AD, put them there. What are they doing now to promote justice for these victims? How do they feel about the fact that the AD spends millions defending itself today? Where is their sense of duty to these broken children and their families? Where is their outrage?

        1. Crystal in the case of Shero the procedure at the time was to remove anything negative from a file when the teacher went on to another assignment. Could you have sent a teacher on to another school knowing that children and parents had concerns about his behavior with children? No, you would not do it..I would not do it either. Awhile back a nun was commenting on C4C ,something to the effect that we might not understand how difficult the system is ,how people try to speak up but are not listened to..I believe when we challenged her a bit, she stopped commenting. I have spoken up in emails,letters,meeting..you name it..You have to get to the point that your fear of children being harmed ,outweighs your
          fear or allegiance to a system . Have many arrived at that point yet? That is why I mentioned in the above post that clericalism is not just a mentality of clergy.

          1. Kathy, Clericalism was certainly enabled by the laity.

            About these faculty members who heard and saw nothing…and could do nothing …Throughout my life, i’ve repeatedly heard catholic school teachers claim that they prefer to teach in AD catholic schools because they can’t deal with what goes on in the public schools…..They “can’t stand how in public schools, the kids are so lacking in character…as are the parents… the lack of parental responsibility…the potential for danger and violence..”

            So what does their silence about the scandal tell us about these professionals? What does it say about THEIR character, THEIR responsibility…about THEIR level of commitment to the safety of children? Looks like they’re no better than the dreaded public school crowd after all.

          2. Crystal and the parents. I have seen people go completely mute when a priest is accused of something,the same parents who would have absolutely no problem going crazy if the situation happened in a “non Catholic” situation. If the Archdiocese was made up of parents like the Mom in the Shero situation,children would have been safer. The indoctrination is so deep,the fear that you are going against God if you speak up. The craziest situation I know of personally is of a priest who admitted the abuse and I still run into parents who think he didn’t do it..an admission cannot even penetrate their denial.

          3. When Sr. Maureen said that the parish priest, who “slapped the hand” of the mother who contacted the police due to her concerns over Shero’s inappropriate behaviors, should be “named,” I agree. I also think he should be prosecuted for obstructing, colluding, and conspiring. But what about the religious sisters who were principals at schools where abuse occurred? Name a group more paralyzed, historically, by clericalism! Those who remained silent are obstructors, colluders, and conspirers in my book, too. I’m pretty sure Sr. Maureen would agree.

            Only when clericalism is viewed as a crime against humanity and punishable by law, as opposed to some sort of bizarre priestly Other culture, will you see it disappear from our Church history.

            The harm clericalism has done to our Church over the ages is just unfathomable and unconscionable. For anyone, including the faithful, to engage in it is immoral. Fear, indoctrination, neediness… never were, and are not now, excuses.

          4. Kate I believe the principals of the schools where Shero taught were all lay teachers,not that it matters and the GJ report claims they were following the policy of the time. It is all in the 2011 GJ report under the Shero section..the complaints,the policy of removing negative files,the mother complaining,the priest chastising..all in there.

          5. Kate pgs 69-72. The situation where the mother went to police did not result in any charges so the priest could not be charged with anything like obstruction because he did not interfere with the Mother going to police, but complained after the fact that she went to police. Shero is on trial for the crimes that allegedly happened at St Jerome’s, not the other allegations from the schools he also taught. It is worth the read though, to see how Shero remained in the system even with the complaints/concerns. It will also be interesting to see if these allegations will be allowed at this present trial. Wouldn’t it be great if the mother who was “hand slapped” can take the stand!


    3. Gerry, I once again wholeheartedly agree with you. As a survivor of clergy sexual abuse watching President Obama so quickly cut to the chase to protect children against gun violence, though I agree with what he is doing and quickly, I feel a sense of sadness that so many of us as children who are still being sexually abused, the number in the thousands, nothing is being done on a state or federal level. Why? Why are we being continuously ignored? Our lives will always be altered. I am still working on my abuse in therapy going on 23 years! Why all the silence? Where is the help that many of us need on an emotional and financial level? Everyone talks but I continue to see many survivors suffering. Why can’t we get these laws passed in Pennsylvania, years keep passing by with no change, on the federal level Rich and I keep writing letters as well as the many letters I have also to the Pa. legislature, I hear nothing. What will it take to have all our voices heard, our anquish our agony our pain. Does anyone have any answers, why are we overlooked?

  4. Yes, I think for so long it was protocol for “good” Catholics to treat situations differently than they normally would if it involved someone associated with the Church, ie.clergy. In a situation they would treat one way with a “lay” person, they would step back and say, “oh, well it’s a priest….that’s different” when the same situation involved clergy. That has caused so much damage. I believe for many those days are over. In this country, all are to be treated equally. All are to be respected and judged equally. Uniform fairness in a given situation, not preferential treatment. I think some of your examples prove that many have reached this realization.

  5. The days of mindless sheep who do not question, critique or debate the Church’s dictates and teachings are history, long gone and rightfully so, the Church may declare itself as not being a democracy but neither is it a totalitarian regime…..the people are not sheeple nor are they pew potatoes

    1. I see precious little evidence of any of that. I see them marching into mass every Sunday.(Along with their Children who they turn over to the religious activities.)

      1. Nah, Nichols, don’t be fooled by appearances or claims. It’s just not so. Look at the statistics.The church is shriveling in the harsh glare of the truth –so easily accessed these days.
        Sure, there are still some faithful followers and some struggling “diehards”, but real participation in the religion has diminished drastically. While some younger catholics remain socially active in parishes and schools, an overwhelming number of them have detached their hearts and minds from roman-style Catholicism. The trend had been growing for decades, but when the Boson scandal broke in 2002, the ground slipped away under the institution.

  6. Kathy, you are so correct that this is not the time to relent and back off the quest for justice especially from the hierarchical power structures.
    they do not want any opposition and they do not expect that the laity are adult enough to rasie questions which need to be faced. The “Church” is you and all the people of the faith community. We want answers and we want justice. Sexual predators cannot be hidden or ignored. Authorities who want to diminish the scandal had better stop their thinking and remember that the Bishops work for us. They are paid by us. They have a responsibility to us to tell the truth and to take responsibility, not simply to “protect an institution but to be honest and trustworthy in their role. We are not simply dealing with dogmatic teaching. We are seeking protection for children and responsibility for the actions of those given such significant roles in the lives of our people and for the children of our community.
    The people need to say,”enough is enough”. No more allowing ecclesial intimidation to keep the people quiet. What ever it takes to make the hierarchy listen and respond to these critical issues that is what is important.
    I have mentioned books previously and people may be interested: George Wilson, sj, Clericalism: The death of the priesthood and Jason Berry and Gerald Renner Vows of Silence. Both are eyeopeners for all of us.
    John Kaufman, I am sorry that you introduced such a negative and sarcastic attack on your entry against the president. We are not concerned with civil politics here. Truly this site deals with church politics and attitudes and these are the ones we need to challenge and change. Because we are such a monarchical institution, we need to challenge those in authority and they need to hear from the people the anger and the fear that comes from those who are on the lower end of the hierarchical ladder of power. No More!! That ladder has become a circle of mutual responsibility and sharing

  7. I wrote a comment on the previous blog that I wish to repeat here(only) in part. It seems what we hate about the Roman Catholic church is the CORPORATE PART’ We cannot take. our blessed savior, JESUS CHRIST out of the corporate. WE DO NOT HAVE. TO…REMEMBER HE SAID IN SCRIPTURE.. “you did not call ME, I CALLED YOU..lest ye should boast!” This is a very FREEING THING FOR HIM TO SAY, LEST SOMEONE SHOULD BOAST THAT THEY CALLED US! THEY DIDN’T! GOD. CALLED US. & HE WILL NOT BE MOCKED..we must not mock HIM by our unbelief in HIS WORDS THAT GUIDE, and Teach us.

    We should not give a “flippin’ ” care what corporate is doing except to PRACTICE HIS HOLY WORD. IN OUR DAILY LIVES… HIS WORD IS CONTRARY to the. corporate catholic church. Preach His Word and the TRUTH WILL SET US ALL FREE FROM this entity that wishes us nothing but CAPTIVITY to their way.

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