Teresa Pitt Green
Teresa Pitt Green

Are you aware that the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors has come to an important turning point since first established by Pope Frances? In March of 2014, Pope Francis established the Pontifical Commission, to be led by Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM, Cap. This gathering of world experts were told to identify “the most opportune initiatives for protecting minors and vulnerable adults, in order that we may do everything possible to ensure that crimes such as those which have occurred are no longer repeated in the Church. The Commission is to promote local responsibility in the particular Churches ...”

I saw the news and, as a clergy-abuse survivor, dismissed any idea that any institution could have any impact where I knew the hurt of abuse and the healing happened — in one person, one relationship at a time. My tiny little ministry was chugging along, and I paid no attention to the Commission. My work was busy helping individuals, families, clergy and ministers heal from abuse in faith settings, especially in the Catholic setting.

Soon after being formed, the Commission was shaken. At the time, I was co-founding a magazine about abuse, healing and faith. Its contributors were survivors but also family members, clergy, clinicians, ministries, secular advocates and lay Catholics. As the magazine took off, little was happening based on the Commission’s recommendations. The first clergy-abuse survivor (Peter Saunders) and then, the second (Marie Collins), resigned. Some survivors despaired at this news and left our small magazine. The scale at which we were helping others was eclipsed by the Commission’s reach, surely, but those of us who remained saw the turn of events as a sign that the institutional Church could not pull off survivor engagement on a world scale. I felt confirmed on our very different path.

Then came the “Summer of Shame.” Both the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the Theodore McCarrick revelations erupted. At the time, I was talking with my friend and fellow clergy-abuse survivor Luis A. Torres, Jr., about the need for trauma-informed pastoral care in the Church. Luis insisted he knew the right spiritual guide for our work and invited me to meet a remarkable priest, who happened to have become a bishop in Albany. Dedicated to working under the radar and away from the hierarchy, I was in no mood to meet a bishop, but Luis is persuasive. With temperatures stuck above 100 degrees and the roads mushy underfoot, I found my way from Virginia to Albany to meet Bishop Ed. He quickly proved to be a spiritual guide we needed for work which Luis and I called Spirit Fire. Here was a bishop who understood the spiritual dimension of our wound — and who was interested in the integrated recovery we were describing.

In 2018, Luis and I were invited to address the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops during their General Assembly following the Summer of Shame. Two spiritual realities overwhelmed us. First, we were representing generations of survivors who had not had a voice, yet our voices and stories were only our own. We could not presume to speak for others. Second, we were facing bishops, archbishops, and cardinals who were trying to find a way to hear and understand the stories of victims — and to support healing for a wound that does not really heal. Luis and I left the General Assembly confirmed in our goal. Spirit Fire was founded.

The Commission reappeared in my life. I was approached by one of its working groups tasked with listening to survivors. We developed a panel of clergy-abuse survivors to meet with this subset of the Commission. Due to limited satellite coverage of continents where members were dispersed in ministries, there was only one time a day when all working group members could attend virtually. It was a first. A panel we organized gave other survivors a voice. We helped survivors prepare. Scattered all over the United States, each person needed to plan for support on-site for coping with the emotional fallout after speaking to such a panel virtually, from an empty room or home. Everyone came away inspired. The panels became routine. We also brought together family members before the working group with their own stories of grief and pain. Eventually, these virtual panels were created for clergy-abuse survivors in every region of the Church, on every continent. Seeing the Commission listening to survivors and families, I had to admit they were not out of touch.

There were other working groups listening and exploring ways, as Pope Francis had directed, “to promote the local responsibility in the particular Churches.” Consider the challenge. The universal moral good of safety for minors and vulnerable adults must be advanced. The Church is uniquely able to accomplish this good because we reach every culture and region of the planet. Yet, practiced respect and restraint is crucial. Painful memories and losses suffered by grandparents and parents facing imperial colonizers linger, as any trauma lingers. Something similar is true in pastoral care for victims from cultures which do not ascribe, for example, to a Western therapeutic model. With spiritual ballast offered by Bishop Ed, Spirit Fire has grappled with these realities, too, in our multicultural society.

In 2021, the Commission was ready to identify culturally sensitive, best practices for the Church Universal. Programs from different regions were identified to provide programming for the Church, everywhere, to adapt. During the global pandemic, the Commission’s work continued, but shifted online. Spirit Fire was invited to provide go-to guidance for trauma-informed pastoral care. We accepted and have added hundreds of articles, webinars, and other resources to the Commission’s Knowledge Base. This includes a new broadcast on Abuse, Faith, and Pastoral Care with 60 weekly episodes geared toward clergy and parish programming.

The Commission once felt distant, institutional, even impersonal, but its work has reached across barriers. Programming for the Church Universal is taking root and is partnering with clergy-abuse survivors who have had to recover from abuse and who return now, as wounded healers, if you will, to help others tend the spiritual dimension of the wound of abuse and to integrate faith with all recovery modalities. Thanks to the Commission for the Protection of Minors, Spirit Fire is taking our little private effort global, healing one person and one relationship at a time.

Teresa Pitt Green is the co-founder of Spirit Fire and The Healing Voices Magazine, and the host for the Spirit Fire Global Broadcast on Abuse, Faith, and Pastoral Care (spiritfirelive.org). Co-author with Father Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS, of Veronica’s Veil: A Christ-centered Guide to Pastoral Care for Adult Survivors of Clergy Abuse, Green is an international speaker, author, and survivor advocate working with the USCCB, CMSM, and Catholic organizations.