The following is a transcript Mark Joseph Williams reflection to the USCCB General Assembly:
As a clerical abuse survivor, a victim of a half-century ago, I am deeply grateful to have this opportunity to speak with you, the custodians of our Roman Catholic faith. You are entrusted across these vast United States to lead pilgrims of faith in the Joy of the Gospel. You are the primary evangelizers at this time here and now in all your respective dioceses. Pope Francis put it clearly and powerfully at the start of his papacy:
“May the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.”
It is in this hopeful joy, that I thank you for your courage to enact the Dallas Charter 20 years ago. I pray for your ongoing missionary work, that you will keep an unwavering commitment to hear the voices of the victims, and the survivors in and out of the pews towards greater healing and essential redemption. The Charter must continue to evolve. Accountability at all levels is of utmost importance to more fully realize a synodal Church.
As we mark this anniversary, I am grateful and I am encouraged by the work you are doing to rid abuse from our beloved Church. The countless abused in our midst desire to walk with you. We hunger for communion, to come together and partake of the bread of life, to share the eucharist, to have His body and blood heal us. I believe the Church is the solution, the way back and the way forward. It is the shared suffering of Calvary. It is the peace of reconciliation found in the living presence of the risen Lord. That peace fills one’s core when healing comes from the deep shame felt, the piercing pain of sexual abuse, a pain compounded by those who do not listen to the voices of victims. Many of the abused remain alone, cautious and cowering in fear. They need love. God’s love. For God is love. As Jesus wept for his friend Lazarus, he must now weep for the abused. Today we have a unique and heartened opportunity to be a synodal Church – a collaborative pilgrimage in faith – walking the common road.
We must heed Jesus’ command – “love one another as I have loved you.” I believe this means weeping to cleanse our sinful ways and as it has meant for me to rise from the abuse, the addiction, suicidal impulse. With the gift of grace, I had to create a new heart and work through my excruciating poverty of spirit. In order to do this, I needed to forgive my abuser – forgiveness not exoneration – to forgive in order to go on – to be free in Christ, his servant – albeit an ashamed, unworthy one. In the spirit of accompaniment, the journey as brothers and sisters in Christ along the synodal road, St. Paul speaks to us:
“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
The concrete reality of my relationship to Christ and his mystical body is the relationship he has allowed me to share with Joseph Tobin, the Cardinal Archbishop of Newark – his personal understanding, his humility, his selfless friendship, his merciful embrace of my wounds – all have been sacred gifts to me and life sustaining. They came in the midst of retriggered trauma when the revelations in the summer of 2018 hit us all so hard…how a prelate strayed – what a grand jury report documented – and so much more across the global Church. Close to home, in my own parish, there was behavior and cover-up I thought had long had its day. In this suffering, touching the raw wood of the cross again, the Holy Spirit taught me, opened to me the gift of – encounter – how Cardinal Tobin and I found a trust to simply be present to each other – to share Christ, to live his Paschal Mystery in real time as the summer of 2018 struck the Church like a ton of bricks. Trauma is the devil and mine was retriggered.
Synodality calls upon us to be open to the relationships that heal, that truly help, that engender faith. The synodal way, the common path, our shared road of the “Good News” is not an abstract idea. Rather, its fruit is realized through grace, especially out of suffering. Hope is real. Hope is Christ. Hope is found walking together.
Those hurt in the Church and by the Church must be part of the transformative grace that is the Cross.
We can carry one another’s Cross as Simon of Cyrene did for our Lord. I am so blessed to have the fraternal friendship of Cardinal Tobin, our recognition of each other’s dignity in our brokenness, in our search for more sustaining humility and lasting recovery in Christ. Pope Benedict XVI described the very heart of the Gospel when he wrote:
“Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.”
Joseph Cardinal Tobin has shown me in our encounter his decisive Christian way. I know I’ve shown him mine, too. This is grace. We will keep walking together. I pray at this moment that all here will walk with us and all who have been terribly abused in our Church.
Tomorrow I fly to the eternal city to be with my Global Collaborative colleagues, and fellow survivors: Dr. Jennifer Wortham, Archdiocese of Boston; Michael Hoffman, Archdiocese of Chicago, affirmed by Cardinal Blasé Cupich; Fr. Jerry McGlone, Archdiocese of Washington; and many others…to join other survivors near and far and leaders who work on behalf of victims and survivors from around the globe, especially our trusted brother and friend, Fr. Hans Zollner in Rome – with great comfort in our Holy Father’s blessing – to celebrate this year, November 18th and every year thereafter – as commissioned by the United Nations …
The World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence
This remarkable event would not have been possible without you, the American bishops … (notably Cardinal Sean O’Malley… his constancy on behalf of victims worldwide; his … support of Jennifer Wortham … whose extraordinary leadership literally helped to mobilize the globe … with the UN adopting the World Day just a week ago. It was emotional … moving for me and other survivors to be in that Assembly when over 120 countries voted YES, followed up by such affirming comments by Archbishop Gabriele Caccia, Permanent Observer, Holy See Mission to the United Nations… the passage … – our Lord’s divine providence.
Your collective voice to make the charter part of the DNA of our Church in 2002 – two decades ago led by Bishop – now Cardinal Wilton Gregory – was necessary and prophetic.
And, this World Day certainly would never have happened without the strength, fortitude and hope I discovered just a few years ago by Joseph Tobin accompanying me – in the love of our Lord, Redeemer – the crucified and risen one.
As our Holy Father has shared, “ [the Synod on Synodality] is not to create another Church, but to create a different Church.” I believe this creation is alive in this room today. Together we can be renewed in communion, in participation, and in mission – through the boundless gifts of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul wrote to the Romans and speaks to us right now, and forever more, on our common synodal road:
“ …[and] We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
My healing has come by being heard when I cried out. Jesus listened. He asked my name. He asked all of our names. His purpose is ours to live.
Thank you for walking with me and all the abused.