Christian Mediation in Clergy Abuse Cases?

Could Christian mediation help with the Catholic Church’s clergy abuse cases?

Christian mediation differs from standard mediation in that it consciously incorporates Christian principles into the mediation process, promoting not only resolution of the dispute but also reconciliation of the relationship, to whatever degree is appropriate. Far from settling with a compromise, Christian mediation has the potential to be transformative for one or both parties. The process brings the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear on the parties’ conflict, inviting them to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit as they seek to honor God by reflecting on how they may have contributed to the conflict, and forgiving wrongs done against them. Like all mediation, the process is voluntary; people go as far as they are comfortable going. The results can be astounding, achieving reconciliation where none was thought possible. (For more information on Christian mediation as conducted by the Institute for Christian Conciliation, visit the web-site for ICC Peace.)

Many survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests in the U.S. have filed civil lawsuits against their dioceses. As noted in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s report released last August, these are typically settled at the direction of the bishop in negotiations with the survivors’ attorneys. The issues are financial payment in return for a non-disclosure agreement; the plaintiffs do not interact with the bishop, and there is no discussion of non-litigation issues. While many civil lawsuits these days are referred to mediation,  I know of only one instance where “mediation” was used for clergy abuse cases, in Guam last fall. The process used there sounded from news reports like the standard form of mediation used in civil litigation, where the lawyers negotiate a dollar figure and clients are secondary participants. The mediator used in the Guam cases does not indicate on his web-site any skills or interest in spiritual matters or reconciliation. It may be that the plaintiffs were never in the same room with the bishop or his representatives. That means an opportunity was missed to bring some healing.

Could a Christian mediation process be used instead of the standard mediation model? Christian mediation depends on the willingness of both parties to explore the spiritual/relational aspect of their conflict, after preparation of each party separately. It has been used successfully in very serious cases, and has the potential to bring healing in clergy abuse cases. As in all post-criminal mediations, and all cases involving a child or otherwise powerless victim, the party in power is encouraged to focus on confession, while victims are encouraged to work on forgiveness. This concept has been used with success in victim-offender mediations. Imagine if, under the cloak of confidentiality, a bishop acknowledges his poor decisions to a now-adult survivor; then imagine that the survivor is able, through the grace of God, to express forgiveness to a humbled bishop. It could be a powerful step in bringing the Kingdom of Jesus Christ one step closer to reality.

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