A new book by St. Bonaventure University’s Fr. David B. Couturier, O.F.M. Cap., discusses the dynamics of the sexual abuse and leadership crisis in the Catholic Church in light of Franciscan ideas of reform and renewal.
A professor of theology and Franciscan studies, Fr. Couturier is also director of the Franciscan Institute.
His book, “The Voice of Victims. The Voice of the Crucified,” discusses the psychological and organizational dynamics that gave rise to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the ways that church leaders have been morally negligent in listening to the cries of victims.
Fr. Couturier takes up the difficult discussion of how the church that understands itself as “the community of the Beloved of God” became — in one generation — a “culture of cruelty and corruption” against its parishioners, especially the youngest among them.
Fr. Couturier posits that the path to church recovery and reconciliation with victims must be through the practice of radical attentive listening to the pain caused and the violence inflicted by abuse itself and the cold indifference of church leaders.
He suggests that the Scriptures offer a practice for this attentive listening project. It is found in the ancient practice of anamnesis, the retrieval of Scripture’s memories that we too were once victims of abuse, oppression and injustice as slaves in Egypt and as persecuted communities in the Early Church.
Fr. Couturier believes that these practices of deep “attentive radical listening” will be needed to hear the cries of our victims behind our rationalizations, self-serving biases and clerical attitudes of dispassionate distance.
Throughout the book, Fr. Couturier presents short personal case studies: the first person who told him in high school that he had been sexually abused by his grandfather, a seminarian attacked by a beloved priest, a woman who became a victim of the human trafficking enterprise of Western New York, among others.
“These tragic vignettes remind us of the real lives, the vivid pain and the difficult challenges that remain in order to make all parties whole,” he said.
Fr. Couturier presents the story of Francis of Assisi as a poignant “crisis over bodies,” by which Francis has to convert from his arrogant dismissal of deformed and diseased bodies, if he is ever to find the peace he is looking for as a tortured soldier just home from war.
The presentation of “Clare as Proto-Feminist of Hope” provides a new look at Clare as the mother of future liberation movements as she constructs new methods of discernment, agency, and communal responsibility and accountability among her sisters. Fr. Couturier offers an intriguing look at the “seven freedoms of Clare” and how they apply to our leadership crisis today.
The book is represented to general readers who are horrified and disillusioned by the abuse crisis and want to know how to take the next steps to help their communities become aware and take responsibility for the healing of victims and the church.
The book is published by Franciscan Institute Publications and can be purchased online at www.franciscanpublications.com.
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