Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


New Victims’ Assistance Coordinator begins work for diocese

Story and photo by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Sept. 11, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary ButlerMary Butler has begun her service as Victims’ Assistance Coordinator, working with victims of sexual abuse. (IR photo)

As the Spokane Diocese continues to work toward healing and reconciliation of the sexual abuse crisis, a new staff member has come on board at the Catholic Pastoral Center.

Mary Butler, a retired hospital administrator, will work with Father Steve Dublinski, the diocese’s vicar general, in a new position with a very long title: “Special Assistant to the Vicar General and Victims’ Assistance Coordinator.”

“I want to see more people really believing the message that the diocese is being open and transparent,” Butler said during a recent interview. “I want to see the word get out to everyone that we want the victims to come forward. Because until we know what has gone on, or what is going on, we can’t bring about the changes that we need so that it never happens again.”

The former vice president of Sacred Heart Medical Center began her work last month and has already experienced first-hand the stories of some victims of clergy sexual abuse. That aspect of the job will no doubt prove difficult and taxing. It is part of the challenge, and part of the opportunity as well.

She points out that she will not function as a counselor, or as a friend for victims. She describes the work as walking “side by side” with victims “on their journey to get what they need, to advocate for them in the healing process.”

That involves being something of a go-between to see to it that victims receive the kinds of assistance they need to begin that healing process.

Part of the work will involve being “a compassionate listener,” as she describes it. “I can create an atmosphere” in which victims can come forward to meet with counselors, meet with church leaders.

That doesn’t necessarily mean victims must come from the far reaches of the diocese, or even the state, in order to share their stories and seek help. “I’ll go wherever they wish,” she said. “If they want me to come to their part of the state I’m happy to do that, or if they want to come here they’re welcome to do that . We’ll find the best place” for that process to begin.

Butler originally trained as a nurse. In time she began work in hospital administration. She spent over nine years at Providence Hospital in Oakland, Calif., before moving to Sacred Heart Medical Center, Spokane. She retired from SHMC in 2002, after 20 years.

She admits she was “happily loving” retirement and the opportunity to be involved in a number of community projects. “I really prayed” about the decision to work as the victims’ assistance coordinator.

What would bring her out of retirement?

“I love the church,” she said simply. “To use my experience, what I’ve learned, from my lifetime in hospital administration career, to be a small part of the healing that the church needs right now, gave me a challenge that I didn’t want to miss,” she said. “I felt that this was the Lord saying to me that he wanted to use me in a small way. That’s a comforting thought,” she said, “but also challenging.”

Specific preparation for the job included a workshop at St. Mary College, Mundelein, Ill. The conference, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Chicago, is an annual session for assistance coordinators.

She was one of about 100 indivduals from around the country attending, Butler said.

The conference offered her “a superb orientation,” she said. Especially helpful was information about how other diocesan ssistance coordinators function. “Now I have a network” of individuals doing similar ministry, she said, as well as the benefit of their experience. “I don’t feel like I have to reinvent the wheel.”

Years of administrative experience may well have helped prepare her for what lies ahead. A victims’ advocate can sometimes serve as a lightning rod for people’s anger. Those skills, acquired over a lifetime of service, will come in handy. “I bet this job will tap every one of them,” she said.

She will serve as the direct contact for victims, for reports of abuse. She will be meeting with victims as necessary, and will be sitting in on meetings of the diocesan Review Board, which examines allegations of sexual abuse. She also will be documenting allegations of abuse, so that investigations can be conducted accurately.

But there’s more to the work than acting as an advocate for victims. The diocese’s efforts toward healing and reconciliation include transparency, accountability, response, and education.

One of her goals is to ensure that the diocese’s efforts are “consistent in doing those things that we need to be doing: communicating, being transparent, being open and honest,” she said. “Through these efforts we can continue with the healing process that needs to occur in the church. Everybody’s doing so much,” she said, in a team effort. Coalescing those efforts, coordinating them, might also result in more effective outcomes.

“I know that as part of my role, I have to take care of myself,” she said. “My prayer life is my anchor.”

Above all, there is a sense of hope, a sense of movement through the commitment of the diocese to this effort. “Progress,” she said, “will happen for the diocese.”

(To contact Mary Butler, call (509) 998-8340. The number is a cell phone not routed through any diocesan telephone systems.)


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