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

St. Joseph Parish, Colbert, embraces new process for healing, reconciliation

by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the Nov. 15, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Beginning in September, 20 leaders from various parish groups and ministries at St. Joseph Parish, Colbert, participated in a series of six Thursday evening sessions designed to promote healing in the parish in the wake of the Diocese of Spokane’s clergy sexual abuse crisis and subsequent bankruptcy process. St. Joseph is the first in the diocese to complete the series offered by Spokane’s Center for Organizational Reform (COR).

Mary Butler, the diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, said that the parish’s pastor, Father Mike Kwiatkowski, “was way ahead of the curve on this one. He approached us months ago about doing something like this in his parish. When COR developed this process, and some of us participated in it, we thought this was definitely the way to go, and Father Mike was the first pastor to sign up.”

Parishioner Jim Dunn is co-chair of St. Joseph’s core team, which represents the parish’s social justice commitment to the wider community. “The sex abuse, (and the) resulting bankruptcy and settlement, created a crisis in our parish,” he said. “In discussing these issues, other church concerns also surfaced. Many faithful Catholics were confused, angry, and felt a loss that in many cases was ambiguous in nature and difficult to define or put into words. Issues varied among parishioners, but pain and injury were evident.”

Cheri McQuesten is a 25-year member of St. Joseph. She recently completed three years on the pastoral council, the last year serving as chairperson. Over the years, she has also been active in several other parish groups and ministries.

The COR program “provided nourishment to allay the weariness that has resulted from the unfolding revelations of abuse,” she said. The series “presented a larger perspective on how crisis affects whole systems and how that impacts us as individuals within the system. We began to understand that the trauma caused by crisis can only be healed in the context of collective support, and we wanted that support to come from and within our own parish.”

Keith Bryant is in his second year as a member of the parish council. He entered the Church four years ago.

“What I appreciated most was the chance to take a long and really thoughtful look at the whole sex abuse situation and the church as a whole, our parish, (and) individuals. We were able to take this long look at it together as a group. I think that was really important. Everyone who was in the group had been working on the healing project for the past year – and even with that, when we sat down (together), a lot of emotion came up and a lot of new ideas and thoughts came up.”

A 10-year parishioner, Molly McKinnon is active in her parish’s Just Faith program as both a participant and facilitator, she is active in the Interfaith Hospitality program, and she is a Spokane Alliance core team member.

She said the series “truly helped me to move to a point (where) I believed/experienced some healing and (I now) trust that our church can do (the same). The most important thing I learned is that this ‘healing’ is companionship rather than advocacy. Our purpose is to develop a program/project wherein people can share their feeling(s) without the need to conform them to any predetermined agenda.”

Dunn said that the series began with a six-hour introductory workshop for about 20 participants. That session explored “the nature of injuries, reconciliation, trust repair and restorative justice issues, as well as many other concepts. The dialogue it created among the attendees was extremely constructive and (led to) agreement that additional training was needed.”

Following this, a parish healing/outreach team was created, which included 14 of the original 20 members in an intensive 18-hour team-training workshop. The workshop’s goal was to help the parish “design a healing plan that had structure, procedures, and safeguards that would be tailored to our parish,” said Dunn. “The design recognized the need for individual healing as well as healing for the (parish community) as a whole. When an individual is hurt the whole (parish) is damaged.”

The program did not attempt to develop or define a healing plan for the parish, said Dunn – a real strength of the approach. Instead, the workshop leaders taught concepts and provided helpful tools so that the unique characteristics of the parish would result in a unique approach to healing.

Dunn said that participants “now feel more confident and hopeful that we can ... explain to parish members the logic of the healing process so that, as individuals and as a (parish community) we can become stronger and more resilient as we dialogue and participate in (the process) of reconciliation.”

“I had felt alone with my feelings of personal devastation,” McQuesten said. “Very few people talked about how the crisis was affecting them. Those who did talk seemed to talk around the issue by finding a place to lay blame. People felt free to be angry at someone or something, but it seemed that they just wanted the annoyance to end. I began to feel alienated from others because they seemed to be unaffected by something that was painfully meaningful for me.... I have a clearer understanding of the role I play as a participant in my faith rather than merely a recipient of religious beliefs and rituals.”

Dunn admitted to misgivings at the beginning. He asked himself, “What good would it do? Would my concerns for the church I love be addressed? As I continued with the training, I saw I was not alone. I saw the benefit of dialogue and sharing feelings with fellow Catholics. I gained new insights for my faith journey, and most important (for) my spiritual progress. Most of all, I experienced hope that as an adult Catholic I can help our church become stronger and more resilient if we begin the healing process.”

“I went through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process four years ago,” Bryant said, “so I’m new to the Catholic faith. Going through this made me realize that a lot of what the church means to me as a whole is the parish and the people in the parish. But being able to share thoughts and feelings about this crisis with other people who were long-term Catholics really gave me a brand-new, deeper sense of what it means to belong to (the universal church). I’d heard about it, but it really sunk in here.”

McQuesten said she would recommend the series to other parishes “so that each could construct a framework for holding the concerns, issues and pain within its unique culture.”

Other parishioners expressed their appreciation and endorsement of the process.

“I strongly recommend these workshops for other parishes in the Spokane Diocese,” said Dunn. “The open dialogue itself benefits participants, and the knowledge and understanding gained can only make a parish stronger as it travels a healing path.”

Bryant characterized the program as “a very soft framework to really explore the thoughts, the feelings, on a personal level. Before, when our healing group was working on this, everyone had a lot of good ideas, and good intentions, but there wasn’t really a foundation for anybody to stand on. Having gone through this (program), I would say in hindsight that it was vital that we did this before we took any other major steps. I think the whole thing was directed by the Holy Spirit.”

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