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Message in a bottle: Letters need humble response, say abuse survivors


Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston, president of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, reviews documents before entering a seminar on safeguarding children at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome March 23. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Acknowledging correspondence and treating victims with respect is the very least church officials can offer, said survivors of clergy sex abuse.

Never letting a letter or email languish unanswered was such a key "best practice" of showing care and concern for victims of sexual abuse by clergy and religious that Marie Collins, an Irish survivor, stepped down from the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors over the issue.

When it comes to whether an office should respond to a victim, "There's an amazing ability to take whatever is simple" and make it sound "as if it's highly complex," said Declan Murphy, who was abused as an adolescent by two Christian Brothers in Dublin in the 1960s. Murphy, who was in South Korea, spoke to Catholic News Service via Skype in mid-March.

It's a "basic courtesy" to respond, even if it is just a brief acknowledgment of receiving the letter with a general time frame of intended follow-up. "That's the way most people work when they value and respect a person," he said.

However, "if your starting point is not wanting to do it, you will drag in lots of reasons" to justify why writing back cannot or should not be done, he said.

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