Fr. Mitchel Zimmerman's Letter on the Sex Abuse Crisis, St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center
25 August 2018
Saturday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Dear Catholic Jayhawks:
Greetings from Hawk Week here at KU! There is so much life and energy present at our alma mater right now, and here at St. Lawrence our vision, strategy, teamwork and ministry are gaining strength everyday. Great Catholic stories are being written thanks to your belief in us and your amazing support.
These are the things I want to tell you when I write to you because I believe so strongly in the bright present and future for the Catholic Church at KU. I want to celebrate the relationships, joy and meaning that St. Lawrence has added to my life. I want to share my experience of the priesthood, a calling that was heard and answered at KU, that is so different from what we’re seeing in the news. I want to tell you that the Church that committed and covered up sexual abuse is not the Church I know and not the Church I gave my life to.
But it is.
A distinguishing mark of our Church is unity. We are a family. We are what we receive in the Eucharist - the Body of Christ. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice. When one member suffers, we all suffer. When one member sins, the whole body is affected. When my brother priests and bishops fail, I fail you too. I cannot personally separate myself from the scandal and horrible crimes perpetrated by the same Church that has given me everything, and that I have given my life to.
To that end, I want to personally apologize for the heinous deeds and cover-ups that my brothers have inflicted upon our family. There are no excuses. I am in disbelief and in shame that such evil not only touched our family, but ran through its very heart, and did incalculable harm to the innocent who trusted the Church to be their family. I am sick by what has been revealed and I am so sorry.
Although I believe our Church has made significant progress in providing safe environments over the last fifteen years, it doesn’t excuse or lessen the fact that we allowed evil to invade our Church and harm our children, evil that can and should have been stopped. For the failings of our Church to protect our children, I am sorry and I want you to know that I will not shy away from the consequences we deserve.
Any shame or discouragement I feel is nothing compared to the experience of those abused. To those abused who have come forward, thank you for having the courage to do what our Church did not - stop the abuse by bringing it to light. I pray we can all agree that nothing but complete transparency can shatter this darkness.
As a pastor and shepherd, I beg you not to let this evil score an additional victory of discouraging your faith. I know that is asking a lot. In no way do I want to overlook or minimize this evil, nor lessen the consequences the Church in justice can and must face. I do not pretend to know how much it hurts you or your loved ones who have been abused. Yet I do know that the unique and powerful good that Jesus asked us His Church to accomplish remains incomplete.
Accomplishing the greatest good will be met with the greatest resistance in the form of discouragement and despair, but the story cannot end with these evils having the last say. The good we must accomplish is too important to quit or fail. Which is why St. Lawrence is here. We will always be here.
Our response can be nothing less than to elevate and defend human dignity to degrees we never thought possible in reparation for the harm that has been done.
I have no right to, but I am asking you to stay with me and St. Lawrence at this critical time. I do not know the specific processes that will finally bring about a real and lasting cleansing, healing and accountability in the Church but what I do know is that I promise to hold myself and our Center to the highest standards of safety, integrity and transparency. I promise to do everything I can to root evil out of our Church and to keep our children safe. I will show up everyday and strive to get better, and be the priest Jesus called me to be. I will do my best to be the shepherd you deserve.
With deep contrition,
Fr. Mitchel Zimmerman
Director and Chaplain