Living in the Real World and the Franciscan Commitment

By Mel Jurisich, OFM

Former Teacher and Rector, SAS (1970-1985)

Provincial Minister,

Franciscan Province of St. Barbara 

Lately, I have been contemplating where I find myself at this stage of the journey of reconciliation and bridge-building. Frankly, I find my own thoughts and feelings to be conflicting. On the one hand, I have been encouraged by the good work of SAFENET in such a short time on behalf of reconciliation and understanding. The happenings at SAS in July 2003 were truly miraculous, especially the reconciliation of a survivor with his friar-abuser. I saw reconciliation happen with my own eyes, and I know it is possible. I have heard about the IRT retreat experiences and how healing they have become for some. Through the efforts of SAFENET I have been able to make contact with some survivors which I hope will lead to bridge-building. This all gives me hope.

At the same time, I have the reality of a number of filed lawsuits against the Province sitting on my desk. I truly believe that compensation is a matter of justice, but when you get into the legal world with all of its workings, the relationship becomes adversarial very quickly. I have had to participate in settlement negotiations that were truly brutal and vicious. It seems ironic: that which is supposed to correct abuse becomes abusive for both sides. It is not a positive experience giving rise to reconciliation and healing.

But in my heart I know that the true solution to this whole tragedy of sexual abuse of minors lies in a four-fold approach: contrition on the part of the friars and the Province, therapy, just compensation, and reconciliation. Through the efforts of the IRT, we are providing therapy; through the efforts of SAFENET, there is real hope of working towards reconciliation; there is heartfelt sorrow among the friars of the Province, and my predecessors and I have publicly begged for forgiveness their behalf. Even in the midst of the Province's precarious financial situation, I am praying that we can provide compensation.

While all of the above is going on, I am pleased to say that the friars are continuing their good works: ministering to thousands of families in our twenty-six parishes, providing retreat places and retreat experiences to over 150,000 each year, feeding the hungry and housing the homeless in San Francisco and Los Angeles, educating men and women to minister in the Church at our school of theology. In addition the friars have committed themselves to a four year plan called DOOR (Deepening of our Relationships with each other, the laity with whom we work, the local and universal church, and the world). We will look at each of these relationships through the lenses of prayer, fraternal life, culture and evangelization. We undertake this plan as a way to deepen and enliven our vowed lives with the hope that a renewed Franciscan commitment will bring about real personal and collective reform.

The administration of the Province continues to be grateful for the leadership of Paul Fericano and John McCord in the area of reconciliation. At great personal expense and effort, they are trying to be true peacemakers in the steps of Francis of Assisi. We are all blessed.