Mother of a priest abuse survivor still has faith in Catholic Church

priest abuse

Donna Harper is the mother of a survivor of priest abuse, but she still has faith in the Catholic Church.

The Nashville native wants to do her part to protect children in her diocese and help other victims and their families overcome some of that animosity she knows well.

So, Harper said yes more than 15 years ago when then-Nashville Bishop Edward Kmiec asked her to join the diocese’s review board.

At the time, the church was putting the panels in place at dioceses across the U.S. as part of the Catholic Church’s response to its national clergy sex abuse crisis.

Today, new allegations of abuse and cover-up are once again shaking the global church, putting its measures for child protection and leadership accountability under the microscope.

The local review boards are among those measures.

The panels advise their bishops on allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests and examine related policies.

These non-investigatory bodies are made up of mostly lay people and include an experienced pastor as well as an expert on the treatment of child sex abuse.

The abuse of her child

Harper, a member of the Nashville diocese’s board since its inception, said Kmiec tapped her to serve because she is the parent of a victim.

“I had been very vocal and cranky,” Harper said. “I wrote a note to Bishop Kmiec who had been very kind to just take my animosity and apologized.”

At the time, Harper felt the diocese had protected the priest who she says abused her child. He previously worked at the church she used to attend with her family.

The abuse allegation came out years later, prompted by the 1999 arrest of former priest Edward R. McKeown, who is currently serving a prison sentence for raping a teenage boy.

The crime McKeown pleaded guilty to in 1999 occurred after he left the priesthood in 1989.

But at the time of his sentencing, the prosecutor in the case told The Tennessean that it was part of a pattern of abuse involving some 30 boys over more than two decades, and the diocese knew about some of the allegations but did not tell the police.

Harper said her child, who was an adult at the time of McKeown’s arrest, admitted to being one of his victims after she brought up their past relationship. Her child agreed to file a police report and eventually sought therapy.

The more details Harper learned, the more upset she became.

Leaving the parish not the church

As time passed, Harper stayed Catholic but realized she needed a new church home. She followed her spiritual director, who helped her process what happened, to St. Patrick Catholic Church in Nashville.

Harper is not a cradle Catholic. She converted in 1964 while in junior high and thinks that is part of why she stayed because she chose the Catholic Church instead of being born into it.

The church’s teachings in support of social justice and fairness continue to resonate with her, too. She knows clergy wrongdoing and church cover-ups go against the faith.

“If everyone would adhere to the theology and the doctrine, we’d be better off,” Harper said. “So, I stay with the theology and the basic teachings and pray for healing.”

She still worries about her child, who has largely fallen away from the church but is doing well and surrounded by a strong support system. Continue reading

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