Father Dan Griffith has held the stone.

He has felt the emotional weight and lifting of that weight from holding that small stone, sharing in a healing circle his story of secondary trauma from the Church’s clergy sexual abuse crisis. And in an official capacity with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis he is helping to spread the concept of healing circles and restorative justice both in the archdiocese and beyond in hopes others impacted by the crisis — particularly victims/survivors, those directly harmed by sexual abuse in the Church — can begin to heal.

“It’s humbling and you’re vulnerable,” Father Griffith said of sharing in a circle, where people are invited to take turns holding a stone or other “talking piece” and tell their story as others respectfully listen.

Father Dan Griffith

Father Griffith’s story includes being a safe environment delegate in the archdiocese in 2013 and 2014 and reading files about priests accused of sexual abuse. The stress and the deep sadness he felt one evening came back when he talked about it in a healing circle. But sharing helped ease the weight, and even while a delegate, in the midst of that pain, Father Griffith was blessed with Christ’s healing light.

“I remember sensing God saying, ‘This is how much I love you, the Church and my children. I go down even into this deep harm and heal it,” Father Griffith said. “I was laboring under the weight of this, and God said, ‘you can’t carry this yourself. Give it all to me.’”

Promoting healing

Now, in addition to being pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes and a law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, both in Minneapolis, Father Griffith is archdiocesan liaison for restorative justice and healing. Archbishop Bernard Hebda appointed him to the newly-created position in July.

Father Griffith is quick to point out that his secondary trauma cannot be compared with the deep and long-standing harm done to those directly traumatized by a priest. It is vitally important to have the Church acknowledge the harm done, foster accountability and offer roads to healing, he said.

Healing circles are one such avenue under a broad concept known as restorative justice, which seeks to acknowledge those harmed, identify the nature of the harm and begin the healing process, Father Griffith said. Healing circles, and restorative justice more broadly, include the Church’s willingness to take responsibility for the harm done within its walls, he said.

Healing circles came out of Native American cultures. Father Griffith sees the idea as a gift in effect to the broader culture and the Church that also aligns with the justice demanded by God and the healing that is possible only through Christ.

His part-time role as liaison has taken him to four parishes in the archdiocese to preach about restorative justice, as well as parishes in other dioceses.

The archdiocese’s healing ministry also includes promoting small group meetings in libraries, coffee houses and churches and organizing public presentations and private meetings with Archbishop Hebda and Tim O’Malley, director of Ministerial Standards and Safe Environment.

In his role as liaison, Father Griffith works closely with Paula Kaempffer, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse hired by the archdiocese in June as outreach coordinator for restorative justice and abuse prevention. Kaempffer coordinates and publicizes efforts at healing, and searches for new avenues of healing.

The archdiocese is making significant efforts to promote justice and healing, said Kim Smolik, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Roundtable, a nonprofit focused on developing Church leadership and management skills.

“The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has shown great effort under its current leadership to promote justice, restore trust and advance reforms to address the crisis in our Church, not only for today but also for future generations,” Smolik said.

In regard to the roles played by Father Griffith and Kaempffer, “as far as we know, the archdiocese’s efforts at restorative justice are rare among Catholic dioceses,” she said.

Father Griffith credits Archbishop Hebda with providing the support needed to help victims/survivors and others hurt by the abuse crisis. “I give Archbishop Hebda much credit,” Father Griffith said. “He’s been so humble, open and vigilant about fostering healing.”

Hard at work

Currently, Father Griffith is on sabbatical in San Antonio, reading and writing about restorative justice and developing a book on the subject. He plans to travel in late February to the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston in West Virginia, where he and Janine Geske, a retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justice and expert in restorative justice, have been invited to talk about the concept as that diocese seeks to recover from a financial and sexual abuse scandal involving retired Bishop Michael Bransfield.

Father Griffith’s ministry in the archdiocese took him in November to Nativity of Mary in Bloomington, where he introduced the concept of restorative justice in a homily at all Masses and held a healing circle.

A twin crisis — clergy abuse and, in too many places, systematic coverup — created in the Church an “inversion of the moral order,” as the Church put its reputation ahead of the needs of victims/survivors, Father Griffith told the congregation at the 10:30 a.m. Mass.

That caused lasting harm to victims/survivors, anger among the laity because “justice was not attended to” and a loss of morale among good priests doing good work, he said.

It has led some people to leave the Church, and others to think about leaving, Father Griffith said. He encouraged those in the congregation to “stay and fight. This is your Church,” he said. “Fight against the closed, clerical culture that sometimes prevails.”

The archdiocese wants to help people find healing, Father Griffith said, as he invited people to the healing circle following the Mass.

About 40 people stayed. After introducing the process, Father Griffith encouraged those attending to form small groups, and they talked to one another, each holding a small stone to take their turn to speak, knowing what they shared would remain confidential.

Father Griffith took a similar approach at St. Agnes and Sacred Heart parishes in Walker and Hackensack in the Diocese of Duluth and at St. Peter church in Fort Yates, North Dakota, part of the Catholic Indian Mission on the Standing Rock Reservation and part of the Diocese of Bismarck. Pastors at those parishes said they wanted their congregations to experience the kind of healing restorative justice makes possible.

Msgr. Chad Goin, pastor on the reservation, said restorative justice flows out of the Native American culture, and a form of that model is used at the mission elementary school, but not at the parishes. It’s important that the Church be part of recovering and honoring that tradition, which also can be helpful in facing other issues, such as racial injustice, he said.

“When talking about systematic injustices, the only way forward is restorative justice,” he said. “It’s the healing of hearts, that’s what needs to happen.”