Ten years ago this month, my brother bishops and I issued the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the companion documentEssential Norms as a national response to the sexual-abuse crisis in our church. In the charter, which established uniform procedures and requirements for treating complaints concerning the sexual abuse of minors, the bishops of the United States pledged to adhere to a zero-tolerance policy and further promised to take all necessary steps to create a safe and sacred environment for all — especially children, youths and vulnerable adults.
On this anniversary, I thought it would be helpful to outline for you once again the steps we have taken in our own diocese toward these important goals. While our work is ongoing, I take pride in the fact that we have accomplished so much and that we have instituted programs and procedures I believe have moved us far forward in our efforts to stamp out the scourge of sexual abuse of minors.
In addition, beginning with the publication of this month’s Catholic Courier and on our diocesan website, www.dor.org, I have asked that we publish the names of all clerics who have been removed from ministry since 2002 because complaints by a victim or victims were found to be credible after our review process. The final disposition of those cases also is listed. Our policy has been and remains to publicize in our parishes and in the news media allegations that have been reviewed and found to be credible.
I take this step to further the cause of openness and transparency in this critical issue, to create a resource and a checkpoint for any victim who might come forward, to assist the process of restoring trust and to help victims in their healing. I have weighed this decision carefully, and feel it is the right and proper thing to do.
I fully understand that this listing may be a painful reminder not only to victims, but also to individuals and whole faith communities who have experienced the removal from ministry of priests who had served them at some point in the past. If we can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact Barbara Pedeville, our victims’ assistance coordinator, at 585-328-3228, ext. 1215.
As I have done many times, I apologize most sincerely to anyone harmed by a priest and to all who have suffered distress in the abuse crisis. As one who was entrusted to lead in the church and to ensure its sacredness, I am sorry for what this crisis has wrought, and I pray the steps we have taken will be a protection from further incidents.
Those steps, many of which pre-date the publication of the charter by several years, are tethered to several guiding principles. These principles require us:
* to respond promptly to all allegations of abuse where there is reasonable belief that abuse has occurred;
* to remove ministerial privileges from the alleged offender promptly and refer him for appropriate medical evaluation and intervention if such an allegation is supported by sufficient evidence;
* to comply with the obligations of civil law for reporting an incident and cooperating with any official investigation;
* to reach out to the victims and their families, and communicate sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being; and
* to deal as openly as possible with the members of the community within the confines of respect for privacy of the individuals involved.
In 1993, we established a Diocesan Review Board to offer guidance in responding to allegations. The Review Board meets to this day and helps us immeasurably in the process of determining the credibility of sexual-abuse complaints.
At that same time, we appointed victims’ assistance coordinators who receive complaints and organize assistance that might be helpful for victims. We formed and instituted policies concerning sexual abuse and harassment, and provided training to all clerics and employees in these areas. We have reported contemporary allegations of abuse to the appropriate civil authorities, with the result that diocesan priests, in some instances, were arrested, tried and convicted.
Following the unanimous acceptance of the charter by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, we:
* enhanced our Review Board, particularly with the addition of individuals with extensive law-enforcement experience;
* reached out to strengthen our relationships with law-enforcement officials throughout the 12-county diocese;
* reviewed our past responses in individual cases and, when appropriate, removed offenders from public ministry;
* strengthened the screening process for men applying to our seminary- and deacon-formation programs;
* instituted a program of background checks, including criminal history for clerics, educators, employees and volunteers who would work with children and vulnerable adults;
* developed Codes of Conduct, and educated clerics, educators, employees and volunteers concerning their applicability in specific settings. Those codes can be reviewed online at www.dor.org;
* publicized contact information for our victims’ assistance coordinator and offered training to all clerics, educators, employees and volunteers on the process of reporting allegations; and
* encouraged victims to report to civil authorities and to seek assistance. In addition, we have continued to report contemporary and past allegations to appropriate civil authorities.
Since 2002, we have conducted background checks and provided training for more than approximately 25,000 clerics, educators, employees and volunteers through our Creating a Safe Environment program. In 2010, we launched the Safe and Sacred program aimed at retraining all who work for the diocese, in parishes, schools and in our affiliate agencies.
I am pleased to say that we have been found in compliance by all independent audits of our efforts.
As you know, the terrible tragedy of sexual abuse of children is not confined to the church, but exists in all of society. That sad fact does not negate our responsibility to be ever vigilant, for even one case of sexual abuse is too many.
I assure you on this 10th anniversary of the charter that our pledge to protect and our promise to heal have not waned.
You have my word on that.
Peace to all.