Creating a safe environment for all - Catholic Courier

Creating a safe environment for all


My Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

I have communicated to you many times over the past years about the
issue of sexual abuse by clergy. In all my communications, both
directly and through our local media, I have tried to express the
enormity of my own personal sorrow and disappointment over this issue,
which I have said is one of the most difficult issues of my four
decades of priesthood and nearly 25 years as your Bishop.

In those communications and in such other ways as the recent
diocesan-sponsored Day of Reconciliation in Canandaigua with victims of
clergy sexual abuse and their families, our Diocese has sought to reach
out to those who were hurt in the past by the behavior of some of our
priests. I have offered then — and I offer now — my sincere apologies
on behalf of our local Church, and a personal pledge to each and every
one of the victims and to all our faithful: We will work tirelessly and
do everything within our power to prevent such incidents now and in the
future. This we promise.

One of the most important ways we can create a safe and holy
environment for all — but especially for our children, young people
and vulnerable adults — is to firmly grasp whether we are on the right
course in our work toward that end. Also crucial is that we understand
the scope of the problem in our past. Regarding those issues, I want to
inform you of two important matters.

First, I am very pleased to announce that an audit by an
independent firm has found the Diocese of Rochester in full compliance
with the provisions of the United States Conference of Catholic
Charter for the Protection of Children and Young

The finding of full compliance by an independent body is a clear
indicator that we are taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe and
holy environment for all children, youth and vulnerable adults.

The Charter, which the Catholic bishops of the United States
adopted in 2002 and which had my full support, requires that each
Diocese of the United States initiate specific actions to create safe
environments. Among these actions is to conduct background checks of
all employees, volunteers and others; awareness training; and public
outreach. The Charter also directs action in the following
areas: healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors; prompt and
effective response to allegations; cooperation with civil authorities;
disciplining offenders; and providing means of accountability for the
future to ensure effective future handling of the problem through a
national Office of Child and Youth Protection and a National Review

I am confident we are taking the right steps to accomplish our
mission of prevention through such measures as criminal background
checks of all employees and volunteers who work with minors and
vulnerable adults, through a new Pastoral Code of Conduct, and the
extensive and multi-layered awareness training we are providing.

We will be ever vigilant.

The audit of our policies and procedures was thorough. A former FBI
agent and a former Illinois state trooper working for the Gavin Group
of Boston — the private firm contracted by the U.S. bishops to conduct
the audits – examined records and policies and conducted interviews
with me and other key diocesan officials over a one-week period in
September. At the request of the auditors, the Diocese revised and
distributed a pamphlet on procedures for filing a complaint, updated
existing priest personnel policies to be consistent with the
Charter and provided an implementation plan for “safe
environment” training pertaining to parents and children.

Out of fairness to other dioceses whose reviews were not yet
completed, we withheld information about the local results until all
dioceses had been audited and a national report could be issued today
(Jan. 6). The local audit determined that the program and policies we
have put into place are in compliance with the Charter. Other Dioceses
in the country have sought at least one tool we are using: a video we
produced with the help of the Archdiocese of Baltimore to train
volunteers in preventing sexual abuse and related issues.

Some of these steps are not new. The Diocese of Rochester has had a
sexual-abuse policy in place since 1993, and was among the first in the
nation to initiate specific programs designed to raise awareness and
prevent abuse. Over the past two years, the amount of training of
employees was increased, and all of the steps required by the
Charter were initiated.

With the validation of our recent audit, I am very confident that we
can continue to work toward a better future and much greater awareness
of the problem of sexual abuse, and that we have the right tools in
place to accomplish that.

We simply will not tolerate any other course.

In addition to the audit results and in keeping with our policy of
openness and candor concerning this issue, this week we also have
released publicly local statistics pertaining to the number of clerics
accused of sexual misconduct and abuse involving minors dating back
more than one-half century — to 1950 — and the amount of financial
assistance provided to those who filed complaints.

The Diocese of Rochester reviewed its records on sexual abuse by
clergy as part of a national study on the scope and nature of the
problem. The National Review Board, the group that has been asked to
monitor the process for the Roman Catholic bishops of the United
States, commissioned the study. The study is being conducted under the
direction of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York,
which was selected because of its reputation for research and education
in the areas of forensic science, criminology and human behavior. The
national results of the study, which involves every Diocese, eparchy
and religious order in the United States, will be released nationally
next month.

Even one case of sexual abuse of a child by a cleric would be one
too many
. Our local Church must not shirk from these numbers, even
as we bear the weight of the hurt they have caused. For knowledge of
the past can only help us do more to protect those people who count on
us today and in the future.

In our examination of the records, we have determined that:

* A total of 114 allegations were received in the past 53 years. It
is interesting to note that more than two-thirds of those, dating back
decades, were received in year 2002, at the height of media coverage
and public awareness surrounding the issue.

* Over this more than half-century, 1,706 clerics have served within
the Diocese of Rochester. Of those, 36 diocesan priests — or
approximately 2 percent — were the subject of allegations:

* As a result of these complaints, 18 clerics were suspended or

* Six clerics who were the subject of complaints were deceased by
the time the complaints were filed.

* Allegations involving six clerics were unfounded.

* The cases against six clerics had insufficient information or were
not substantiated.

* We have never received a complaint about any priest ordained after
1980. We attribute this fact to more rigid screening and training,
increased awareness and other changes imposed in that time period and

* The Diocese has provided a total of approximately $1.51 million in
financial assistance and other payments relating to sexual misconduct
on the part of clergy. Of that figure, approximately $1.24 million was
for treatment, compensation or payment to victims. Legal fees totaled
approximately $270,000. Insurance paid approximately $831,000 of the
total. For perspective, it is noteworthy that the diocesan insurance
program paid a total of $12.5 million in one 10-year period (1992-2002)
for property damage, personal liability, workers compensation and
related items. Money raised through the Partners in Faith
capital campaign has not been used for any such payments.

We have learned so much as a Church — and as a society — about
this issue over time. Many people may have forgotten that, until the
1980s, pedophilia was viewed as a treatable psychiatric disorder. We
relied on psychiatric experts to advise on whether an afflicted priest
could serve in ministry again. But studies conducted by a religious
order in the mid-1980s determined that the disorder was, in fact, not
treatable. As a result, we cannot and will not place an offender back
in ministry.

Despite extensive and ongoing national media attention, I must
also tell you that it would be an equally tragic mistake for the
community to think that the issue of sexual abuse and misconduct
involving children is solely a “Catholic Church problem.”

In American society and, indeed, throughout the world, the problem
of sexual abuse of children is widespread, very real and very
disturbing. According to the well-respected National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children, one in five girls and one in 10 boys in
America will be sexually abused by the time they reach adulthood. A
1990 study stated that 27 percent of women and 16 percent of men had
been sexually abused by age 16. Many experts agree that the true ratio
for boys is likely higher, but that a higher percentage of males are
reluctant to report the abuse.

One of the reasons the other Catholic bishops of the United States
and I sought this national study was to better understand the causes,
frequency and context of this issue not only within the Church, but
also in the larger American context.

While the problem within the Church is tragic, I also believe we
lack a framework in which fully to understand the local and national
church numbers as part of the national problem in the larger society.
Few, if any, institutions, to my knowledge, have undertaken a study as
comprehensive as that conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal
Justice. I encourage these institutions to conduct similar research and
to act accordingly to institute programs of prevention and awareness,
if they have not already done so.

As a society, we must act together and with zeal to take whatever
steps are necessary to grapple with this problem and create a safe
environment for all.

And please rest assured that we will make every effort to achieve
that goal in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester.

With every good wish, I remain,

Your Brother In Christ,

+Matthew H. Clark

Bishop of Rochester

Tags: Bishop Matthew H. Clark
Copyright © 2024 Rochester Catholic Press Association, Inc. All rights reserved. Linking is encouraged, but republishing or redistributing, including by framing or similar means, without the publisher's prior written permission is prohibited.

Choose from news (Monday), leisure (Thursday) or worship (Saturday) — or get all three!

No, Thanks

Catholic Courier Newsletters