Recently, two of our parishes lost pastoral leaders after I removed two priests from active ministry because of credible allegations of sexual abuse. I know this is very sad for those communities and troubling for all concerned.
Meanwhile, the issue of sexual abuse by clergy is again in the national spotlight after a grand jury charged that a number of priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were still serving despite credible allegations of abuse against them. I do not know more than what I have seen or read, but I do know this much-covered story has caused much pain among all who love the church.
I am sure that you are terribly saddened by all this news. My brother bishops and I across the United States are concerned as well, just as we are determined to ensure the safety of all children and youth in our church. I continue to pray for healing for all concerned, especially for the victims of these horrendous acts who show great courage in coming forward.
Given this news, I thought it would be helpful to outline once again the steps we have taken in the Diocese of Rochester to protect our young people, to act swiftly, fairly and firmly when allegations do surface, and to ensure our church is a safe and sacred place for all.
Firstly, let me assure you that, to the best of our knowledge, no priest serves in active ministry in our diocese against whom a credible complaint of sexual abuse has been made I simply would not allow that situation to occur under any circumstances. Twenty-five priests can no longer exercise public ministry after it was determined that allegations were credible. While this is very sad, it is absolutely necessary, and our zero-tolerance policy will and must continue.
Secondly, please know that we do not remove priests from ministry without first working very hard to ensure the credibility of the complaints.
If a victim comes forward, we ask that they work closely with our victims’ assistance coordinator, Barbara Pedeville, to tell their story. In most cases, depending on the person’s wishes, I meet with the victim. We also employ a retired New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation expert to conduct a thorough investigation. We inform the local district attorney’s office and law enforcement agencies in the proper jurisdiction and cooperate fully with them. We ask our Review Board — a panel of authorities including experts in law enforcement, psychiatry, psychology and civil law, as well as a pastor — to examine the complaint and findings closely. If the Review Board determines that the complaint is credible, they make a recommendation to me.
In addition to this process, we have many different policies in place to protect our children and vulnerable adults — to make all church institutions safe and sacred.
We have strengthened our screening process for applicants seeking admission to the seminary and deacon formation program. We began a program of background checks, including criminal history for clerics, educators, employees and volunteers who would work with children and vulnerable adults. We have developed Codes of Conduct and educated clerics, educators, employees and volunteers concerning their applicability in specific settings. We have given mandatory training to thousands of people — priests, deacons, all diocesan employees, volunteers and youth — in abuse awareness and prevention. Most recently, we have launched a new program, Safe and Sacred, to retrain all those who work in the church. Please visit our Creating a Safe Environment website to review these programs.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about those who have been victims of abuse. I think the following "Ten Things We Have Learned from Victims," from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website, says it very well:
"We have learned that it takes great courage for a victim/survivor to come forward with his or her story after years, sometimes decades, of silence and feelings of shame.
"We have learned that to the victim/survivor it is so important to finally simply be believed.
"We have learned that, in spite of their own pain and suffering, many victim/survivors are just as concerned that the Church prevents this abuse from happening to more children as they are about themselves and their own needs for healing.
"We have learned that, while each individual’s story is different, what is common is the violation of trust; some survivors trust absolutely no one, to this day, while others have been able to work through this pain with the help and support of loved ones.
"We have learned that today there are methods of therapy that work particularly well with and for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and that individuals can be helped even after many years of unsuccessfully trying to simply ‘forget about it.’
"We have learned that very many victim/survivors have lived for many years with the belief that they were the ‘only one’ to have been abused by a particular priest.
"We have learned that the abuse has robbed some victim/survivors of their faith. For some this means loss of their Catholic faith; for others it means loss of any faith in God at all.
"We have learned that, while some victim/survivors have been unable to succeed in various areas of life (marriage, employment, education, parenting) as a consequence of the great emotional/psychological harm, others have gone on to lead very healthy and productive lives.
"We have learned that to be privileged to hear an individual victim/survivor’s story is a sacred trust, to be received with great care and pastoral concern.
"We have learned that we still have much to learn."
Peace to all.