A little less than a month ago on the occasion of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I addressed the Church’s responsibility to protect children. The column provided me with the opportunity to assure you that the Diocese of Syracuse is dedicated to promoting the protection of children and young people.
Last week two important documents were released: a letter from the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which offers guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual abuse of minors and a landmark study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The publication of these documents has prompted me to write once again about the Church’s on-going efforts to address the sin and the crime of the sexual abuse of children and the consequences which follow in its wake, namely, care for the victims, education and prevention programs, initial and on-going formation of the clergy, civil and canonical issues, etc.
The letter from the Vatican notes that the diocesan bishop has the task of assuring the common good of the faithful and especially the protection of children and young people. Among the general considerations which the letter addresses are the following:
• the importance of listening to the victims and their families by the bishop or his delegate and their commitment to the victims spiritual and psychological assistance;
• provision for education and prevention programs for parents and those engaged in pastoral work and schools;
• healthy human and spiritual formation of candidates including the proper discernment of a vocation;
• continuing formation for the clergy;
• the necessary exchange of information with regard to candidates to the priesthood who transfer from one seminary or diocese to another and
• cooperation with civil authorities.
Here in the Diocese of Syracuse members of my staff and I have listened to victims and their families. We have heard their pain and shared their sorrow. Counseling has been offered to assist them in addressing these issues. In our parishes and schools, information and education are offered regularly to parents and all those who work with children and youth through the Virtus program. Our seminarians and those aspiring to the priesthood receive psychological testing and are involved in a number of programs throughout the course of seminary studies to address issues of human and spiritual development including formation in an appreciation for chastity and celibacy. If a seminarian should choose to leave and apply for another seminary, full information is shared with that institution, religious order or diocese. If the diocese receives an allegation that is subject to the law, it is reported to the appropriate legal authorities. At the same time, the person bringing the allegation is told of his or her right to contact the appropriate civil authority. Our diocesan review board, comprised of licensed clinical social workers, lawyers, parents, a retired law enforcement professional, and others who work in related fields, is also given the information and makes recommendations to me.
You may become more familiar with the report prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The secular press and news media have already offered comments about the report. The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the U.S. examines the causes and context of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. It is not possible to discuss the report in detail here but I offer the following information from the report:
• There was no single cause or predictor of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
• Neither celibacy nor homosexuality was a cause of the abuse.
• Various vulnerabilities in an individual priest, in combination with social influences and inadequate preparation for a life of celibacy, raised the risk of abuse.
• The bulk of the cases of sexual abuse occurred decades ago and was consistent with the patterns of increased deviance of society during that time.
• Much of what has been implemented through the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the Bishops in 2002, is working.
The entire report can be found at http://usccb.org/mr/causes-and-context-of-sexual-abuse -of-minors-by-catholic-priests-in-the-united-states-1950-2010
While there has already been some criticism of the bishops and the Church concerning the report, the fact remains that for the past five years the study has been conducted by an independent secular college which specializes in this work. It is the most comprehensive study to date of any institution. My hope is that it will offer insights to other groups or institutions as they address this issue.
Bishop Blase Cupich, chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People noted, “The way forward for the bishops must be marked by humility and partnerships with others. The shame of failing our people will remain with us for a long time. It should. Its sting can keep us resolute in our commitments and humble so as to never forget the insight we came to nearly a decade ago in Dallas. We cannot do any of this on our own.”
I assure you that I and all who work with me are committed to the protection of children and young people to the best of our ability. I ask you to join me in prayer for victims and their families and all who have suffered because of the failure and sinfulness of some members of the Church. I ask you also to keep in prayer all the priests who faithfully serve you. The failures and sins of some among our number have cast a shadow of suspicion over all of us.
As members of the Body of Christ we are all called to protect the dignity of all human life, especially the most vulnerable among us. Let us continue to work together to foster a safe environment for our children and young people.