Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti will present “The Crisis in the Church: Didn’t We Fix This?” on Saturday, Jan. 12, at Holy Cross Church, 4112 E. Genesee St., DeWitt. The presentation will begin at 10 a.m. and is open to the public.
Msgr. Rossetti, a priest of the Diocese of Syracuse, is a licensed psychologist, an international speaker and consultant, and the author of several books focused on the clergy child sexual abuse crisis. For 17 years, he served as the Executive Vice President and then the President and Chief Executive Officer of Saint Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., a residential treatment program for clergy and religious men and women. He assisted the U.S. bishops in drafting the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and is currently a consultant for the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Msgr. Rossetti currently teaches Pastoral Studies at Catholic University of America in Washington.
In advance of his presentation, Msgr. Rossetti responded via email to some questions from the Catholic Sun. Excerpts from those responses, edited for length and clarity, are below.
Catholic Sun: You have extensive and varied experience in the fields of offender treatment and child protection. Can you tell us more about your work and ministry?
Msgr. Rossetti: I have worked since 1990 in trying to promote the protection of minors and in and outside of the Church. First, I have tried to raise awareness of this important issue. Child sexual abuse has been going on in every part of the world for hundreds and hundreds of years. As a society, we are just starting to face the truth of how prevalent it is and how damaging to our young. But this awareness is only beginning in this world; there are many areas that still believe it is an American problem or a Western problem. So, in recent years, I have been traveling to other countries on every continent to raise awareness.
Second, I have been trying to promote those practices which are essential in protecting minors. Over the last several decades, we have developed a series of child protection protocols which are effective and should be promoted everywhere. Of course, cultural adaptations are needed but the essentials on how to protect minors are already known. There is no excuse for the Church and society around the world not to implement these protocols now. And the first step is raising awareness, so child safe education should be mandatory everywhere.
In addition, as a psychologist, I have been doing direct therapy with victims and perpetrators for over 25 years. So, I have experienced first hand the devastation and pain of the victims, and their “second injury” when those in authority do not respond when they tell their painful stories. But healing is possible for victims and they can become “survivors” so they ought to have hope in their own futures. I have also worked with many perpetrators, priests and laity, who have perpetrated such crimes. The goal is to help them come to an awareness of what they have done and to help them stop their abusive behavior. When I became the President of Saint Luke Institute in 1997, one of my first actions in this area was to make the rule that any person who has sexually molested a minor and went through our program would be given the recommendation: “No unsupervised contact with minors.” Once someone has molested a minor, I believe he should never have any unsupervised contact with them — for the safety and benefit of all. We also actively supported and helped draft legislation to expand civil reporting of abuse in our State so that more perpetrators would face criminal prosecution. I hope that more States expand civil reporting laws to allow such criminal prosecution. I continue to connect with victims’ groups. Recently I have been working with Teresa Pitt Green at “Healing Voices” in Arlington. They are doing great work in helping victims heal, especially a deep spiritual healing.
Catholic Sun: The last year saw one painful revelation of clergy sexual abuse after another, from the horrors outlined in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, to the accusations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, to the release of the names of credibly accused clergy here in the Diocese of Syracuse. It all does beg the question: Didn’t we fix this?
Msgr. Rossetti: We “fixed” some things but not everything. More needs to be done. The protocols adopted in Dallas at the Bishops’ meeting and other child protection efforts have had a decisive effect; the data clearly show that abuse rates in the Catholic Church in the USA have been plummeting since 1985. So, we are much much better at preventing abuse, which is critical.
Our protocols for responding are better, including reporting these cases for criminal prosecution and our policy of zero tolerance — after one substantiated allegation, the priest or minister will never minister again in the Catholic Church. But our record at connecting with victims and standing with victims is uneven. Some dioceses really “get it” but others do not. We will never turn the corner on this issue until victims and their families see in the Catholic Church a group of people that standing in their corner. We are not there yet.
Also, we have more to do in holding bishops accountable. The sad case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick shows that the Church hierarchy still does not have a way of dealing well with bishops. … I believe what the Holy See needs is something the US Bishops have already implemented — a lay review board of experts in criminal investigation, legal prosecution, psychiatry and psychology to assist in professionally investigating allegations.
Catholic Sun: What can attendees expect to learn and take away from your presentation this weekend?
Msgr. Rossetti: The media are good at raising important issues but they are not good at understanding the nuances. I think people today have many correct and many incorrect understandings of where we are today in child protection in the Church in the USA and beyond. So, I would like to bring some concrete facts and data so we can understand this horrible tragedy better. You can’t fix a problem unless you understand it: good treatment only follows good diagnosis.
I am also hoping people will walk away with a sense of hope: much good has been done and we should recognize the steps that do work. Many of the protocols that the US Bishops have already adopted have become a model for other secular organizations and the Catholic Churches around the world. At the same time, we can perhaps understand better where the current problems are and see a path for the future.
Finally, I would add that I have known Bishop Cunningham for many years and I know that he “gets it.” He is genuinely committed to helping victims of abuse and the Diocese of Syracuse has worked diligently to make children safer. I commend him and his staff and the people of the Diocese of Syracuse for that. It will be a pleasure for me to be with the good people and priests of Syracuse soon.