Hyatt Regency Hotel, St. Louis
June 21, 2003
It has been one year since this body of bishops gathered in Dallas and approved The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. A year ago we met in the midst of perhaps the worst crisis in the history of the Church in our country. Since that historic meeting last year a monumental effort has been made to fulfill the promises of that Charter, to implement measures that would remove offending clergy, to reach out to those so terribly inured by sexual abuse, and to restore the trust and confidence of our people and our priests.
We do not take too much comfort in that. There is still a long road ahead of us. When the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse developed The Charter last year, we saw it is a general framework for response to the crisis facing us. During the past year we have been working on the many specific building blocks that round out that general framework. Some of these building blocks are now in place; others are still to be developed. Our efforts toward the implementation of The Charter and the Essential Norms are at full throttle. Our commitment has not wavered. We have made a pledge to our people and to the people of this nation and especially to the vulnerable ones and we will keep that pledge.
In many ways our work this year has been more foundational in nature. We are building a new framework following the blueprint of The Charter and the Essential Norms. Each building block we have developed during this year represents hundreds of hours of work and a passionate commitment to get things right. My report here will highlight many of the measures taken this year.
New Structures: One of the first imperatives of The Charter was to reconstitute the Ad Hoc Committee to represent each of the fourteen Episcopal regions. We did this immediately after the Dallas meeting.
The two other structures which were essential to begin the implementation of The Charter are the National Review Board and the Office for Child and Youth Protection. Immediately after our meeting last June Bishop Gregory appointed first a core committee and then a full board. After a national search conducted by the National Review Board, Msgr. Fay, our General Secretary, appointed Ms. Kathleen McChesney as the director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection. These are key structures along with the Ad Hoc Committee to oversee the implementation of The Charter.
The work of the Ad Hoc Committee is a collaborative work. We work with the National Review Board, with the Office for Child and Youth Protection, and with many Conference Committees. The Ad Hoc Committee sees itself as the guarantor of The Charter. There are many who are working tirelessly to implement it. As we work with them, we hold out the blueprint to make sure that no piece falls through the cracks.
Measures Taken This Year of Special Note:
1. When we approved The Charter last June we concluded it with these words: "we bishops commit ourselves to its immediate implementation." This is exactly what you did, my brother bishops. Since our meeting last year several hundred priests who had sexually offended a minor at any time during their priesthood have been removed from the ministry. Perhaps that was the most obvious of the measures that you took in this implementation process. Locally many other measures were instituted in your dioceses and eparchies.
2. In the months after our June meeting last year the Holy See formed a Mixed Commission that recommended significant changes in the particular law for the Church in the United States to assist us in addressing these cases. Church law is clear that the sexual abuse of a minor by a clergyman is a crime and that there is not place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young. Essential Norms for the Church in the United States were promulgated by the Holy See in December and became effective on March 1st. Contrary to the views sometimes expressed in the press, the changes made to the Norms strengthened our ability to act effectively and expeditiously when addressing these cases. In particular, Norm 9 made very clear the place of the bishop's executive power of governance. In addition, our bishops' conference working with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has competence over these cases, clarified the processes by which we can proceed. To assist us in these cases the Congregation conducted special training for over 200 canonists, who can now assist us as judges, promoters of justice, advocates and notaries. We owe a debt of gratitude to Bishop Doran and the Canonical Affairs Committee for this important work.
3. The Charter made a significant departure with the past. In committing us to a course of new policies, the Charter ensures that we will be consistent and accountable. To measure compliance we asked the new Office for Child and Youth Protection to audit our dioceses and eparchies. To prepare for this audit, the Committee sponsored a series of regional training workshops for the bishops.
The first part of the workshop is an introduction to the audit procedure and the audit instrument. The dioceses and eparchies will undergo the audit during the next few months. A final audit report will be prepared by Ms. Kathleen McChesney, reviewed by the National Review Board, forwarded to Bishops Gregory and be made public.
Other segments of the workshop focus on pastoral outreach to victims and their families, including outreach by both the bishop and the victim assistance coordinator, selecting safe environment programs, conducting background checks, identifying the multiple tasks of the Diocesan Review Board, and reviewing the new canonical procedures.
4. Working with our Office for Child and Youth Protection we have continued to explore ways to reach out to the victim/survivors of sexual abuse. We are convinced that this outreach is best done at the local level. It is most effective when it can be done personally by the bishop. Individual bishops across the country have made great efforts to meet with victim/survivors and their families and to provide the pastoral care that is so needed. It must be said that these efforts are not always successful. Sometimes because of our shortcomings, but also at times, due to the climate of litigation, outreach can be seriously inhibited. Nevertheless in our workshops we have urged the bishops that they should not allow litigation to get in the way of pastoral care.
5. Through staff the Ad Hoc Committee and the National Review Board are kept familiar with each other's activities. Given the issues that face both groups in common, we look forward to strengthening many areas of collaboration to implement The Charter. On behalf of the Ad Hoc Committee, I want to express strong support for the members of the Review Board.
The National Review Board has its own mission as identified in The Charter. This includes the two studies which are meant to give us all a clearer picture of the nature and scope and the cases of the crisis we have been facing. A number of us have also participated in the Board's own inquiry into the crisis. We look forward to that report.
As my remarks here are in a public forum, I would like to take this opportunity to clarify something about the participation of bishops and the dioceses and eparchies in these studies. As we said in The Charter we believe that "to understand the problem more fully and to enhance the effectiveness" of our response and with the "full cooperation of the bishops" (Article 9) these studies had to be undertaken. No one should doubt our commitment.
6. One third of the priests in the United States are members of Institutes of Consecrated Life or Societies of Apostolic Life. While The Charter is a general framework approved by the bishops of the United States. Our brothers in Religious Life have also taken this to heart. More particularly, the Essential Norms approved by the Holy See apply to both diocesan and religious priests and deacons. The Ad Hoc Committee has formed a working group and begun a series of ongoing meetings with the officers of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men. The purpose of these meetings is to "examine more closely the various aspects of their particular situations (the societies of apostolic life and institutes of consecrated life) in regard to the Essential Norms." While no priest or deacon is to be transferred for ministry who has committed sexual abuse of a minor, the norms also require that local bishops and religious superiors be informed when one is to be transferred even for residence. In this regard the Essential Norms establish a new dimension in the relationship between bishops and major superiors. We have developed an initial memorandum of understanding. We will continue these conversations for some time ahead. Our summaries are to be reported to the Holy See. I am grateful to Bishops Doran and Lori of the Ad hoc Committee for their collaboration. A special thank you to Bishop O'Malley who generously serves as a consultant to these meetings.
7. We have formed another working group to explore more fully the meaning of the term "a life of prayer and penance." This is the phrase that The Charter uses to indicate the disposition of those priests who are to be removed permanently from the ministry who are to be removed permanently from the ministry, but who will not be dismissed from the clerical state. Our Committee is presently developing some pastoral guidelines for bishops to follow in these cases. These guidelines will refer not only to the particular canonical responsibilities a bishop has to an incardinated priest such as forms of sustenance, but will also address the issue of monitoring. Bishop Baker is coordinating this work for the Committee.
8. Another working group of the Ad Hoc Committee is to take up the concerns of our priests, particularly the relationship between bishops and priests in light of the sexual abuse crisis. To paraphrase Bishop Gregory's remarks of last November: We are proud of our priests, we pray that we are worthy of them. Bishop John Gaydos, a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, and chair of the Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, is guiding this area of concern.
Conclusion: To conclude let me say that much has been accomplished, but much also remains to be done. As the preamble to The Charter states, and reaffirmed in our Statement of Episcopal Commitment: "we pledge that we bishops will respond to the demands of The Charter in a way that manifests our accountability to God, to God's people, and to one another." I have every confidence that we will meet the challenges ahead. Thank you.