Of Catholic Bishops
February 19, 2002
In recent weeks our attention has again been turned to the issue of sexual abuse of minors by priests. Though the renewed focus on this issue is due largely to cases of priest abusers that were not dealt with appropriately in the past, it gives me the occasion as a pastor and a teacher of faith and morals to express, on behalf of all of the bishops, our profound sorrow that some of our priests were responsible for this abuse under our watch. We understand that your children are your most precious gift. They are our children as well, and we continue to apologize to the victims and to their parents and their loved ones for this failure in our pastoral responsibilities.
The attention to this issue also gives me the opportunity to renew the promise of our bishops that we will continue to take all the steps necessary to protect our youth from this kind of abuse in society and in the Church. While we still have much for which we need to be forgiven--and much to learn-- I am very heartened by the professionals who work with both victims and abusers who encourage us in this work because, they tell us, there is not another institution in the United States that is doing more to understand and address the horror of sexual abuse of minors.
As a Church, we have met with those who are victims of sexual abuse by priests. We have heard their sorrow, confusion, anger and fear. We have tried to reach out pastorally and sensitively not only to victims of this outrageous behavior, but to their families and the communities devastated by this crime. We have confronted priests accused of abuse and removed them from public ministry.
Over the past two decades, the bishops of the United States have worked diligently to learn all we can about sexual abuse. Our Conference has encouraged the development of policies in every diocese to address this issue. Bishops have developed procedures whereby priests moving from one diocese to another must have certification of their good standing. Bishops have also revised seminary screening and have mandated in-service programs for priests, teachers, parish ministers and volunteers to emphasize their responsibility to protect the innocent and vulnerable from such abuse. Dioceses have implemented programs to ensure safe environments in parishes and schools. While we have made some tragic mistakes, we have attempted to be as honest and open about these cases as we can, especially in following the law on these matters and cooperating with civil authorities. We remain committed to seeing these initiatives implemented fully, because the Church must be a place of refuge and security, not a place of denial and distress. Sadly, we are faced with the fact that evil does harm the innocent, something which human life has faced since the beginning of time. This is a reality against which we must be ceaselessly on guard.
I want to say a word about the more than 40,000 wonderful priests in our country who get up every morning to give their lives in full service to the Church as witnesses to Jesus Christ in our midst. I am very saddened that the crimes of a few have cast a shadow over the grace-filled and necessary work that they do day-in-and-day-out for society and for the Church. The Priesthood is a unique treasure of our Church, and I give you my assurance that we are doing everything to ensure that we have worthy and healthy candidates for the Priesthood and to strengthen the many priests who faithfully fulfill their ministry on behalf of all of us.
While we deplore the sexual abuse of young people, especially that committed by a cleric, we are confident that the numbers of priests involved in such criminal activity are few. The damage, however, has been immeasurable. The toll this phenomenon has taken on our people and our ministry is tremendous. This is a time for Catholic people, bishops, clergy, religious and laity, to resolve anew to work together to assure the safety of our children. These events serve to remind us all that the cost of preventing these terrible misdeeds in the future is a careful watch that cannot and will not be relaxed. We bishops intend to maintain that watch together with and on behalf of our people.
As we pursue this common work for the safety of our children and for the good of society and the Church we love, let us continue to remember one another before the Lord in prayer and in charity.