I, like perhaps many of you, am angry, disgusted, and horrified at the news and recent stories in the media regarding the sexual abuse of minors by members of the Catholic clergy and the coverup of the horrible crimes by our bishops.
Earlier this summer was the story of the now-resigned Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington. There were reports of credible charges against the cardinal of sexual abuse of minors and seminarians dating back several decades. There were also reports that many of his fellow bishops knew of the abuse but remained silent as he rose through the ranks of the Church.
Then last week a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report of an investigation into clergy abuse in six dioceses in that state. The report documented the sexual abuse of at least one thousand minors by some three hundred priests over the past seventy years. The report also documents how the bishops at the time covered up the abuse.
These stories have occupied my prayer over the past couple of weeks. I feel betrayed by my fellow priests and by our Church leadership. I am deeply distressed and disheartened. How should I as a pastor, and we as the parish community of St. Isidore, where some of our own children were sexually abused by one of our former pastors some thirty years ago, respond?
First, we need to believe the victims of abuse when they tell us their stories. Many of the victims of abuse were further abused when those in authority refused to believe their stories, or tried to keep it a “family secret.” Believe the victims, and report the crime. We must also demand that the Church care for all who have been hurt by abuse and their families. We also pray that all survivors of sexual abuse find healing, comfort, and strength in the loving presence of God.We must also find ways to hold our bishops accountable for the coverup of these crimes.
I believe that healing can only begin once the bishops publicly repent. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has promised to create study groups and committees to further investigate the coverup of the abuse and set up policies and procedures to prevent it from occurring in the future. We must make every effort to insure that lay men and, especially, lay women, are included in these study groups and committees. Our bishops must be transparent.
Perhaps most importantly, we as a parish must continue to make every effort to create and foster a safe environment for of all people, especially our children and the most vulnerable. After the clergy sexual abuse crisis of the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the dioceses of the United States put into place policies and structures designed to protect our children and young people. These procedures include comprehensive criminal background checks for all priests, deacons and other church employees and volunteers. It also includes Virtus training to help church employees recognize possible situations of abuse or potential abuse, and procedures to report it to Church authorities and law enforcement agencies. Beginning under the leadership of then pastor Msgr. Mike Hrydziuszko, and continuing under my pastorship, St. Isidore has fully implemented all of the procedures mandated to protect our children. Nevertheless, our staff will vigorously review all of our efforts in this regard and make changes where needed. In doing so we will be accountable to St. Isidore parishioners through our Pastoral Council. Stay tuned.
In spite of it all, I have a great love for our Church and its people. I love our St.Isidore parish community, and I love my ministry. Perhaps that is why I am so deeply affected by all this.
To report suspicions of abuse, call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services: 855-444-3911