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Bishops strenthen efforts to eliminate abuse

By Bishop Terry R. LaValley

July 3, 2019

The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, was not able to join the American bishops at our Plenary Assembly held recently in Baltimore. However, a letter that he wrote to the bishops was read by Monsignor Walter Erbi, the Charge d’Affaires, on his behalf. He encouraged the bishops: “As we are purified of the evil, don’t lose sight of all the good that is being accomplished.”

His letter set an insightful context for the Assembly. We need to continue our efforts to strengthen current procedures and to establish needed new policies that would assist in further purifying our Church of the evil of sex abuse by the clergy. We must facilitate a culture of healing, accountability, and transparency. Additionally, we need to do a better job of sharing information about the steps we have taken, particularly since the promulgation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth back in 2002.

A careful review of the statistics reveals that since the implementation of the Charter, there has been a drastic reduction in the number of reports of sex abuse committed by the clergy. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. I came away from the Baltimore meeting much more hopeful that the culture is changing. Indicative of a unity of purpose that was present among the bishops is the fact that the three resolutions related to this issue were adopted overwhelmingly by the bishops.

The first resolution re-affirmed the bishops’ commitment to respond directly and appropriately to cases of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, cases of sexual misconduct, and the mishandling of such cases. We will do all within our ability to help victims/survivors find the care and healing they need. Clearly, the Charter and Pastoral Codes of Conduct apply to all clerics, including the bishops. This first resolution also insisted that there must be an environment of transparency when treating these cases. To that point, we are awaiting further details of the independent investigation of Theodore McCarrick. Another crucial element of this resolution was the requirement of lay involvement throughout the investigative phase of the process.

A second resolution that received overwhelming support from the bishops included Directives for the Implementation of the Provisions of Vos estis lux mundi concerning bishops. This recent Apostolic Letter from Pope Francis addressed the responsibility of the successors of the Apostles to prevent and confront crimes of sexual abuse. To this end, one of the directives included in this resolution is the establishment of an independent, third-party reporting system. This includes informing the public about how to report cases involving bishops. The resolution also stipulated the essential participation of lay expert(s) in the process, as well as that of the Metropolitan Archbishop (Timothy Cardinal Dolan in the case of the New York State dioceses).

The third resolution, Protocol Regarding Available Restrictions on Bishops, provides for a manner of accountability for a retired bishop who resigned or was moved from his office due to grave acts of commission or omission in this area, or who subsequent to his resignation is found to have so acted or failed to act.

While the Diocese of Ogdensburg has been found compliant with the directives of the Charter since the compliance audits began, we must not become complacent. Where we have fallen short, we ask forgiveness. Our efforts to provide safe environments for the most vulnerable among us and to reach out to those who suffer from such sex abuse and misconduct call us to create a culture of accountability and transparency with the participation of lay women and men.

With John Morrison, Safe Environment Director, our Diocesan Review Board, and staff, we will be working to ensure that the recently adopted resolutions of the USCCB are included in our diocesan policies and procedures. Much good has been done, more will follow!

Other topics of discussion at the Plenary Assembly included: reports on Immigration issues, reaching out to those who are religiously unaffiliated, the death penalty and the revision of the National Directory for the Formation, Ministry, and Life of Permanent Deacons in the United States, 2nd edition.

Christ-led, Christ-fed and Hope-filled, we have much to do. We know that all our efforts must be firmly grounded in prayer and attentive listening to the Holy Spirit. Thank you for your prayerful support.

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