As a bishop who experienced firsthand the unfolding of the sexual abuse crisis in the church soon after my episcopal ordination in 1999, the new movie “Spotlight” represents a reliving of just how devastating sexual abuse and its aftermath can be to victims and to their families, and to the church. We all need to appreciate what it was like for victims not to have been believed or to be tormented with the thought that they somehow contributed to the abuse even when they did not, or for them to have seen their abuser continue unimpeded in ministry because bishops failed to act.
To those who have been the victims of any abuse, sexual or otherwise, whether as a child or as an adult, and to the parents, siblings or friends of those who were abused – I ask, the church asks, for forgiveness. Healing and reconciliation continue to be an important but not easy goal, given the terrible effects that these sins and crimes can cause in the lives of victims, to whom the church owes the deepest expression of sorrow and apology.
I regularly pray for all victims of sexual abuse, not just clerical abuse, and their families, especially those in our archdiocese. Praying for all victims is important. Although it is particularly heinous for a priest, deacon or bishop to be an abuser, statistics show what a widespread problem sexual abuse is in our society far beyond the crimes of clergy alone.
The church’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms stipulate that where the crime is admitted or substantiated, a priest or deacon will not be returned to ministry. In a case where the alleged crime is not admitted, and cannot be substantiated, the priest will be reinstated and every effort made to restore his good name. As a family of faith, we welcome Pope Francis’ papal commission, which the Holy Father created in 2014 to advise him on additional reform measures.
Our ongoing goal is simple but challenging: to do everything humanly possible to address past acts of sexual abuse and to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse now and in the future. Our archdiocesan policy of “zero tolerance” of sexual abuse is a very good one with clearly defined legal and pastoral consequences for offenders should abuse of any form take place. We cannot be too careful when it comes to potential sexual abuse, not just by clergy, but all potential abusers. As a bishop, I am pledged to enforce this policy, and I ask your help to see that it is carefully observed. Anyone who needs to report abuse of any kind should contact Sister Dolores Lahr, the victim assistance coordinator of the Archdiocese of Hartford, at 860-541-6475.
In accordance with the Charter adopted by the U.S. Bishops 14 years ago, the Archdiocese of Hartford conducts mandatory background checks for all personnel who come in contact with a minor or vulnerable adult. We willingly comply with an annual audit overseen by an independent, unbiased entity. We require sexual abuse awareness training for all of our employees, as well as those who teach Catholic school or in a parish religious formation program. As of 2014, the Catholic Church in the United States has trained 98 percent of our 2 million volunteers, employees, educators, clergy and candidates for ordination in parishes on how to create safe environments and prevent child sexual abuse. We have prepared more than 4.4 million children to recognize abuse and protect themselves. And we have run background checks on close to 2 million volunteers and employees, 51,314 clerics and 6,568 candidates for ordination.
We expect our clergy, as well as men and women religious, teachers, catechists, coaches, youth ministers, volunteers and others throughout the diocese, to help create and uphold a culture that will not tolerate abuse and that values continuous training. In the spirit of public awareness and ongoing vigilance, please read about the full breadth of programs run by our Office of Safe Environment to educate and protect the faithful, and to promote healing and reconciliation, at http://archdioceseofhartford.org/office-of-safe-environment.
Finally, we should also be mindful of the scandal’s human cost to the overwhelming majority of priests and deacons in our archdiocese who never engaged in any act of sexual abuse of minors yet still find themselves under a cloud of suspicion. They, too, need our compassion, encouragement and prayers.