Sexual abuse in the church

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Bishop Ricken

By now, many of you are aware of the accusations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, formerly a member of the College of Cardinals. I have been deeply grieved as I have read the details of his sexual abuse and harassment of minors, as well as seminarians and young priests. I am also saddened to know that these abuses went unaddressed for so long.

A few weeks ago, in our Sunday readings, we heard the warning of the prophet Jeremiah: “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the Lord.” This passage serves as a reminder to anyone in a position of authority that with authority comes great responsibility. Any abuse committed by a church leader represents a failure in living up to this responsibility, not only on the part of the individual who abused, but for all leaders within the church. As your shepherd, I want to express my deepest regret for this failure.

Words of apology and regret in situations like this, however, are not enough. We must also learn from these mistakes and take action to ensure that these mistakes are not repeated. So what will be done?

Recently, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) convened the USCCB Executive Committee to address this issue. This will be the first of many meetings among bishops that will be oriented toward discerning the right course of action for the USCCB. I am committed to implementing any necessary changes that are recommended by the USCCB as a result of these discussions.

Here at home, we will continue to be diligent in preventing sexual abuse and harassment. Since I arrived here, I have pledged to protect all individuals from sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of anyone in the church. The diocese has a clearly established policy that was reviewed and revised this past March by our independent review board to ensure that we are following best practices. As part of that policy, we conduct background checks and require Virtus training for employees and volunteers. This training has been given numerous times to ensure that those who represent the church are equipped to protect all people they encounter.

Of course, policies cannot guarantee that a person will not be harmed by anyone within the church. For that reason, I urge anyone who has been sexually assaulted or harassed by someone in the church to come forward and report these allegations to civil and church authorities. I take these accusations very seriously and I pledge our cooperation with civil authorities to investigate these allegations and take necessary steps based on the findings of the investigation.

I also want to reiterate my commitment to walk with those who have been victimized by sexual abuse and harassment. In my time as bishop, I have met with victims of sexual abuse at their request to offer healing. The need for healing is great, and with the help of our Victim Assistance Coordinator, we will continue to assist all men, women and children who have been harmed in working towards this healing.

These are sad times for the church and remind us of the church’s ongoing need for conversion, especially among those who are given positions of authority. As your shepherd, I am committed to doing penance for this renewal of the church and making reparation for those whom we have failed. I invite all Catholics to join me in praying for victims of sexual abuse and harassment and for the renewal of the church.

May Jesus Christ, the perfect healer, bring healing to each and every person who has experienced harm as a result of this scandal, and may God give us the grace of repentance and a firm commitment to embracing his perfect will.

Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.