As you may know, last week the diocese released a list of the names of diocesan priests in this diocese who have a substantiated allegation of abuse of a minor against them (gbdioc.org/clergydisclosurelist). I am heartbroken as I think about this list. My heart aches for the grave pain that these men have caused for the victims-survivors, for their families, and for all the faithful who have felt the great weight of this scandal.
In this column I want to provide some background on why we decided to release this list, how the list was generated, what we can learn from this list, and our steps moving forward. I do all of this as part of my continued pledge to be transparent about the steps we are taking to try to make things right.
With the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, as well as Bishop Robert Morneau’s request to leave active ministry this past fall, I heard from many of you about the damage that this crisis has done. In particular, it became clear that in order for people to truly heal, we must conduct a full accounting of the scope of this issue within our diocese. It is only by naming our sins that we can seek to overcome them.
With that in mind, and in consultation with our diocesan Independent Review Board (IRB), I made the decision to hire an independent investigative firm to conduct an outside review of the files of all diocesan priests and deacons. Defenbaugh & Associates conducted their review in October and November and presented their findings to the IRB and the diocesan Chancellor just before Christmas. After reviewing the findings, the IRB formally recommended to me that we release this list of names. Before releasing the list, we made a point to reach out to the victims-survivors to notify them of our plans. While our hope is that releasing this list will aid in their healing, we also know that it may open new wounds and create new hurt. For this, I am profoundly sorry and I continue to offer to listen and walk with any victims-survivors who would like to meet with me.
As I said before, reading this list is heartbreaking. There is no sugarcoating the reality of this issue and this list represents a stain on our diocese. For this, too, I am sincerely sorry.
At the same time, I think we can see from this list that the vast majority of priests who have served in our diocese over the past 100 years have not and are not abusing children. Furthermore, this report makes it clear that much of the damage took place several decades ago and the steps we have taken to eliminate sexual abuse have been effective. Currently there are no known priests serving in active ministry in the diocese who have a substantiated allegation of the sexual abuse of a minor against them.
Nonetheless, even one case of sexual abuse within the church is one too many, whether it occurred yesterday or 50 years ago. We also know that with the release of this list, it is possible others will come forward who have been victimized. If you have been a victim, please share this information with law enforcement and with the diocese so that we can offer care and ensure that no perpetrators remain in ministry.
More than anything, I want to recognize the victims-survivors for your strength over the years in coming forward to tell your stories. The hurt you have endured at the hands of your perpetrator cannot be undone, and while I can apologize, the best thing I feel I can do is show you through actions that we are being transparent and addressing this issue head-on. To that end, I want to share with you some of our next steps.
First of all, please know that you are in my prayers especially in these coming days. If you have suffered with your pain in silence, I invite you to reach out to the diocesan Office of Safe Environment, Catholic Charities or another mental health provider to share your story.
Second, I am committed to walking with those who have been harmed by clergy sexual abuse, whether we already know you, or whether you come forward in the days and weeks ahead. In particular, we will again host our Healing Prayer Services for victims-survivors this April.
Lastly, next week on Thursday, Jan. 31, and Friday, Feb. 1, Catholic Charities, in conjunction with Trauma Recovery Associates, will conduct two workshops for priests, pastoral leaders, spiritual caregivers and mental health practitioners. Training area professionals is an initial step the diocese is taking to help care for individuals who suffered sexual or other types of abuse in childhood.
These are just a few of the steps we are taking. I will continue to keep you informed as we plan additional steps, as I have done over the past several months.
With the disclosure of this list of clergy, a new chapter begins. A chapter that is about transparency and a chapter that can set a course toward healing for all those who have been hurt by the church. May the Holy Spirit move in the hearts of all people who need the healing presence of Christ.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken