My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we approach Thanksgiving, we recognize its origin which reminds us of the Pilgrims who came to the New World seeking protection from religious persecution. The Puritans could not exercise their religion in the England of their day. So they took the risk to come to this New World, to, first of all, find religious freedom. The celebration of Thanksgiving reminds us of this; however, it also reminds us of the first Thanksgiving where the Pilgrims and Indians celebrated together the first harvest which the Indians had helped the Pilgrims to plant and harvest. Some have tried to distort this historical fact. The fact is, had it not happened, this celebration should have happened anyway. This is what we ourselves celebrate up to the present day on our national Thanksgiving Day, a nation united across ethnic differences.
The issue of religious freedom is one that has been on our minds for several years now, as the whittling away of religious freedom has affected our society because religious values are no longer considered to be mainstream values. I call to mind perhaps a prophecy that the late Francis Cardinal George of Chicago once annunciated. On his deathbed dying of cancer, he announced, “I expected to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.”
I call this issue to mind since we are currently facing a severe curtailment of the religious freedom of the Catholic Church in the United States. The last prejudice that seems to be allowable in the United States is against Catholics. There has always been an “anti-Catholic” sentiment in our country, claiming that we owe allegiance to a foreign power in the Holy Father. This, however, is only an excuse because of our moral stance on so many life issues and other important issues. Our religious freedom is what is at stake in the current barrage of subpoenas and court cases to which we have been subjected.
Four Regional Meetings
I have just finished my four regional meetings with representatives of the leadership from our parishes in Brooklyn and Queens, trying to explain the history of the sexual abuse crisis and the present situation that we face today. This is a complex issue which cannot be easily explained. In these meetings, I first explain to those present the two reports of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first John Jay Study categorized the clergy sexual abuse from 1950 to 2002, and the second study, “The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010,” which delved into the causes and context of such an abuse epidemic.
Following my opening comments, the people saw a film of a recent meeting held for the priests of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens where I explained to them the history of the clergy sexual abuse in the diocese during those years mentioned above. After the film, Ms. Jasmine Salazar, LMSW, Vice Chancellor and Victim Assistance Coordinator, showed a short film from victim survivors and the wife of one victim survivor. Ms. Salazar then made a presentation about the Office of Victim Assistance and what is provided by the Diocese of Brooklyn once a person reports an abuse to our independent “Reporting Line” – 1-888-634-4499.
A review of the Safe Environment Office then was presented by its coordinator, Mrs. Maryellen Quinn. Mrs. Quinn explained how the diocese protects our youth and young people from abuse with the “Child Lures” program, as well as how we train our clergy, employees, and volunteers in the “Virtus” Program. She also explained the background checks done on all who interact with children in the diocese and that employees and clergy are required to complete monthly continuing education. Since 2003, the diocese has trained 82,000 adults in over 3,200 Virtus sessions. Currently, in addition to employees, we have 38,000 active volunteers. Every year we instruct almost 60,000 children in Child Lures Prevention.
During these four regional meetings, those present were invited to ask any question they might have and I responded to their questions. This seems to have allowed for some honest discussion and dialogue among those present which is essential within our faith community.
A film will be produced for all people of the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens with the above information – providing data from the John Jay studies and the live questions asked by your parish leaders in the diocese, and the answers that were given to them. It is my hope that this film will be shown in our parishes, as well as on own NET- TV, so that a better understanding of the clergy sexual abuse crisis can be aired for all to see.
Press Coverage and Historical Facts
You may have seen a recent “60 Minutes” story on the Diocese of Buffalo which seemed to be a definite condemnation of the handling of clergy sex abuse cases in that diocese. The information presented is yet to be proven, although “60 Minutes” left no doubt by their presentation that this was indeed the truth. Also, during that same week, the Archdiocese of New York stated there was a credible allegation of sexual abuse made against New York Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop John Jenik. He denies the accusation of 30 years ago but has stepped aside until there is a definitive resolution of the matter. In addition, that same week a lawsuit was filed by an attorney from the state of Minnesota, Jeff Anderson, alleging that the Catholic Church is a “public nuisance” and, therefore, should be denied its “non-profit” status. This barrage of revelations has called attention to the clergy sex abuse crisis at this time, and gives the impression that it is a continuing saga and not a historical fact.
The Diocese of Brooklyn is in the process of completing our Independent Reconciliation Compensation Program (IRCP) for the compensation of victims of clergy sex abuse of the Diocese of Brooklyn. When the program is completed at the end of the year, a full report will be given regarding perpetrators, the number of victims, the compensation given and the source of the funds.
Recently, all of the Dioceses in the State of New York were served with a subpoena by the Attorney General of the State of New York. It is a very broad subpoena which asks for a multiplicity of information regarding any sexual abuse of minors and adults by any clergy, employees, and volunteers of the diocese and its related entities since 1950. No other comparable institution has been served with such a subpoena. It may cost the Diocese of Brooklyn several million dollars to respond to this subpoena, as every piece of paper that is requested by the State of New York must be digitized in a form that they can search.
Also, during the past week, we received from the United States Bishops’ Conference a request from the Department of Justice that we preserve all documents concerning the sexual abuse of minors.
One must wonder what is the bottom line. Why this intrusion into the administration of the diocese, which in some aspects crosses the boundary of Church and State relations?
The reason given seems to be the mishandling of the clergy sex abuse cases, all of which have already been reported to the appropriate district attorneys of either Kings County or Queens County.
There is a suspicion that there is some ulterior motive, similar to the Anderson suit, where the non-profit status of the Catholic Church is being threatened.
The Catholic Church is not merely an institution or a corporation. The Catholic Church is the People of God. This attack on the Catholic Church and its corporate structure is an attack on all who are Catholic.
We must better understand the potential curtailment of our religious freedom. Notwithstanding the inappropriate handling of sex abuse cases of the past before 2002, we can state definitively that since 2002 after the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” the Diocese of Brooklyn has received only two credible accusations of clergy sex abuse within the statue of limitations which, as per our policy, were reported to the law enforcement authorities.
The fact that all cases are sent to the appropriate authorities, along with the prevention and safe environment training of thousands of employees, volunteers, and clergy, and that only two cases have been reported within the criminal statute since 2002, would indicate that the charter is working.
As a Church, we must continue to put out into the deep waters that which may threaten our religious freedom.
As a diocese, we intend to respond to all legitimate requests for information and transparency, but we must protect our religious liberty and independence from the potential inappropriate intrusion of any state or federal agency.