My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As a Bishop, it is my responsibility to meet with people who have survived sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. It is among the most painful and challenging ministries, but it is also a privilege. On one hand, hearing their stories of abuse involves coming into contact with pure evil. On the other, I also am able to see how God’s grace works in the lives of the survivors. The evil some of my brothers have done shakes my faith, but the courage and testimony of those who survive confirms that evil is not the last word.
That evil was again evident in the horrific details released in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, which covered sexual abuse in the Church there over a span of 70 years. The report led to the request received here on September 6th by the Attorney General of the State of New York that every diocese in the State gives an accounting of 70 years of sexual abuse, not only against any minor but also against any adult by a priest, deacon, bishop or employee of the Church. This is an enormous task, which needs to be completed by October 9, 2018. We certainly need to request an extension of time, since the electronic format in which this is required to be submitted is almost impossible to be achieved in one month’s time.
It is of significance that no other religion or local boards of education have been asked to do the same despite studies that show sexual abuse against minors and young people is prevalent. A 2004 study by the U.S. Department of Education estimated that 1-in-10 students (10 percent) will be sexually abused by a teacher during their years in school. A 2007 Associated Press study (see Washington Post link to AP study) had similar findings.
The fact of the matter is, however, that all known accusations against minors that were reported to us before 2002 and since 2002 have directly gone to the District Attorney of each borough. And since 2002, calls to the toll-free reporting line – 1-888-634-4499 – are given to the District Attorney with the information of any accusation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest, deacon or bishop.
The horrific details of the Pennsylvania report of these sex abuse cases that occurred over a span of 50 years, have caused great alarm for the faithful and also have seemed to become of great interest to our country and the world. The details of perverse, immoral, deviant and criminal acts in the Pennsylvania report have caused a reopening of wounds in many, and have caused major setbacks for those who were on their path towards healing. It seems that this report served no other purpose but to incite people against the Church and does little to bring forward any healing or prevention. One can only hope that at least one positive result would be an even further development of programs already in place for the protection of children and prevention of abuse.
Yet, one can sense a political motive to roll back the statute of limitations. Given the current condition of our court system today, there would be little justice that is timely in these cases if they had to reach the court for resolution in criminal and civil cases.
In New York State every diocese has initiated an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which has settled numerous cases in an effort to bring about closure and reconciliation for the victims. The claims were handled by an outside Independent Administrator, Kenneth Feinberg, who handled the compensation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While in Rome, I was privileged to be the main celebrant at morning Mass for the seminarians at the North American College. It happened that the day was September 11. The readings of the day, and the memorial of 9/11, prompted my sermon, which I will condense, on the comparison between the feeling of the national security vulnerability after 9/11, which was probably as great as the mourning for the loss of the innocent and the first responders. The response of our Nation was to update our anti-terrorism efforts, which we see have, thank God, become effective to the present.
At the same time, I believe that we, as a Church, are in a state of moral vulnerability right now. Whom do you trust? Are we receiving all of the facts? Was there cover-up in the past? Truly, it is difficult to briefly answer these questions completely together. I do intend, however, to answer them as best I can as we finish the IRCP to make a full accounting of what happened and how the program was handled.
At this time, I can at least say this; in 2002 when the Bishops of the United States entered into the Dallas Charter, “The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” it resulted in the establishment of a program of zero tolerance, reporting directly to law enforcement and a program of intense prevention. Since that time, new cases have been minimal. But let me be clear, even one case is one case too many. As I have said in the past, this was a kind of an epidemic, which had a beginning, a high point and an end.
Recently, you may have read that the diocese settled a case within the statute of limitations for $27.5 million, which was paid by its insurance. Actually, another defendant paid about $10 million of this settlement. This particular case does not involve a clergy member as an abuser, but rather a volunteer. Signs were missed that children were being abused. This highlights that we must all remain vigilant and have a responsibility for the safety of children.
In regard to the issue of cover-up, which certainly is disturbing, I can say to you I have never covered anything up. Prior to 2002, only 14 percent of the cases that were recently settled in the IRCP were known to us. Forty-three percent more victims came forward after 2002 to report that they had been abused by a clergy member. And now, as we have released the IRCP, 43 percent more of the reconciliation requests have been presented to us.
It is hard to understand how anyone can cover up what is not known. It is important that we understand the facts, otherwise, we are led to make assumptions that there was gross, moral malfeasance, which I do not believe was the case in the Diocese of Brooklyn. All cases of abuse in the past were not handled in a uniform way because there was no general agreement in the Church on how a priest could lose ministry.
As a result, there were some cases that were handled in the wrong way. But since the 2002 Dallas Charter, we have resolved almost all, if any, difficulty in handling any case brought to our attention. We have an outside lay review board that assists me in making decisions on every case that has been reported after it is reported to the appropriate District Attorney.
As the Church Universal in these days puts out into the deep water of self-scrutiny, it is certainly a time to deepen our faith, to pray for reconciliation, most especially for those who have been harmed and deeply injured by clerical sexual abuse. It is so sad to realize that within the very bosom of the Church that some horrific things such as sexual abuse against minors and young people could have ever happened.
Now that we are fully aware of the depth of the situation, we need to respond even more urgently to whatever has not been done in the past and needs to be done in the future. We are not afraid of a full accounting, but the accounting certainly must be put in context.
The Church has recently put out into the deep waters of transparency regarding the history of the sexual abuse revelations. The Church universal and local will work to clarify and rectify this challenge to our moral authority, which can only be strengthened by more effective programs of prevention.