Sexual Abuse and Its Widespread Damage

During the last two decades, we have learned more about sexual abuse than we ever expected or wished to know. The suffering that victims and their families endured has been twofold — the abuse itself and the trauma of being silenced or ignored. 

Much has changed in the church since the adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (the Dallas Charter) in June 2002, but the pain continues. 

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio understood the gravity of the crisis early on and responded quickly. A statement last week from the Diocese of Camden, N.J., shows that even before the Dallas Charter, Bishop DiMarzio created protocols to protect children and help victims.

For example, the Diocese of Camden was the first in the country to set up a phone line for victims to report abuse. Bishop DiMarzio also enlisted law-enforcement officials to review diocesan policies on reporting abuse.

During his 16 years in Brooklyn and Queens, Bishop DiMarzio has continued to develop ways to combat clerical sex abuse. In 2004, he established another phone line to report sexual abuse allegations. He set protocols and started programs regarding accountability, reconciliation, prevention and victim assistance.

In February, Bishop DiMarzio authorized the release of the names of 108 priests from the Diocese of Brooklyn credibly accused of child abuse over the diocese’s 166-year history.

On Oct. 3, he was appointed by the Vatican to lead a fact-finding mission into accusations that the Diocese of Buffalo has covered up abuse by clergy. 

Then on Nov. 13, less than two weeks after he announced the conclusion of his apostolic visitation to Buffalo, the Associated Press published an article stating that Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian is preparing a lawsuit on behalf of a client who says he was molested by Bishop DiMarzio when he was a priest in Jersey City, N.J., in the mid-1970s.

New Jersey signed a law in May that lifted the statute of limitations so that anyone who claims they were sexually abused can sue a public institution. The reason for the law is to obtain justice for victims who decided to come forward — in some cases, decades after they were abused.

Faced with an allegation himself, Bishop DiMarzio immediately and categorically denied the claim. That raises the question of what happens to a person who is falsely accused. In this instance, the accusation spread quickly because of the AP report.

The lawsuit has not even been filed, but Bishop DiMarzio is already forced to defend himself. No matter the outcome, Bishop DiMarzio’s reputation, one can argue, has already been tarnished.

For years, Bishop DiMarzio has championed the cause to eradicate the scourge of sexual abuse in the church and help survivors get justice and reconstruct their lives. Now he is the one who must fight for his own justice.

So what now? We must wait to see if the lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Newark is filed. If it is, we then have to let the legal process play out.

The horror of sexual abuse has destroyed many lives, and in some cases, it can also damage the lives and reputations of those falsely accused.