Last week, the Diocese of Brooklyn published the list of members of its clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse against minors. Reading the list and the accompanying statement is a sobering experience. The list includes the names of 108 members of the clergy. The number represents less than five percent of the clergy in the history of the diocese. But, as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio has said, one case of sexual abuse is one too many.
Shortly after becoming Bishop of Brooklyn in 2003, Bishop DiMarzio established a confidential diocesan sexual abuse reporting line (888-634-4499). All cases reported to the diocese are sent to the district attorneys in Brooklyn and Queens. The diocese implemented the protocols established by the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People issued in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The graphs included with the statement (see Page 3) show that the epidemic of sexual abuse peaked during the 1970s. It also shows that the Dallas Charter is working. As Bishop DiMarzio noted in the video released with the statement, there have been only two credible cases involving active diocesan clergy reported to the diocese since its adoption in 2002.
While the epidemic has subsided, the victims continue to suffer from trauma caused by the abuse in all aspects of their lives. Helping these men and women continue to move forward in their personal healing process is fundamental.
In 2016, the Diocese of Brooklyn established the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP). It allows survivors of sexual abuse by members of the diocesan clergy to seek financial compensation. The diocesan Office of Victim Assistance Ministry works with survivors on a regular basis and hosts the annual Mass of Hope and Healing, celebrated by the bishop, for survivors and their families.
But the sexual abuse scandals have diminished the moral authority of the Church and its capacity to fulfill her essential mission of evangelization. The Church has been weakened. When our pastors talk about important issues – like the sanctity of life (abortion, euthanasia, death penalty), immigration, social justice or freedom of religion – their voices don’t resound with the same strength as they once did.
There is also a heavy price to pay in terms of vocations to the priesthood or religious life. How many vocations didn’t come to fruition during the last two decades because of the sexual abuse scandals?
The 95 percent of clergy members who were never accused of any impropriety are also paying the price of this crisis. They are often, and publicly, treated with distrust or contempt, even though they have dedicated their whole lives to the service of others.
The price for this crisis will also be paid in terms of religious liberty. Laws that in practical terms discriminate against Catholics persons and institutions will be easier to pass and implement. The financial impact of the scandals and settlements will affect the social and pastoral services the Church offers.
The epidemic of sexual abuse is over – that is what the data clearly shows. But the Catholic Church, her pastoral agents and the faithful will have to deal with the aftereffect for a long time. And the survivors of sexual abuse will bear the scars of what they have endured for the rest of their lives.