As we continue to deal with the impact of the revelation of clerical sexual abuse allegations in our diocese, there is so much I need and want to say.
First and foremost, it is this: to any and all of you who are victims of sexual abuse as children or youth by a priest of the Diocese of Buffalo, I am profoundly sorry for the terrible pain this has caused you. While nothing I can say to you could heal all of the hurt of this tragic breach of trust, I do, as bishop of this diocese, apologize to you. I want you to come forward, to law enforcement, and to us so that we can help you. Our victim assistance coordinator, Jackie Joy, is ready and eager to take your call. You can contact her at 716-895-3010.
The revelation of sexual abuse of children by a number of priests of our diocese has angered, shaken and traumatized our entire community, Catholic and beyond. Parishioners' faith has been strained, sometimes to the limit. We priests feel the pain of victims, and at the same time, a deep sense of shame that the witness of our priestly integrity has been marred by the abhorrent behavior, the sins and crimes, of a number of our brother priests.
This edition of the Western New York Catholic contains the names of those priests of our diocese who were removed from ministry, were retired, or left ministry after allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. By now, you have seen that list. I can only imagine the dismay and feeling of betrayal that you are experiencing right now. I share those emotions with you.
It is a traumatic but necessary thing to bring these matters into the light. The common practice in decades past when dealing with an alleged abuser was to send him for professional evaluation and treatment at one of several institutes that serve that need. Sometimes, in the past, this assessment resulted in a recommendation that the priest in question could be safely returned to ministry. We know now that such confidence was mistaken in most cases. Now, with even one instance of abuse of a minor admitted or proven, we heed the words of Pope St. John Paul II, echoed by Pope Francis, that "there is absolutely no place in ministry for those who abuse the young."
Today, the diocese strictly maintains a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual abuse of children and minors.
Since 2001, the Holy See has required that names of priests accused of particularly serious crimes be sent to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for canonical adjudication. We are preparing those cases at this time. What else are we doing? You can read about the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) on page 11 of this issue. My intention is that going forward, we will continue to reach out and respond to victims as they come forth. We want to accompany these brothers and sisters on the road to healing and justice.
The title of my column this month - "Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal" - is the name of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It is a statement of our shared commitment to do all within our power to create safe environments for our young people in all of our Catholic institutions and organizations. With the Essential Norms for Diocesan Policies dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, the charter has become the roadmap directing every diocese in all matters relating to sexual abuse of children and teens.
We will continue to honor our "promise to protect" too. I am committed to doing all that I can - with your help - to ensure that the Catholic Church in Western New York will be the safest possible environment for our young people. We work every day to ensure that goal is met. Our Safe Environment coordinator, Don Blowey, and his assistant, Chris Spraggins, are devoted to this work on a full-time basis. From the time the diocese began implementing safe environment protocols in October 2003, 1,298 workshops have trained about 41,745 adults. In 2017 alone, 1,589 individuals were trained. In these years, the diocese has run 41,758 criminal background checks on all clergy and any adult who works with children or youth whether as an employee or volunteer. Thousands of children in our schools and parish faith formation programs have received training in safe environment in age-appropriate ways, for example, the "No, Go, Tell!" response to anyone who makes a child uncomfortable. In higher grades, media awareness, safe dating and more adult topics regarding personal safety are addressed.
To the victims of past abuse, I express again my deep sorrow and sincere regret for that. I urge them (perhaps you) to come forward so that we can walk with you from darkness into light. And I cannot conclude without thanking the good priests of our diocese for their integrity of life and faithful pastoral ministry. I am so grateful to you and proud of you. In unity and prayer, we will walk through this together, with Jesus Christ, Risen Lord and Eternal High Priest, leading us on.