Last week a grand jury report came out in Pennsylvania addressing priests accused of abusing children and how those situations were handled by bishops in 6 dioceses over the past 70 years. My reactions, like those of many others I have talked to, range from anger, to sorrow, to shame, but I did notice one reaction that was also involved in 2002 that I and others no longer had, disbelief. Unfortunately, that is because we are already aware of similar actions that we might have doubted in the past but we now know are true. Fortunately, it means that we are listening to victims. Not blindly, but with respect and concern, and hopefully the desire to care for them, protect others, and to do all that is possible to prevent these sins, these crimes, from happening again.
There are numerous actions that we have done and, hopefully, we take this as a reminder as to why we have to do them. “Protecting God’s Children” and other means of instructing all employees and volunteers about practices and actions that are acceptable and those that are not. Recognizing what can potentially lead to abuse and how to identify and confront it. This report can be an encouragement to not grow lax in our awareness and a reminder that we need to change our entire culture to prevent these actions in the future.
Priests and deacons, whenever they travel to another diocese for any ministry are required to have their home diocese send the diocese and the parish they are going to a letter informing them that they are a priest or deacon in good standing. Acheck to be sure that a minister who may be visiting from another diocese does not have any allegations against them and also a reminder for their home diocese and the bishop that they have a responsibility for the actions of this priest or deacon. This change has taken older priests a while to get used to and even remember it is needed when they travel outside the diocese, but like seat belts in a car, younger priests who have always known this practice just consider it normal. This report is again a sad reminder of why this practice is needed.
But there is also more that we need to do, and hopefully some of that anger we are experiencing will help our resolve with this response. In holding authorities more accountable for their actions, in the past and present. In recognizing that no one is beyond question and having a means to hear and investigate any accusation. And also in considering what civil laws may be needed to help prevent and seek some form of justice for those who have been abused in any part of our society.
God has given us freedom, that we have seen some have abused, to sin in horrible ways, and their actions can lead others to sin. May we use our freedom as God meant, to show love, to protect the innocent, and to help those most harmed by sin to realize God’s love for them.