The US Bishops’ procedures for addressing child sex abuse remain “strongly in place” and the Bishops remain “especially firm” in their commitment “to remove permanently from public ministry any priest who committed such an intolerable offence,” said the president of the US Bishops’ conference.
“This painful issue continues to receive our careful attention,” said Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.
“The protection of our children and young people is of the highest priority,” the Archbishop said in a statement released on 24 March.
He added that the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” approved by the Bishops in 2002 “remains strongly in place.”
He said the Bishops who met in Washington for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Administrative Committee meeting on 22-23 March asked him to offer reassurances about the Church’s resolve to address sexual abuse and deal firmly with clergy who abuse children.
The Administrative Committee – composed of the executive officers, committee chairmen and regional representatives of the USCCB – is the highest decision-making body of the Bishops apart from the entire body when it meets twice a year in general assembly.
“We Bishops recommit ourselves to the rigorous mandates of the charter, and renew our confidence in its effectiveness,” Archbishop Dolan said in his statement.
“We repeat what we have said in the charter: ‘We make our own the words of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II: that the sexual abuse of young people is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God.’”
Both the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and norms the US Bishops approved for dioceses to adhere to the charter’s mandates have Vatican approval.
The charter, which also established the Bishops’ Office for Child and Youth Protection, was updated in 2005, the norms in 2006.
The charter mandates that safe environment programmes be set up in dioceses and parishes.
It also requires an annual audit on how dioceses and Religious Orders are complying with provisions in the charter.
In the nine years since the charter was first approved, “we have constantly reviewed the high promises and rigorous mandates of the charter, as we continually try to make it even more effective,” Archbishop Dolan said.
He said the Bishops “keep refining” it based on input from the lay-led National Review Board and from Catholic parents, professionals, the victim-survivor community, law enforcement officials and diocesan victim-assistance coordinators.
“We want to learn from our mistakes and we welcome constructive criticism,” the Archbishop added.
He said the Bishops are to take up a “long-planned review” of the charter during their June meeting.
Archbishop Dolan said the audits will continue in order to check on how well the Church is able “to protect our young people, promote healing of victims/survivors and restore trust.”
His statement referred to “recent disclosures about the Church’s response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests” but did not mention the recent clergy sex abuse crisis in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
A Philadelphia grand jury released a report on 10 February that called for the Archdiocese to “review all of the old allegations against currently active priests and to remove from ministry all of the priests with credible allegations against them.”
In response, the Archdiocese, among other things, has hired a former sex crimes prosecutor to review personnel files of the 37 priests named in the grand jury’s report.
Cardinal Justin Rigali has placed 21 priests on administrative leave while any allegations
made against them are reviewed.
In his statement, Archbishop Dolan said the progress the Church has made in addressing abuse “must continue and cannot be derailed; we want to strengthen it even more; we can never stop working at it, because each child and young person must always be safe, loved and cherished in the Church.”
He said the designation of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month provides the Bishops with “the providential opportunity to unite with all Americans in a renewed resolve to halt the scourge of sexual abuse of youth in our society.”
After 16 years as Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Michael Malone will step down in a few months.
In recent years the local diocese has been buffeted by claims of sexual abuse and the Bishop says he’s proud he confronted the issue so strongly, even though it made him unpopular with some in the Church.
Pope Benedict XVI announced that Bishop Malone’s replacement will be Reverend William Wright, currently Parish Priest of All Saints Liverpool.
Bishop Malone told 1233’s Jill Emberson it’s an announcement he’s been waiting for.
“I’ve been waiting for this now for well over a year, so I must admit I’m rather chuffed that it’s now come,” he says.
“And I think the choice of my successor, William Wright, I think he’s a good man, I think he’ll be very good for this part of the world.”
Bishop Malone says his replacement is 58 years old, and is very experienced having worked in many parts of Sydney and country NSW, including challenging areas such as Mt Druitt and Moree.
The 71-year-old Bishop admits dealing with the problem of sexual abuse within the Church has taken its toll.
“It’s been tough, I’d have to say,” he told Jill.
“In asking for assistance, as I did towards the end of 2009, I was advised that perhaps the best way to go about it would be when I was ready, to offer my resignation.
“So I put in the resignation and I’ve been waiting as I said for just over a year now.
“But in that year there’s been some awful scandals in different parts of the Church, in Ireland and in Europe, Germany particularly, and these have I think just further affected the status of the Church in the eyes of many people.”
Jill asked whether the Catholic Church has learnt from these difficulties.
“I think the jury’s out a bit on that,” Bishop Malone says.
“I know that sections of the Church have learnt a very serious lesson, but sometimes I wonder whether the penny has dropped where it ought, in the halls of authority and hierarchical structure of the Church.
“I still sense that there’s a denial that these sorts of things are as bad as perhaps they’ve been made out to be, and that worries me a little to say the least.
“When it comes to sexual abuse within the Church it’s very important for the Church to admit its fallibility and to admit that these things have happened on the Church’s watch.
“And in admitting that, to apologise for the dreadful harm that has caused to many people, not only the immediate survivors but also their families and friends and parish communities.
“You know, the ripples go wide with this whole matter.”
It’s a source of pride to the Bishop that he took a strong stance on sexual abuse even though it wasn’t popular in some quarters.
“I’m proud that I have confronted the issues as strongly as I have, the issues of sexual abuse,” he says.
“I’m proud that in a sense I took a stance that was unpopular with other bishops and while it was a difficult place to be, is something that I found necessary and I was pleased that I did it.”
Bishop Malone’s dream is to travel around Australia, and after that he says he’ll make himself available for pastoral placements.