Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Every year since 2002 when the horrible tragedy and scandal of sex abuse of children and minors by clergy became known, I have reported to you about the efforts of our Diocese, its parishes, schools and other institutions to protect children and young people within the communities that make up this local Church. I do so again this year with no less of a heavy heart that children and young people have been betrayed by priests and others who used their power and position to harm God’s little ones, scarring them and leaving them and their families with a suffering that is unimaginable.
The horror cannot, however, paralyze us. It must be the stimulus to be ever vigilant and to do all we can to make our Church a “safe haven” where parents know their children will feel safe and be safe. This has been brought about by our compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that has guided the Church in the USA well since its adoption in 2002.
Following previous reports, I wish to inform you that this Diocese has been found once again fully compliant by the Gavin Group of outside auditors who have reviewed our parish as well as our diocesan efforts. We have completed background screening for more than 84,000 employees and volunteers in our parishes, schools and diocesan offices. We have more than 250 trained Facilitators to
conduct the Virtus program which has been given to more than 84,000 persons in our diocese. These sessions are offered throughout the year in different places in the Diocese. More than 2480 have been offered since 2003 and one can find the places and dates for future sessions by checking the link on our website, www.drvc.org (Virtus Training Schedule).
Because We Care is an educational newsletter published by the Office of Protection in April which is distributed across our Diocese with news and stories and instructive pointers to keep us conscious of our obligations and united in our care.
Partners in Protection was developed by Ms. Eileen Puglisi, the highly regarded director of our Diocesan Office of Protection as a way for different faith traditions to share ideas and best practices as an interfaith effort. Last June 25, she was the principal presenter of these programs at a meeting in Manhattan of representatives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and counterparts from the Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Assembly of America. This was well received as was her special presentation to the priests of the Diocese who were named pastors for the first time this past June. Ms. Puglisi keeps me informed of the many other initiatives of her office among which the Support Group for victim survivors is one that is most important. These brave and good people meet under her auspices. They deserve our prayer and the support of our continued vigilance.
In 2009 there were two allegations made against priests. The two were lodged against priests who are deceased. There have been some incidents involving lay teachers all of which were immediately reported to the District Attorney with jurisdiction and the appropriate action taken in each and every situation.
The completion of the Tribunal process regarding Msgr. Alan Placa received a certain amount of public attention this past year. In 2002, an allegation was made against Msgr. Placa going back some years. I immediately placed Msgr. Placa on administrative leave which meant he could not present himself as a priest, wear clerical clothing and most of all have no pastoral ministry. The diocesan investigation was inconclusive. Therefore in fairness to everyone I asked the Holy See to review the situation and give me their counsel. The Holy See advised me to begin a Church Tribunal process. I asked that this process be held in the Diocese of Albany for two reasons: first that no one could claim that our Tribunal might be prejudiced in favor of a diocesan priest and second, in Albany because that is where the complainant actually lives. That process took some years while the three judge panel carefully examined the evidence brought by the complainant. Once the judges reached their decision, they transmitted it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has the authority to review the matter and render a final and definitive judgment. This they did and so informed me that they upheld the decision of the Albany tribunal that Msgr. Placa was not guilty of the charge as made and that he was to be restored to good standing as a priest. As his bishop I followed the instruction of the Congregation and restored him to good standing as a priest and had one of the auxiliary bishops go to the parish where he was in residence to explain this to the parish. That is his current status and, as a result of this tribunal process, he has a right in justice to his good reputation. The one area over which I continued to have authority throughout this process is that of pastoral ministry. Msgr. Placa and I had agreed that whatever
the result of this process I would not place him back into active pastoral ministry. He is a priest in good standing who has every right to live out his priesthood and celebrate Mass and the sacraments. He will not, however, be assigned to pastoral ministry in our Diocese or any other. I ask you to continue to pray for everyone involved in this and similar situations.
In 2003 when the first Gavin Group Audits took place, all of us were committed to being compliant with the norms of The Charter. Over the years it has become evident that we have moved beyond compliance to commitment. Sadly it took the horror of the reality of the tragedy to wake us up to assume our proper responsibilities in this area. What has happened over these past seven years is a growing awareness that we can never let up on this commitment. We can never cease to be vigilant. We can never assume that incidents cannot happen again. Everyone wants to provide a safe place for our children. But it requires serious effort and ongoing vigilance. It means diligence in background checks and Virtus training. It means all of us remembering that so long as there is one child who has been abused, we have to beg forgiveness, offer whatever therapeutic help we can and re-commit ourselves day after day. The Church has done much and we can all be thankful for that. But we can never become complacent and we can never be boastful. We must constantly pray to God for strength to be faithful to our commitment, be ever mindful of those who this day and every day continue to suffer and do our best humbly and sincerely to make amends by doing what is right and living up to the responsibility that is ours.
I mentioned that we publish Because We Care every April. April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. I want every day to be our awareness day. But I want us all to be as one with all our fellow citizens during the month of April so that our nation, our Church, our every community might be transformed into safe havens where every child is loved, every child protected and every adult committed to this fundamental moral good.
With my prayers for all of you but especially for those who suffer, I am
Yours devotedly in Christ,
Bishop of Rockville Centre