May 25, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 8 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
The release (May 18) of The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, a report conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, adds understanding as to how and why the sin and crime of sexual abuse was committed by some within the Catholic Church.
In one way or another, sexual abuse of minors affects every religion, school, organization, institution, and profession in our society. The study notes that the sexual abuse of minors is a human problem that all of society must always guard against.
This 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.
The John Jay Causes and Context study is a report to the bishops of the United States from an acclaimed academic institution with experts in the area of sexual abuse. It is not a report from the bishops. The Catholic Church in the United States has been noted as the first group anywhere to contract a professional agency — in this case, the John Jay College — to examine the “causes and contexts” of this scourge within its organization. This study, funded by the USCCB and by some Catholic institutions, was given total freedom to conduct its research without outside influence. Neither the USCCB nor any individual bishop was involved in the study nor had any opportunity to interfere with or change its findings. It is a scientific study which remained totally under the control of the John Jay Institute and the researchers had complete freedom to conduct the research and their conclusions are theirs and theirs alone independent of any ecclesiastical oversight.
The study points out that there was no single cause that led to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. Neither celibacy, as some have suggested, nor homosexuality, as others have claimed, has been found to be the reason why a person would engage in sexual abuse of a minor.
Instead, the Causes and Context report identifies various societal conditions that affected certain vulnerable individual priests, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, that led to instances of abuse.
Some of the main conclusions provided in the Causes and Context study are consistent with our own experience here in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The report makes clear that the vast majority of sexual abuse occurred during the 1960s and 1970s into the first years of the 1980s, even as it examines the various conditions that led to this abuse. It also concludes that the incidence of sexual abuse of minors has declined sharply in the Catholic Church since 1985.
The reports of abuse that the Diocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Young People receives today are almost exclusively from decades ago. This does not minimize the damage done to the victims of abuse. Once again I offer an apology to anyone who may have been harmed by a priest or any other person acting in the name of the Church, however long ago. As a bishop who has always sought to respond correctly and sensitively to these horrendous sins and crimes, I can never be forgetful of my own responsibility and acknowledge that too many bishops put care for the abusive priest ahead of care for the victim.
The study reinforces the importance of the work that the Office for the Protection of Children and Young People is already doing in our diocese to protect children and young people from abuse; that is to create safe environments where appropriate boundaries between adults and children are maintained.
When an allegation of abuse is made, our policy and procedures are well-established, widely published, and effective. First and foremost, we continue to encourage anyone who has an allegation of abuse against a cleric, an employee, or volunteer of the Diocese to report it immediately and directly to the appropriate civil authorities. If the Diocese of Rockville Centre has reason to believe that an act of abuse of a minor has occurred, it immediately contacts the appropriate civil law enforcement authorities, cooperating with the district attorneys and other civil authorities in their investigations of suspected cases of abuse.
Our Independent Diocesan Review Board, comprised of a psychiatrist, law enforcement official, canonical lawyer, civil lawyer, a victim and those experienced in working with sex abuse victims, reviews all investigative reports to determine whether or not a priest or deacon is suitable for ministry and recommends to the Bishop of Rockville Centre suitability for future ministry.
In 2010, the Diocese of Rockville Centre was found to be in full compliance with the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by an independent audit by the Gavin Group. The Diocese continues to implement and maintain safe environment standards because we are committed to making sure that our children and young people are protected in our churches, schools and agencies. We look forward to our next audit this October by StoneBridge Business Partners.
To date, approximately 97,000 volunteers and staff have attended the Virtus awareness and prevention program. The Virtus program teaches Church staff and volunteers how to be on the alert for sex abuse and how to report it.
There are approximately 215 Virtus facilitators presently conducting sessions regularly in our parishes, schools and agencies throughout Long Island. In all our schools and religious education programs, children are taught: a) what abuse is, b) personal safety tools to prevent abuse and c) how to report abuse of any kind. By way of victim assistance, the diocese continues to provide therapeutic support for victims and their families.
The Diocese conducts background checks on personnel and volunteers. Since the program began, the diocese has completed over 97,000 background screenings of priests, deacons, religious and lay staff members and volunteers who serve in diocesan agencies and any of the 133 parishes in the diocese.
As of May 2011, there have been more than a quarter of a million people in the Diocese of Rockville Centre who have been provided with some form of awareness and prevention information.
Our “Because We Care” newsletter is available in English and Spanish. This newsletter is geared to parents and volunteers. It includes articles by persons who have been abused, by law enforcement, and those who work with victims and their families. The newsletter is available at parishes, schools and agencies. It is also available on the diocesan website: www.drvc.org.
In addition, our seminary formation program provides rigorous screening, and more intensive and comprehensive human and emotional development, which better prepares our future priests to live out their commitment to serving God and His Church. Finally, Codes of Conduct, both for clergy and for laity, have been established to clarify what is and is not appropriate behavior for those who work with or are associated with minors.
May Mary, the Comforter of the Afflicted, bring peace to the hearts of all who have suffered so much.