Protecting our children and young people
Soon it will be autumn. Here in the Archdiocese of Portland we shallobserve our fall Ember Day on Wednesday, September 26. This special dayof prayer and fasting once again will focus on the need for healing andreconciliation in the lives of those who have been most aggrieved as aresult of the sexual abuse of children by some of our clergy, religiousand other church workers. This particular Ember Day happens to fall onthe feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian, two physicians and martyrs fromthe third century. They are regarded as the patrons of physicians andsurgeons and are sometimes represented with medical emblems. As we prayfor healing, their intercession seems most appropriate.
The real work of healing and reconciliation, however, will never betruly successful until we are confident that we as a people have doneeverything we can to protect our children and youth from such crimesagain in the future. Is it possible for us to eradicate these crimescompletely? Probably not, given the pervasive and persistent nature ofsinful behavior. But this is no excuse for not trying.
Here in the Archdiocese of Portland, as in many other diocesesacross the United States, we have made true progress in dealing withclerical sexual abuse of minors. But this work must continue becausehealing takes a long time. It is important for our parishes andpastoral ministers to continue to reach out to victims, to seek theirforgiveness and to collaborate in our efforts to make our children assafe as possible from such harm again. It is true that some of thevictims do want to deal with this issue on their own. Others, on theother hand, cannot and should not.
We have established an Office for Child Protection and VictimAssistance. Cathy Shannon is the director. She began this work on apart-time basis but in order to underscore the importance of this workand to respond adequately to its many challenges she has served asfull-time Child Protection and Victim Assistance Officer since July2006.
Like other victim assistance coordinators across this land, Cathy’sduties are basically three-fold. She assists abuse victims in making aformal complaint of abuse to the archdiocese. She also helps arrange apersonal meeting with a representative of the church or myself. And shetries to obtain support for the specific needs of the individualvictim. In describing the work of victim assistance coordinators forthe various local churches, someone has said, “They gotta have heart.”Folks like Cathy have learned that most victims are eager to findsomeone who will listen to their story, take them seriously, showcompassion, understand the courage it takes to come forward, offerassistance and let them know they are not alone. Cathy does that workvery well.
But, as everyone knows, the best way to assist victims is to reducetheir numbers. That’s why we are presently so focused on the protectionof our children and young people. In this respect there is a greatsuccess story taking place in our Catholic community. Our church isprobably the only group of people that has undertaken a comprehensiveprogram to educate children and those people who work with them as anessential element in our efforts to provide a safe environment in ourfaith communities.
As of this summer some 5.7 million people received safe environmenttraining from the church and 1.6 million people who work in the churchhave experienced background evaluations. Some folks become impatientwith the process and wonder when it will end. It certainly won’t end inmy lifetime and maybe not yours. The older I get I realize thatphysical healing takes more time. The deeper the emotional andspiritual wounds, the longer such healing takes place as well. Buthealing can and will happen, if we really care and persevere.
The work of the church I have been describing doesn’t makeheadlines. We’re lucky if it’s in the newspaper at all. Sometimes I amamazed how many Catholics are totally unaware of these developments.According to a May 2007 poll, only 34 percent of Catholics realize thatwe bishops now have a charter for the protection of our children andyoung people, promulgated in 2002 and updated in 2005. The profoundpain and suffering of the victims touched us all deeply. With ourclergy, religious and people we continue to make efforts to atone forthe sinfulness, the criminality and the breach of trust perpetrated bysome members of the clergy. And we are likewise committed to learningas much as we can about the causes and context of this problem.
This summer and fall Catholic dioceses across the nation areexperiencing audits which will determine the adequacy of theircompliance with the bishops’ charter. We have already been auditedsuccessfully three times. The audit here will take place in November.As part of our continuing efforts to improve the prevention training ofour people, the archdiocese has contracted with Praesidium, Inc., thenational leader in abuse risk management. Praesidium helps createenvironments that protect those who are vulnerable from abuse,environments that protect church workers from false allegations ofabuse, environments that protect our faith community from scandal andfurther harm.
In late summer of this year all of our clergy and pastoral workershave participated in training sessions across the archdiocese with therepresentatives of Praesidium. Praesidium has worked with churches ofall faiths, religious orders, dioceses and other youth ministries toset standards that ensure safety. This is our best effort at present tobalance the risk management needs of the church with the holiness ofour mission.
We are a people of faith. On September 26, this fall’s Ember Day, weturn to our loving God, through the intercession of Saints Cosmas andDamian, and we pray for continued healing and reconciliation amongthose who have been victimized by the child sexual abuse scandal in ourchurch. But as we look to the future, we recognize that the greatestservice we can give to promote healing is the protection of ourchildren. Most victims tell me that what they desire most of all isthat no child will ever again be harmed as they were. I pray that weare all similarly focused. God bless.
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