Confronting a crisis with vigilance and faith
Our Church is sorely wounded. This summer, a succession of horrible stories confronted us -- difficulties caused by human sin and the failure to deal properly with that sin. First, we heard of the Archbishop Theodore McCarrick story, one of serial sexual exploitation of seminarians. Then, we learned of decades of sexual abuse in several dioceses in Pennsylvania. And, in the midst of those revelations, we were informed of an investigation at a Boston seminary regarding the behavior of some seminarians and the oversight, or lack thereof, by the faculty. The abuse is more than the abuse of young and innocent people, as bad as that is. It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust. And much of that abuse this time belongs to the bishops, who either committed these heinous acts or failed to deal with them appropriately when they were made known to them.
It is indefensible, very painful, and, sadly, has led to people leaving the Church. Here, in the Diocese of Portland, the anger is compounded, and the hurt is accompanied, by sadness and discouragement in the hearts of diocesan and parish leaders, clergy, employees, and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to ensure the Church in Maine is a safe environment for our young people. It is particularly difficult to hear that these reports also cause many victims/survivors to relive their own painful experiences.
The stories have led many to ask not only how this could have happened but what can be done to make certain such abuses do not occur again. In response to the many concerns voiced and questions asked, I wish to take this opportunity to share with you the steps being taken nationally as well as those that have long been taken in this diocese to address these issues.
In the first place, along with the other American bishops, I am advocating and working to organize a new and confidential way for individuals to report complaints against bishops and for better procedures to resolve complaints against bishops in a fair and transparent manner. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will implement procedures to address complaints against bishops for abuse of power, harassment, and other matters. It is anticipated that there will be substantial involvement of the laity in this process, as their presence and expertise will be essential and invaluable. These goals aim to put stronger protections in place against predators and anyone who is complicit.
Locally, in the Diocese of Portland, we have fully implemented the protocols of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. I am grateful for all those who collaborate with me and each other to make this possible. The charter is a comprehensive set of procedures put in place to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, ensure a safe environment for children and young people, and aid in the healing and reconciliation of victims/survivors. Since these procedures were implemented in 2002, there have been no substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric in the Diocese of Portland.
Including the implementation of the charter, the Diocese of Portland has taken several steps over the years to ensure vigilance regarding the prevention of abuse in our Church.
• In 2002, the Diocese of Portland requested assistance from the Office of the Attorney General in Maine to conduct an investigation similar to what was recently completed in Pennsylvania. The protocols suggested by the Attorney General’s Office are included in those controls and policies that have kept our diocese a safe environment for our young people.
• Upon my installation as bishop of the Diocese of Portland in 2014, I called for another independent investigation to review the files of all active priests, which reassured me and, thus, the diocese, that the protocols have been working.
• An independent, on-site audit of safe environment procedures is conducted annually to confirm compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The most recent audit, which found the diocese in full compliance, was completed by StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, N.Y., in September 2018.
• Since 2002, more than 15,000 Catholic Church employees, volunteers, priests, and educators in Maine who work with children have been trained in a safe environment program (i.e., Protecting God’s Children), which includes mandatory background checks. Auditors also reviewed the implementation of the Circle of Grace program for children in Catholic schools and those who participate in religious education offered through their parishes.
• When a claim of sexual abuse of a minor is made known to the diocese, civil authorities are immediately notified, and an internal investigation is conducted by the diocese’s Office of Professional Responsibility. At present, the Office of Professional Responsibility is led by Michael Magalski, a retired agent-in-charge of the U.S. Secret Service.
• The diocese offers outpatient counseling for anyone reporting to have been sexually abused as a minor by a clergy member.
• A diocesan review board, established 25 years ago, reviews reports of alleged sexual abuse of minors by clergy and makes recommendations to the bishop. Most of the voting members of the board are laity, who are respected business and community leaders selected for their expertise in various fields.
• Information on how to file a sexual abuse report can be found in brochures at Maine churches, on the diocesan website (www.portlanddiocese.org), in Maine churches, and in each issue of Harvest.
To ensure the well-being of our seminarians, Father Daniel Greenleaf, the director of seminarians for our diocese, has regular contact with all of our seminarians at each seminary overseeing their formation. In relation to the investigation at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Mass., I fully support Cardinal Seán O’Malley’s decision to broaden the initial investigation to now include all three seminaries in the Archdiocese of Boston. Most importantly, outside and independent investigators will conduct this inquiry, and updates will be offered publicly as the investigation proceeds.
With the controls we have put in place and continuing vigilance, we can gratefully say that our diocese’s procedures have created a safer Church in Maine. The vast majority of Catholic priests are men of integrity who are dedicated to unwavering good works and spreading the good news of Jesus. But criminal and sinful acts in other places still diminish the universal Church. This is particularly true when bishops, who have been chosen to be successors of the apostles and to carry on the work of His Church, fail in their tasks of promoting justice and serving as a source of hope to the faithful.
Pope Francis, in his letter to the faithful of the Church in August, after the revelations of Pennsylvania, reminded us of the core truth of our faith that together we are the community of the Church. We are not just individuals in our relationship with the Lord Jesus. The Holy Father quoted St. Paul telling the Corinthians, “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). It is a reminder that we are the body of Christ. Pope Francis’ words recall for us that the suffering we lift up to the Lord is primarily that of the many young people who have been abused. We seek healing for them. Our prayers, however, must also be an acknowledgement of the harm that has been done by the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience that have been inflicted on many other people in the Church. People in the Church are losing faith in the ability of the Church to respond to these terrible revelations. The letters I have received from many of you indicate that reality. They also clearly show me that any sin affects the entire community.
Some have said that prayer and words are not what is needed. What is needed is action. There is truth in that. But, these words of Pope Francis remind me of why it is important that we also pray and seek forgiveness: “An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes, and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion."
I share in your anger and disappointment, but I invite you to join me in always remembering that what Jesus gives us is such a gift: His message, His presence with us, and His way of life gives meaning to our lives. I encourage you to hold fast to what is good and true in our faith. Jesus heals us. He is our hope and our truth. We need the Church. It is there that we find Jesus, especially in the Eucharist. We need, therefore, to find our way forward together.
Please pray with me that our efforts might bring new life to our Church. Pray as well that I, as your bishop, along with all bishops and priests, might be helped in God’s grace to be genuinely holy, following the model of the self-giving love of Christ on the cross. Pray for the victims of these crimes which grieve us so greatly, that they may find healing and justice. Pray for the Church and for all of us. Touched by the love of God manifested on the cross, we ask our Blessed Mother, who stood at the foot of that life-giving cross, to intercede for us and guide our resolve to restore trust through the vigilance we bring to the care and safety of all in our Church.
“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world.”
Prevention and Awareness
Anyone wishing to report an allegation of sexual abuse by clergy or a Church representative in the Diocese of Portland is asked to call civil authorities and Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the diocese. He may be reached at 207.321.7836 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about safe environment programs in the Diocese of Portland, visit www.portlanddiocese.org/protecting-gods-children.
For statements and the latest developments from the U.S. Bishops regarding child and youth protection, visit www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection.