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From the Bishop - September 2019

Moving forward with vigilance, openness, and hope

As another beautiful Maine summer draws to a close, I hope that the long days gave you some time for rest and renewal. Certainly a spirit of renewal has been at work throughout the Church during these summer months. Our renewal has come in the form of the work we are doing to restore trust in the Church. In the July edition of Harvest, I explained the clear direction offered in Pope Francis’ new document on sexual abuse and sexual misconduct in the Church entitled “You are the Light of the World.” Gratefully, the promise of that document has quickly become actual progress. I am now happy to share with you recent steps taken by the Diocese of Portland and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

First, I want to offer thanks to the laypeople, parish staff members, and clergy who, for decades, have set the tone for transparency and education in regards to preventing abuse in our diocese. Since the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was implemented in 2002, there have been no substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric in the Diocese of Portland, and 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. With the controls we have put in place and continuing vigilance, our diocese’s procedures have created a safer Church in Maine.

But, there are always opportunities to improve the ways in which we protect against possible abuse in the many forms in which it can arise.

In “You are the Light of the World,” Pope Francis specified that bishops will be held accountable for any abuse of power or harassment, or for failing to address abusive behavior when informed of it. In response to this directive, the dioceses in the Boston Province (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont) have launched a third-party, independent system to receive information regarding reports of abuse by Catholic bishops. Hosted by EthicsPoint, the system can be accessed by calling 1.844.762.5208 or visiting href="http://www.bishopreporting.ethicspoint.com">www.bishopreporting.ethicspoint.com, where visitors will be guided through making a report, anonymously if they so choose. All reports will be reviewed and forwarded to the appropriate authorities, as necessary, and to the apostolic nuncio, the Holy Father’s diplomatic representative in the United States. I am pleased that the new, third-party system establishes a clear and independent way for people to report misconduct by bishops.

In July, the Diocese of Portland launched a separate third-party, independent system that enables all diocesan employees, volunteers, and parishioners to make reports, even anonymously, whenever they have evidence of activity that violates the standards of ethical conduct described in the diocese’s Code of Ethics. Examples of this activity include fraud, misconduct, safety violations, harassment, or substance abuse occurring at a Catholic parish, Catholic school, or at the diocesan level. After listening to people around the state, the diocese initiated the process of establishing this system for individuals to express their concerns in an easily accessible way. The system is operated by Red Flag Reporting, which maintains ethics, safety, and fraud hotlines for organizations in over 50 countries. Reports can be made by visiting www.redflagreporting.com and clicking on “File a Report,” or by calling 1.877.647.3335, a 24/7 hotline that is available in English and Spanish. Either process will require the Diocese of Portland’s client code which is RCDPortland.

It is important to note that the bishop and ethical conduct reporting systems are not intended for individuals with information about the possible sexual abuse of a minor. As always, in those cases, please contact civil authorities and Michael Magalski, director of the Diocese of Portland’s Office of Professional Responsibility, at 207.321.7836 or michael.magalski@portlanddiocese.org.

As you well know, the vast majority of those who serve our Church in Maine -- priests, deacons, religious and laity -- strive to do so with integrity. We are blessed by their dedication and commitment. All the same, aware of the human condition, problems do arise. The services we have put in place are intended to provide a way to report these problems. Doing so assists those who work with integrity to maintain a safe and healthy Church.  With these services, you are able to report any possible abuse that you might observe. It is best not to presume that someone else will inform the diocese of the misbehavior or incident. I am grateful for any assistance you can offer the diocese in this regard. It helps us all to fulfill the mission we have to bring the Gospel to others.

In fact, these new third-party reporting systems and our continuing efforts in assisting victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse help us in our Gospel mandate to protect the beauty and dignity of each human person, particularly those who have been abused. We cannot forget that individuals who represented the Church caused damage, hurt, and pain. In that light, we cannot change the past, but we can do everything possible to see that history does not repeat itself through being attentive and working together to assure that our Church is a safe environment for all who enter.

As we move forward with hope and seek to do good, I ask your prayers for these efforts. May Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church intercede for us.