Finding hope and healing in our Risen Lord

Happy Easter! Christ is risen! In the Church, the Easter season continues through Pentecost Sunday, a period that began with the Easter Vigil where we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. The light of Christ brought us from darkness to light. It is a feast so full of beauty and significance that it continues for 50 days. It reminds us of Jesus’ love and His continuing real presence with us in the Eucharist.

The Easter season is a time to rejoice in the gift of faith and the hope it brings to us, even in times of global instability, challenge, and division. We do not have answers to all the questions and concerns, but we know that Jesus is with us, risen now in glory as light for our world. We walk with Him, and He walks with us as we listen to His words in the Gospel and renew our faith in celebrating the most beautiful sacraments of Easter: the water of baptism, our promise of life, and Holy Eucharist, the precious gift of Jesus’ presence with us on life’s journey.

These truths of faith, beautiful as they are, can seem to be sadly contradicted by the stories we have heard in recent months regarding incidents of sexual abuse of minors by clerics that occurred decades ago. Today, the situation of the Church is different than when the terrible harm was done. All the same, it is important to remember the horror of the sex abuse crisis of the past so that it continues to give us resolve to do all we can to prevent such abuse in our world and heal the wounds of those who have been hurt.

The last substantiated new allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric in the Diocese of Portland occurred in 1993. Over the last 30 and more years, the Diocese of Portland has been committed to raising awareness of the harm of sexual abuse, promoting the ways in which it can be prevented, and protecting young people as they come to learn of God and His love for them. More than 27,000 Catholic Church priests, employees, volunteers, and educators in Maine have been trained in a safe environment program and have received complete background checks, one of the many mandates of the comprehensive Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2002 and revised in both 2011 and 2018.

The attorney general in Maine fully investigated and released a report on its investigation of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Diocese of Portland in 2004. As part of that investigation, the diocese voluntarily opened its files dating back 75 years with the understanding that the information would be used to pursue any possible prosecution of individuals or diocesan administrators. In addition, when installed 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 the diocese that the protocols have been working. Just last year, an independent audit of safe environment procedures found the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which includes all 141 churches in Maine, to be in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The audit was conducted by StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, New York. The annual, independent audit process has been in place since 2002.

It is also important to remember that if a complaint of past sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is received by the diocese, civil authorities are notified, and an internal investigation is started by the diocese’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The announcement of the administrative leave and investigation is publicized by the diocese, encouraging people to come forward with relevant information. Findings of an internal investigation are presented to the Diocese of Portland’s Review Board, an independent body composed of respected business and community leaders in Maine.

The diocese also wants to do what it can to assist in a process that leads to healing for victim/survivors by providing financial assistance for the cost of outpatient counseling and the expenses of spiritual assistance for anyone reporting to have been sexually abused by a cleric. The diocese offers this assistance as part of its pastoral mission with the simple goal to help if possible.

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. You can also be assured that no money from the Catholic Appeal has paid for the training, legal fees, or settlements related to the past crisis. Later in this edition of Harvest, you can see a dollar-by-dollar breakdown of the good work your generous donations fund.

What has been done has, no doubt, been helpful in assuring that the horrible pain experienced by many in the Church decades ago does not occur again. We continually remind ourselves of the gravity of the harm and the importance of our continual efforts to maintain the Church as a safe environment for any who seek a place to draw nearer to God.

In this Easter season, we remember it is the Risen Lord alone who heals and reconciles. May we ask, for ourselves, the grace to follow Him. If we listen, He will always show us the way to peace.

In this season of light, pray for me as I do you,