|Church Has Been Forthright
Actions Remedy Culture of Abuse
By Bishop John Gaydos
Columbia Daily Tribune
September 6, 2009
As the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City and the primary target of Michael Wegs' attack in a Tribune opinion piece on Tuesday, I would like to respond. While there is not space to address all of the inaccuracies, I do wish to answer some of his more disturbing allegations and insinuations.
Wegs provides some historical background about the Carmen Sita/Gerald Howard case. I want to clarify that Carmen Sita/Gerald Howard was a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, was removed from the Boonville parish after 13 months and was dismissed from diocesan service in October 1984. At the time of his dismissal, there were no allegations of sex abuse against him.
Howard was no longer paid by the diocese after he left Boonville. We told the news media we were unaware of his whereabouts. Most people accept the fact that an employer, religious or otherwise, would not have a current address on a former short-term employee who left almost 25 years ago.
In regard to the settlement, the diocese has been forthright in acknowledging the $600,000 amount. In addition, Wegs should know from media stories that we also have confirmed the respective responsibilities of the Paracletes, the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Jefferson City. It is public knowledge that our diocese has paid $225,000 of the total.
In terms of our share of the settlement, our insurance paid $150,000. The remaining $75,000 came from a special diocesan fund set up for this purpose.
There is an intimation that, because there have been instances of accounting malpractice in other dioceses, the Diocese of Jefferson City must be violating standard procedures or in some way cooking the books to hide the actual costs created by past sexual abuse. As we have stated time and again, no money from parish or diocesan collections is used to pay for these costs.
There are private donations, but the individuals making these are aware of the intended use of their contributions. Each year, the diocese publishes in our diocesan newspaper the total cost for Community Reconciliation, which includes victim assistance, settlements and legal fees. The total for the previous fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, was $278,000.
Yes, we have lawyers, and, yes, we pay them, though they are not nearly as expensive as Wegs would have readers believe. He does not mention that victims requesting a settlement have lawyers as well. Ours are employed because the reality is we have to have a process to determine a just compensation for the suffering and psychological damage incurred by victims of abuse, but we also have to protect the resources of the faith community from inflated or unfounded demands. Wegs also knows that, as a matter of policy, all victims with credible allegations of abuse are offered assistance for counseling and other needs.
Wegs is correct in his assessment that this has been a painful period in our Church. As I have told the people of our diocese, the abuse is real, the victims have endured unimaginable suffering because of it and we have made mistakes. We in the Church have also learned from these mistakes and have made improvements in addressing and preventing child abuse. I am proud to have been a part of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and, as a diocese, we follow it in both letter and spirit.
Since the charter's passage, we have trained nearly 8,000 people in the prevention of child sexual abuse. We conduct about 1,000 criminal background checks each year on priests, employees and volunteers in the diocese.
While there are still victims coming forward, we must remember that the vast majority of the cases of sexual abuse of children by clergy occurred more than 20 years ago. I was appointed bishop of Jefferson City in 1997. The most recent incident of abuse that we are aware of occurred in that year, 12 years ago. This neither justifies what happened earlier nor suggests any particular credit to my tenure as bishop. It does, however, indicate that we have learned something, that the culture has changed and that the policies and procedures we have implemented to protect the most innocent and vulnerable are working.
Once again, I apologize to Wegs and every victim for the sinful, inexcusable acts that have left such deep wounds. At the same time, I continue to urge anyone who was abused by a representative of the Diocese of Jefferson City to contact either their local law enforcement authority or our associate chancellor, Ron Vessell, at (573) 635-9127.
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