Bishop Thomas Paprocki: Catholic Church Has Learned from Past Mistakes
By Thomas J. Paprocki
January 30, 2014
|Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki|
It is horrible to read about the tragic experience of Joe Iacono of Springfield, who was a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest when Iacono was a child living in the Chicago area more than 40 years ago.
However, in his Jan. 24 article, “Face of abuse victims shows great courage,” David Bakke does not accurately or fully represent my views. I do not claim, as he asserts, that “the church has handled the sexual abuse scandal as responsibly as any organization in the world.”
In my interview with the Washington Times last fall, I was speaking in the present tense when I said “that of any institution in the country — perhaps in the world — I don’t think anyone is dealing with it as responsibly as the Catholic Church.” But I also acknowledged that “we have had our unfortunate share of scandals and sin and the church is dealing with that.”
I do not deny that the church has made some terrible mistakes in handling sexual abuse cases. In addition to apologizing and providing assistance to victims, the church has learned from these past mistakes and has implemented far-reaching reforms.
It is in that context that I said in the interview with the Washington Times, “I don’t know any other organization that goes through as much in terms of what we require, not only of our personnel but even our volunteers, in terms of what we call safe environment programs and an understanding of how to work with children.”
The other main point I was making was that it is a big mistake for people to think that child sexual abuse is exclusively or even primarily a Catholic problem. I said, “If people are really serious about sexual abuse, I think they need to be looking at some other places as well.”
In this regard, an extensive 2007 investigation by The Associated Press showed that sexual abuse of children in U.S. public schools was “widespread,” and most of it was never reported or punished.
In the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, educational programs on the methods of recognizing and preventing sexual abuse of minors are offered to church personnel and volunteers on a regular basis. All church personnel must complete an appropriate criminal history background search and a certification document before beginning or continuing service, including volunteer service, in our parishes, schools, agencies and institutions.
Such church personnel are asked periodically to repeat the completion of the certification document and to update the criminal history background search.
The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois complies with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperates in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese advises and supports a person’s right to make a report to public authorities.
Our nine-person Diocesan Review Board, which is composed of eight non-clerics who are not employed by the diocese and a priest who is an experienced and respected pastor of the diocese, advises me as diocesan bishop in my assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in my determination of suitability for ministry.
Such cases involving priests are also reviewed by Vatican authorities. Our victim assistance coordinator facilitates contact with the alleged victim and the alleged victim’s family by offering appropriate medical, psychological and spiritual assistance, with no comment as to the truth of any allegation.
Child sexual abuse is a sin and a crime that we take very seriously here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. It also needs to be vigorously and effectively addressed wherever it occurs.