Our beloved Church is experiencing a crisis without precedent in our times. From the depths of our hearts, we express great sorrow and profound regret for what the Catholic people have had to endure. The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were too often dealt with by bishops, have caused enormous pain, anger, and confusion. They have strained the bonds of trust that should unite us.
We, who have been given the responsibility of shepherding God's people, will, with God's help, continue to work to restore these bonds. Words alone cannot do it. It will result from the actions we take here in our General Assembly and at home in our dioceses.
The damage caused by sexual abuse is devastating and long-lasting. We are profoundly sorry for the times when we have deepened its pain by what we have done or by what we have failed to do. We reach out to those who suffer. We apologize to them and offer our help for the future. In such a matter, healing and reconciliation seem almost beyond human capacity. We dare to speak of these things only because of the hope, inspired by the Lord, that "for God, all things are possible" (Mt. 19.26).
The loss of trust becomes even more tragic when its consequence is a loss of the faith, which it is our sacred duty to foster. We make our own the words of our Holy Father that sexual abuse of young people is "by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God" (Pope John Paul II, Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers, April 23, 2002).
Let there now be no doubt or confusion on anyone's part: For us, your bishops, our obligation to protect children and young people and to prevent sexual abuse flows from the mission and example given to us by Jesus Christ himself, in whose name we serve.
Jesus showed constant care for the vulnerable. He inaugurated his ministry with these words of the Prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
In Matthew 25, the Lord made this part of his commission to his apostles and disciples when he told them that whenever they showed mercy and compassion to the least ones, they showed it to him.
This care Jesus extended in a tender and urgent way to children, rebuking his disciples for keeping them away from him: "Let the children come to me…" (Mt.19.14). And he uttered the grave warning about those who would lead the little ones astray, saying that it would be better for such a person "to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (Mt. 18.6).
We hear these words of the Lord as prophetic for this moment. With a firm intention to resolve this crisis, we Bishops commit ourselves to a pastoral outreach to repair the breach with those who have suffered sexual abuse. We renew our determination to provide safety and protection for children and young people in our church ministries and institutions. We pledge ourselves to act in a way that manifests the accountability we have to God's people and to one another in this grave matter; and we commit ourselves to reaching out to heal the trauma that victim/survivors and their families are suffering and the wound that the whole Church is experiencing. We acknowledge our need to be in dialogue with all Catholics, especially victims and parents, around this issue.
To fulfill these goals, our dioceses and our national conference will adopt and implement policies based upon the following:
To Promote Healing and Reconciliation with Victims of Sexual Abuse of Minors
Article 1. Dioceses will reach out to victim/survivors and their families and communicate sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being. The first obligation of the Church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation. Each diocese is to develop such an outreach to every person who has been the victim of sexual abuse by anyone acting in the name of the Church, whether the abuse was recent or many years in the past. This outreach will include provision of counseling, support groups, and other services chosen by the victim. Through his pastoral outreach to victims and their families, the diocesan bishop will offer to meet with them, to listen to their concerns, and to share the "profound sense of solidarity and concern" expressed by our Holy Father in his Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers. This pastoral outreach will also be directed to faith communities in which the sexual abuse occurred.
Article 2. Dioceses will have in place the mechanisms to respond promptly to any allegation where there is reason to believe that sexual abuse has occurred. Dioceses will have a competent assistance coordinator to aid in the immediate pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused by clergy or other church personnel. Dioceses will also have a review board, the majority of whom will be lay persons not in the employ of the diocese. This board will assess allegations, regularly review diocesan policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors, and advise the bishop on the offender's fitness for ministry. The procedures for those making a complaint will be easily available in printed form and the subject of periodic public announcements.
Article 3. In the past, secrecy has created an atmosphere that has inhibited the healing process, and in some cases, enabled sexually abusive behavior to be repeated. Dioceses will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim.
To Guarantee an Effective Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors
Article 4. Dioceses will report any accusation of sexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the proper authorities and cooperate in their investigation.
Dioceses will cooperate with proper authorities about reporting when the person is no longer a minor.
In every instance, dioceses will advise and support a person's right to make a report to proper authorities.
Article 5. We repeat the words of our Holy Father in his address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers that "there is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young."
When the investigation of a complaint against a cleric so indicates, diocesan authorities are to relieve the alleged offender promptly of his ministerial duties. He is to be referred for appropriate medical evaluation, so long as this does not interfere with the investigation by civil authorities.
Where the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is admitted
or otherwise determined, the following will pertain:
-- Regarding acts of sexual abuse of a minor committed prior to this
date, if the cleric is a pedophile, or if he has committed more than one
act of sexual abuse of a minor, there will be a request for the cleric's
laicization, even without his consent if necessary.
For the sake of due process, an accused is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel.
Article 6. The standards of ministerial behavior with regard to sexual abuse, harassment, and other forms of misconduct of clergy and of other church personnel in positions of trust who have contact with children and young people, will be clear and well-publicized. These standards need to give due consideration to the allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy involving young women and men who have recently attained legal adulthood.
Article 7. Each diocese is to develop a communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness. Within the confines of respect for privacy of the individuals involved, dioceses are to deal as openly as possible with members of the community. This is especially so with regard to assisting and supporting parish communities directly affected by ministerial misconduct.
Article 8. To assist in the consistent application of these principles and to provide a vehicle of accountability and assistance to dioceses in this matter, we establish an Office for Child and Youth Protection at our national headquarters. The tasks of this Office will include assisting individual dioceses in the implementation of safe environment programs, assisting provinces and regions in the development of appropriate mechanisms to audit adherence to policies, and to produce annually a public report on the progress made in implementing the standards in this Charter. This Office is to have staffing sufficient to fulfil its basic purpose. Staff shall consist of persons who are expert in the protection of children and related areas, and will be appointed by the General Secretary.
Article 9. The work of the Office for Child and Youth Protection shall be assisted and monitored by a Review Board, including parents, appointed by the Conference president and reporting directly to him. The Board shall approve the annual report of the implementation of this Charter in each of our dioceses and any recommendations that emerge from this review before it is submitted to the President of the Conference and published.
Article 10. The membership of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse shall be reconstituted to include representation from all the Episcopal regions of the country.
Article 11. A commission will be established by the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to research how the Church in the United States has responded to the problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
Article 12. The President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will inform the Holy See of this Charter to indicate the manner in which we, the Catholic bishops of the United States, intend to address this present crisis.
To Protect the Faithful in the Future
Article 13. Dioceses are to establish "safe environment" programs. They are to cooperate with parents, civil authorities, educators, and community organizations to provide education and training for children, youth, parents, ministers, educators, and others about ways to make and maintain a safe environment for children. Dioceses will make clear to clergy and all members of the community, the standards of conduct with regard to sexual abuse, harassment, and other exploitation that are expected of clergy and other persons in positions of trust.
Article 14. Dioceses are to evaluate the background of all diocesan and parish personnel who have contact with children and young people. Specifically, they will utilize the resources of law enforcement and other community agencies. In addition, they will employ adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding the fitness of candidates for ordination (cf. Program of Priestly Formation, #513).
Article 15. When a cleric is proposed for a new assignment, transfer, or residence in another diocese, or proposed for ministry in an activity of a religious institute, the sending bishop or major superior will forward, and the receiving bishop or major superior will review, before assignment, an accurate and complete description of the cleric's record including whether there is anything in the background or service of the cleric that would raise questions about his fitness for ministry (Cf. Proposed Guidelines on the Transfer or Assignment of Clergy and Religious, approved by NCCB and CMSM, November, 1993).
Article 16. Diocesan bishops and major superiors of clerical institutes will meet on a regular basis to coordinate and review their roles when an allegation is made against a cleric member of a religious institute ministering in a diocese.
Article 17. Given how pervasive the problem of the sexual abuse of children and young people is in our society, we offer to cooperate with other churches, institutions of learning, and other interested organizations in conducting a major research study in this area.
Article 18. We pledge our complete cooperation with the Apostolic Visitation of our seminaries recommended in the concluding communiqué of the Interdicasterial Meeting with the Cardinals of the United States and the Conference Officers last April. As with the previous visitation, we look forward to this opportunity to strengthen our priestly formation programs so that they may provide God's people with mature and holy priests.
In the course of recent months, in the midst of this terrible crisis of sexual abuse of young people by priests and how it has been dealt with by bishops, many other issues were raised. In this Charter we have focused specifically on the painful issue at hand. However, we do wish to affirm our concern especially with regard to issues related to effective consultation of the laity and the participation of God's people in decision-making that affects their well-being.
We must increase our vigilance to prevent those few who might use the priesthood for their own immoral and criminal purposes from doing so. At the same time, we know that the sexual abuse of young people is not a problem inherent in the priesthood nor are priests the only ones guilty of it. The vast majority of our priests are faithful in their ministry and happy in their vocation. Their people are enormously appreciative of the ministry provided by their priests. In the midst of trial, this remains a cause for rejoicing. We deeply regret that any of our decisions have obscured the good work of our priests for which their people hold them in such respect.
It is within this context of the essential soundness of the priesthood and of the deep faith of our brothers and sisters in the Church that we know that we can meet and resolve this crisis for now and the future.
By what we have begun here today and by what we have stated and agreed to:
We pledge most solemnly to one another and to you, God's people, that we will work to our utmost for the protection of children and youth.
We pledge that we will devote to this goal the resources and personnel necessary to accomplish it.
We pledge that we will do our best to ordain to the priesthood and put into positions of trust only those who share this commitment to protecting children and youth.
We pledge that we will work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics.
We make these pledges with a humbling sense of our own limitations and relying on the help of God and the support of his faithful priests and people to work with us to fulfil them.
Above all we believe, in the words of St. Paul, cited by Pope John Paul II last April, "where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more" (Rm. 5.20). This is faith's message. With this faith, we are confident that we will not be conquered by evil but overcome evil with good (cf. Rm. 12.21).
Matters to be Considered with Regard to Retention in Ministry of Clerics Who Have Successfully Undergone Treatment
A. With regard to a cleric who has been treated for sexual abuse of a
minor and who has not been diagnosed as a pedophile and has not committed
more than one act of sexual abuse of a minor, and whose prognosis is that
he is suitable for public ministry, the following factors need to be taken
Bishop Accountability © 2003
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