DIOCESE OF FRESNO CA
My dear people of God,
I am writing this article with a heavy heart long before the unfortunate, but necessary, publication of the John Jay Study and the Report of the National Review Board on the sexual abuse of children by priests, both which will be released on Feb. 27. Even though we bishops called for both of these reports, we will not see the reports until a day before their release, to show that these reports are totally independent of the influence of the bishops. The John Jay study is a quantitative analysis of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy from 1950 to 2002. The Report of the National Review Board is a qualitative report based on numerous interviews to try to understand how the abuse of minors could have taken place in the church as it did.
The secular media will probably present these reports according to their own agendas, so I wanted to say a few words from the perspective of your bishop, not even knowing what will come forth in the reports.
First, the bishops themselves for many years have sought to respond to the abuse of children so that children are protected completely as possible in the setting of our churches and schools. I want to emphasize that this was done long before the so-called “crisis” came in 2002. In 1986 many dioceses already had policies dealing with child abuse, trying to respond to the problem, with the emphasis on the safety of God’s people. In 1991, policies were requested of every diocese in order to respond to this problem in our nation and most bishops had those policies in place and were faithful in following those policies.
In the long past, society itself simply did not understand the grave harm to children caused by sexual abuse nor know how to respond to child abuse. In fact it was rarely spoken about publicly, and this is true not only in the church but in all of society. Since the mid 1980’s, some bishops may have failed to respond in a way we now know is appropriate, usually out of ignorance of the grave harm caused by child abuse, but most bishops took immediate action when news of an abused child came to their attention. Hopefully people noticed that the majority of the priests whom the media spoke about almost daily in 2002 had previously been taken out of ministry ten years or more before. I would also add that it was normal to hear or read of bishops being condemned publicly for making decisions they made many years ago, but often it was in light of information that only came to be known many years later. This distinction was rarely mentioned in news reports.
The way society has understood child abuse and responded to child abuse has evolved over the years. Only in the early 1980’s did society as a whole begin to become aware of the scope of the problem, and begin to speak publicly of it. The bishops began to take action in the mid 1980’s, as they also grew in this societal awareness of the problem. Most bishops did their best to protect children. If a priest was known to have a problem with minors, he would be sent to a program for therapy, directed by a psychiatrist or a psychologist, and only put back into ministry when there was a professional opinion by a psychiatrist or psychologist that there was little risk by that individual of being a danger to children. Often that priest would be put into a ministry where he would not be in direct contact with children. Only later in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s did the psychiatric profession begin to publish their beginning doubts of some persons ever being cured of this type of addiction, and this is when a good number of priests were taken out of ministry, long before 2002. Also in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when the grave harm of child abuse began to be recognized by the medical profession, did there come an awareness of the responsibility to search out victims, rather than simply responding when a complaint of child abuse was received. Again this was true not only in the church but in all of society.
I want to state once more that the studies that will be released were done because the bishops themselves requested them. We are trying to do everything possible to understand the problem and to prevent the problem in the future. Even one child being abused is one too many. The Bishops cannot change history, but they are trying to do everything possible that it is not repeated. This is the reason the bishops took strong action in Dallas in 2002 and called for the studies and reports that will be made public on Feb. 27.
Another point I would like to make is the John Jay analysis has no counterpart in any other church or profession. It is impossible to compare it with the rest of society. This problem is extensive in all of society, in every denomination and in every profession. The Catholic Church has done more to combat this problem than any other institution. We may continue to be condemned, but one of the reasons we are condemned is that we are trying to respond to this problem in an honest, public and transparent way, so that it will not only lead to the purification of the church, but will help every profession in society to combat this problem. Most child abuse occurs in the family, by known family members. The church has looked into itself and has done everything possible to eradicate this problem in itself, but we must do everything possible to stamp out this evil in all of society.
It is said that all news is local news. I do not know what will be released in the John Jay Study for the nation, but I can speak of our own eight county diocese. From 1950 through 2002 there were eight substantiated reports of child abuse by priests found in the files of the priests. During that time we have records of 487 priests serving in the diocese. Every file was searched thoroughly. I do not know the figures for the nation that will be released on Feb. 27, but I am sure the Diocese of Fresno will be below the numbers revealed in the national report.
Once again I want to emphasize how blest we are, not only in our diocese, but in every diocese, with the many priests who give of themselves in sacrifice and service every day of their lives for the good of God’s people. Many priests feel as if they live under a cloud of suspicion after the eschewed reporting two years ago in the media. Tell your priest that you appreciate him, his ministry and his love of the Lord. Thank him for being there in your lives and the lives of your children. Every priest needs all the support you can give him. Another point of the John Jay report was the amount of money that had been given in settlements or paid in law suits, related to child abuse by priests. Throughout all those years from 1950 through 2002, we only have knowledge of two settlements under a previous bishop, both for $45,000, paid by the insurance company. There have been no settlements since I came to the diocese at the end of 1991.
A third study authorized by the bishops was the audit of the dioceses to determine that they were in compliance with the requisites of the 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” This audit took place in our diocese in July of this last year, and we were found in compliance with the norms set by the Bishops’ Charter. The final piece of complying with the charter for our diocese is the implementation of a safe environment program in the parishes of our diocese, which will take place in late spring of this year, deanery by deanery. I see this safe environment program as a means to discover and eradicate child abuse in every aspect of society, in the church, in schools, in families and in other professions as well. This is a ministry and service the church has to give to our society because of the painful experiences we have passed through.
As the Bishop I want to state publicly once again how sorry I am in the name of the church to anyone ever abused by a priest, no matter how long ago. We all decry the grave sinful actions of any priest who committed child abuse and our hearts go out to the victims and their families, and we must help those victims and families to overcome the anger, hurt and pain in their lives. Let us pray for everyone abused as a child, and for their families, that the hurt and pain may be softened by our love, sorrow and prayers. On Feb. 25, we begin Lent. I encourage all of us, as the people of God, to pray and fast through these forty days, asking God to send His healing love to our brothers and sisters who have been wounded as children through the evil of child abuse and to their families. Lord, hear our prayer.
In Christ, our Lord,
Most Rev. John T. Steinbock
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