DIOCESE OF KALAMAZOO MI
These last two years have been a painful time for all Catholics. The growing awareness of the number of children who have been abused by priests gave rise in many to feelings of betrayal, anger, loss of faith in the Church, and sometimes even in God. For the victims of this misconduct, the almost daily news of additional priest abusers and the failure of some diocesan bishops, and some superiors of religious congregations, to address effectively the acts of the offending priests and the needs of their victims gave rise to a new sense of re-victimization. For those victims who had harbored these horrible, painful memories within themselves, the sudden freedom to tell their story and be believed was accompanied by a renewed sense of hurt and betrayal by persons and the Church they once trusted. For their parents and families, disbelief and consternation quickly gave way to deep disappointment and anger with the Church.
The Church is also a family, and like a family, has been deeply hurt and scarred by the sexual abuse of minors scandal that surfaced in 2002. Some people have left the Church because of this scandal; what was once an implicit trust in bishops and priests has given way in some instances to distrust, doubt and despair.
In this letter to the members of the Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, I wish to do four things: apologize again to those who have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of priests; apologize again to the whole Church of the Diocese of Kalamazoo which has suffered through the last two years; tell you the scope of the sexual abuse of minors situation since the founding of the Diocese with facts and figures; and finally, tell what the Diocese of Kalamazoo has done and is continuing to do to prevent such devastating acts of abuse from happening again.
Apology to the Victim Survivors and Their Families
I am deeply sorry for, and ashamed of, what was done to you. And I realize that no words are likely to heal the wounds that you experience and feel; words can come far too easily and may seem cheap. I do know that I speak not only for myself but for all good and devoted priests, and for the members of our Catholic Church, in expressing our most profound apology and our sorrow for the harm and hurt which has been done to you. I can ask for your forgiveness but I cannot ask you to forget.
While no human can see perfectly into the psyche of another, I can only assure you that no priest, religious, volunteer, or employee known to have committed sexual abuse has been allowed to continue in public ministry. Additionally, all those who wish to participate in the Church’s ministry will be screened, educated and supervised in their activities. Your own devastating experience has aided the Church in dealing with this problem for the future. In every instance, my first reaction to any credible report of sexual abuse has been, and will remain, to offer victims and their families pastoral assistance and counseling. I want you to know that I am prepared to meet personally with any person who was abused by a priest, employee or volunteer of the Church, whether the abuse occurred in this Diocese or if the person now lives in this Diocese and the abuse occurred elsewhere. I want all to know that the Diocese has a 24 hour toll free number (877-802-0115) for the reporting of sexual abuse, or suspected sexual abuse, by anyone associated with the Church. My first goal has always been, and will always be, to focus on your healing. I offer, again, an invitation to anyone who was abused by a clergyman, employee or volunteer of the Church - please come forward and allow me to help you begin the process of healing.
Apology to the People of the Diocese of Kalamazoo
You also have been hurt. Hurt, in the first instance, by the actions of some priests, and then by the manner in which some bishops in the country have dealt with this situation. You love Christ and you love the Church. It has not been easy for you to arise each morning and read the daily newspapers these past few years, or watch the television news, or listen to radio, and learn of what became an almost daily dose of terrible news about the Church.
The people of the universal Church, and particularly our Diocese, have always been very generous in their support of their priests, and generous even in forgiving the human failings of priests. Much of the sense of betrayal felt by Catholics in this country comes, I think, from the realization that your generosity and forgiveness have been taken for granted in some notorious instances. Rightfully you have asked in disbelief how any bishop or religious superior could allow a priest who poses a threat to anyone to continue in ministry, often to re-offend.
There is no question in my mind that just as the actions of some priests have seriously wounded the Church, the decisions of and lack of supervision by some bishops have done the same.
As your bishop, even before I analyze the experience of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, I wish to say to you that I am profoundly sorry that you have had to endure this embarrassment and pain. In time, I hope and pray you can find it in your hearts to forgive the sins of omission, as well as commission, which are a part of this tragedy. Help me to heal the pain of the Church in Kalamazoo, to bind up the wounds of the abused, to protect all of the faithful, and to ensure integrity and honesty in our stewardship of the gifts of your faith to your Church.
The Situation in Kalamazoo
Since our establishment as a diocese in 1971, about 282 priests have been issued “faculties,” or granted permission to function as priestly ministers, in this diocese. As of this writing, I can inform you of the following:
Two priests of the Diocese of Kalamazoo have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor or minors. The allegations pertained to events in the early 1980’s and early 1990’s. The priests have been removed from ministry.
The Diocese of Kalamazoo received accusations against one priest from a religious order who, in the past, worked in parishes of the Diocese of Kalamazoo. The allegation pertained to an event in the early 1980’s. The priest denied the allegations, the allegations were never proven, but this priest was dismissed from ministry in the Diocese, returned to his community, and has since passed away.
Two priests (now priests of the Diocese of Kalamazoo) have been accused of sexually abusing minors when they were priests of other dioceses and not serving in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. The allegations pertained to events in the late 1970’s and mid 1980’s. The allegations against one priest were found not to be supported by credible evidence and the priest remains in good standing and is in ministry in the Diocese of Kalamazoo. The other priest has been removed from ministry.
Since the founding of the Diocese in 1971 through June 30, 2003 the following costs have been incurred:
Let me be clear to those who might find comfort in the thought that the “facts and figures” for the Diocese of Kalamazoo are small compared to other dioceses or to national averages. Any instance of sexual abuse represents a grave sin, causes immeasurable harm to the victim, families and others, and is a source of sorrow and shame. We must work tirelessly to prevent further opportunities for abuse from occurring. Also, these statistics only represent what we know. We will continue our outreach to anyone who may have been victimized and encourage such victims to come forward.
As I mentioned earlier, it is not possible for any human to see into the hearts and minds of others. As your Bishop, I have an obligation to do everything reasonable to protect all of the faithful in the care of our parishes and diocesan institutions. In fulfilling this sacred trust, I and the diocese promise the following:
(1) Any report of sexual misconduct with a minor reported to any employee or volunteer of the Diocese will be reported to the appropriate civil authorities.
(2) We will continue to enforce strictly our policy requiring all employees of the Diocese or any of its parishes, schools or other institutions to be subjected to a criminal background check. This includes priests coming from other dioceses in the country and from elsewhere in the world. All volunteers who have regular contact with children will also undergo a criminal background check.
(3) Training in how to maintain a “safe environment” for all children has already begun in the Diocese and will continue. Already 2,500 people have been trained though the Protecting God’s Children® program. Quite frankly, we need the help of all people to be observant always. When questions arise, help should be sought from one’s pastor or from my office. I promise to act on all complaints that are received.
(4) The full implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Young People, passed in Dallas in June, 2002, will continue. This means that we will actively enforce the policies in the Charter and be accountable for such enforcement.
(5) Priests, and everyone who collaborates with them in ministry, will carefully adhere to the Diocesan Code of Ethical Standards for Ministry to Minors.
(6) The Diocese will maintain an easily accessible contact to help any victims find the assistance and guidance that they need.
(7) We will continue to communicate openly with the faithful of the Diocese, the general public, law enforcement and child protection agencies, and the media in accordance with our Diocesan Communications Policy Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors.
(8) Litigation is not the Church’s preferred way to respond to the devastation of sexual abuse. It is often not a pathway to the truth and it can stand in the way of genuine communication of human needs and human response. Where necessary, however, we may have to defend the Diocese,. This does not preclude the offer of pastoral assistance in some manner to an abused person, which might also include some financial assistance to reimburse the victim for expenses incurred as a result of such abuse.
(9) As Bishop, I renew my pledge to meet with any person who was a victim of sexual misconduct by a priest employee, or volunteer of the Church.
I invite everyone to visit our Diocesan web page (dioceseofkalamazoo.org) to view documents, policies and procedures that comprise our response to issues of sexual abuse.
In the midst of all the pain of the past several years, the Church in Kalamazoo has continued to serve God’s people with integrity and selfless service. Beyond the sacramental life, which is itself very significant, we have continued to serve those in need. The Word of God has been proclaimed “in season and out of season.” Many good and dedicated priests continue to serve in our parishes and schools. It has not been an easy time to be a priest, but the priests of our Diocese have remained faithful witnesses to the Gospel and faithful to their ordination commitments. And those who collaborate with our priests in ministry to all the faithful of the Diocese have been a special source of strength and inspiration during these difficult times.
Our Diocese is a great Church with wonderful priests, deacons, religious sisters and laity. We remain committed to proclaiming the Truth that is Jesus Christ. This report is not intended to communicate that the door to the past is now closed. Rather it is a recognition of our past and a pledge that we will continue to attempt to minister, in a caring and pastoral manner, to those hurt in the past and that every reasonable step will continue to be taken to move into the future stronger in our commitment to be faithful to the mission which has been handed down to us by the apostles.
Finally, I wish to express to you, the Catholic people of our Diocese, my gratitude and love for remaining steadfast in faith during these sorrowful times, for believing in the Church and for supporting your parish priests. These same priests time and again have told me stories from your parishes of your fidelity and of your support. It is a privilege for us to serve you. We recognize the sacred trust that you place in the Church, and we renew our promise to serve you with integrity and selflessness. May God continue to bless the Catholic Church of southwestern Michigan, which is the Diocese of Kalamazoo.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Numbers have been released from the dioceses of Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo in western Michigan, the Diocese of Marquette in and the Upper Peninsula and the Archdiocese of Detroit in the southeastern part of the state.
Catholic churches in Allegan County are part of the Kalamazoo Diocese. Those in Ottawa County are in the Grand Rapids Diocese.
The reports from individual dioceses have trickled out ahead of a national report on sexual abuse of minors commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be released Feb. 27.
A total of 89 priests from the four dioceses have faced credible accusations of sexual misconduct since 1950, according to the reports released since the beginning of the year.
The Lansing and Saginaw dioceses are expected to release their reports to the public prior the national report, but the Gaylord Diocese and the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle are waiting for the national disclosure. An eparchy is a geographic district for Catholics who accept the authority of the pope, but follow different rituals.
The amount of detail in the reports already released varied by diocese; some did not say how many minors were abused, others didn't say how much money was paid out to victims.
Those details, however, should be available in the national report.
Bishop James A. Murray of the Diocese of Kalamazoo apologized to victims in a letter published in the February edition of The Good News, the diocesan newspaper.
"I am deeply sorry for, and ashamed of, what was done to you," he said. "While no human can see perfectly into the psyche of another, I can only assure you that no priest, religious, volunteer or employee known to have committed sexual abuse has been allowed to continue in public ministry."
The Diocese of Kalamazoo, with 46 parishes serving 118,452 registered Catholics, is one of the newer dioceses in Michigan. Numbers released this week show two priests with "credible" accusations against them since the diocese's creation in 1971. Murray's letter said the diocese had not paid any legal damages, but had spent $5,000 on counseling assistance for families.
The Diocese of Marquette, with 74 parishes serving 69,500 registered Catholics, in January reported that 16 priests out of 534 serving the parish had credible allegations made against them by 34 victims since 1950.
The Diocese of Grand Rapids, consisting of 90 parishes and 162,670 registered Catholics, reported eight priests abusing 35 victims since 1950. One priest abused 14 minors and another abused nine, according to numbers released in January.
Payouts from the latter two were not available.
The Archdiocese of Detroit, which disclosed its numbers Feb. 5, had accusations leveled against 63 of the archdiocese's priests and deacons since 1950. Cardinal Adam Maida has said the archdiocese paid nearly $1.38 million in settlements and counseling to 116 victims.
Victims of priest abuse, represented by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, have looked askance at these reports.
For one thing, they don't name the priests, and for another, they rely entirely on the willingness of bishops to disclose the abuses -- the very thing that put the Catholic Church in the situation of paying out millions in damages from victim lawsuits.
Most dioceses already have implemented training programs and new abuse
reporting methods to help head-off further problems.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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