DIOCESE OF NASHVILLE TN
My dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As you may have heard, in two weeks on February 27, the results of a national study on clergy sex abuse conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the request of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Review Board will be released. I want to assure you that we fully cooperated with this study, which covered the period from 1950 to June 2002.
Over the past several years, here in our diocese and in the Church around the country, much attention has been focused on the tragedy of abuse of minors by priests. Unfortunately, some of that abuse has taken place here in our diocese. The last abuse by an active member of the clergy of which the diocese is aware took place nearly 20 years ago, but I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about the abuse of which we are aware.
Between 1950 and 2002, 378 ordained clerics served in the diocese. During that 52-year period, seven priests were credibly accused of abuse of minors and 30 victims have contacted the diocese. Since June 2002, the diocese has not needed to remove any active cleric from ministry. However, in March 2003 a religious order priest was recalled by his provincial superior shortly after the order received an allegation of misconduct that dated back to the early 1980s and predated the priest's ordination. The diocese has paid a little over $200,000 in counseling and charitable assistance to victims. No parish money, or funds given to the Bishop's Stewardship Appeal or to the GIFT Capital Campaign were used for this purpose. The diocese has not entered into any settlements with victims of abuse, and knows of no one who has been credibly accused of the abuse of a minor working in any ministry for many years.
We cannot change what happened twenty, thirty, forty, or even ten years ago; however, we can devote our time and resources to developing good programs such as background checks, screening, checking applications, checking references, and developing good training programs for everyone, including children, to detect, prevent, and report child sexual abuse. Our diocese has an exceptional review board to guide us in our policies, and to respond to any allegations of abuse that might come forward.
Though even one instance of abuse is one too many, the Church has been conscientiously addressing these issues. I again encourage anyone who knows of or reasonably suspects that abuse has taken place, report it to the proper authorities as well as the diocese. I also again extend a charitable invitation to any victim of past abuse, no matter how long ago that abuse might have happened, to come forward if they feel the need for assistance and healing.
Once again, I reiterate our profound sorrow and apology to the victims of past abuse, and to their families, especially as it has occurred here in our diocese. I pray for their healing and for their forgiveness, and I repeat my continuing concern for their well-being. I also regret the pain and hurt that has been suffered by our entire community during the course of this tragedy of abuse, including our good priests who continue to serve us faithfully. I hope that all of our efforts at prevention will renew confidence in our dedication to fidelity in our mission of building God's kingdom of love and goodness in our midst.
Wishing you God's blessing, I remain devotedly yours in Christ.
Edward U. Kmiec
Just under 2% of the Catholic priests who served in the Diocese of Nashville over the past 50 years are believed to have sexually abused children, according to the local diocese.
The figures, reported in the Feb. 13 edition of the diocesan newspaper, The Tennessee Register, are part of a study being released by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Feb. 27.
According to the diocese, seven of the 378 priests who served in the diocese between 1950 and 2002 were ''credibly accused,'' and 30 victims have contacted the diocese. Also, it said the diocese had paid more than $200,000 for counseling and charitable assistance of victims, and that it had not agreed to any settlements.
Many dioceses around the country have paid multimillion-dollar settlements to victims.
The Diocese of Nashville, which included all of Tennessee during at least part of the 52-year period studied, is not aware of any incidents of abuse since 1985, officials said.
''We cannot change what happened 20, 30, 40 or even 10 years ago,'' Bishop Edward Kmiec wrote in a letter to area Catholics. ''However we can devote our time and resources to developing good programs such as background checks, screening, checking applications, checking references and developing good training programs for everyone, including children, to detect, prevent and report child sexual abuse.''
The John Jay study is the second of two that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned in the wake of a national child sexual abuse scandal in 2002. The first study, released last month, detailed the policies implemented to prevent abuse and to facilitate the reporting of allegations of abuse. It found Nashville in complete compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a document created in 2002 by the bishops.
The local diocese created policies in 1985 and put them in written form in 1992. Those policies were revised after the charter was passed in 2002.
Michael Coode, who claims he was abused by a priest in Nashville in the 1950s, says he thinks the reported numbers could be low. Coode, a member of a support group for victims, sent the bishop a letter last summer with the initials of 14 Tennessee priests who he said had abused 150 people.
Coode said he wished the bishop would be more specific about the priests who have abused children. ''He should name these people because when I get through with my list and his list, there could be 21,'' Coode said. ''This idea of self-reporting is itself questionable. I think much work has to be done to restore faith in the hierarchy, and I have my doubts this can even begin without new, strong leadership in the church.''
Other local Catholics praised the local diocese's decision to release the information, especially because it wasn't required to do so.
''I think that part of the healing process is to let the truth be known,'' said Dan McCormick, president of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a group formed in response to the sexual abuse scandal. ''That's certainly a way to get it behind us is when all the facts and all the truth is forthcoming. I certainly commend the bishop in doing that.''
Jim Zralek, another member of the group, also applauded the release of the information but said the diocese should have included how much money was spent on legal fees. ''I think Catholics would love to know … whether that involved any of the money they put in the collection,'' he said.
The group also is holding a prayer service for all victims of sexual abuse March 7 at the St. Ann Catholic Church's family life center to help with the healing process.
In his letter to Catholics, Kmiec said he hoped the information would help in healing.
''I reiterate our profound sorrow and apology to the victims of past abuse and to their families, especially as it has occurred here in our diocese,'' Kmiec wrote. ''I pray for their healing and for their forgiveness, and I repeat my continuing concern for their well-being.''
The Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic group formed to support victims of abuse, is holding a prayer service called ''A service of hope'' at 5 p.m. March 7 at the St. Ann Catholic Church Family Life Center, 5105 Charlotte Ave., for all victims of sexual abuse.
Five have been accused of abuse here in previous reports
The diocese now covers Middle Tennessee but once covered the whole state. The Diocese of Memphis, consisting of the western third of the state, was formed in 1971. The Diocese of Knoxville, consisting of the eastern third of the state, was formed in 1988.
In previous Tennessean articles, five priests have been have identified as abusers. These may or may not be among the cases in the report the Nashville Diocese released yesterday, which did not include names:
Ron Dickman, former principal of Father Ryan High School. A Tennessean story reported that Dickman left the priesthood in 1991 because of ''sexual contact with the son of a prominent Nashville Catholic family.'' He is currently director of Religious Community Services, an agency in Pinellas County, Fla., that helps the poor and homeless.
Paul Frederick Haas died in 1978. More than 100 people have accused Haas of abusing them, said Mike Coode, a member of the healing committee of the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a group formed in response to the sexual abuse scandal.
Roger Lott, a Benedictine monk, lives in seclusion in St. Bernard's Abbey in Birmingham, Ala. According to published reports, Lott has never denied allegations of abuse but said he was an alcoholic and does not remember sexually abusing anyone.
Edward J. McKeown was removed from ''direct or unsupervised contact with youth'' in 1986 after an initial allegation of molestation was lodged against him. He was removed from the active priesthood in 1989 and is currently serving a 25-year prison sentence for raping a 12-year-old boy after he left the priesthood.
Franklin T. Richards told police he abused ''about 25 boys,'' according to a Tennessean article. The statute of limitations had run out and Richards now lives in Palm Beach County, Fla.
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