DIOCESE OF OAKLAND CA
During the past two years, the Catholic Church in the United States has faced a tragedy of immeasurable dimensions – the realization that hundreds of our children and young people have been sexually abused by some priests and deacons in parishes throughout our country. These children and their families have suffered deeply, our communities have been damaged, and our neighbors scandalized.
As part of our response to this tragedy, the U.S. bishops adopted, in June 2002, a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, implementing key reforms in diocesan policies and procedures to insure the safety of minors from predatory priests. This Charter has already been fully adopted in the Oakland Diocese and in nearly all other U.S. dioceses.
The bishops also commissioned the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, part of City University of New York, to study the nation-wide incidence of clergy sex abuse of minors over the past 50 years. The bishops hope such historical data will give us perspectives on the extent of the problem that can guide our current and future efforts to prevent such abuse.
Each diocese provided the John Jay School with statistical information about the number of priests and deacons in that diocese who have been accused of sexual abuse of minors and the number of known victims of these priests and deacons. A report on the national findings will be released on Feb. 27. However, I want to share with you now the figures for the Oakland Diocese.
Scope of abuse
The 24 diocesan priests with valid claims of abuse are among the 312 diocesan priests and 110 permanent deacons belonging to the diocese during that period. Of those 24 priests, 11 priests had one complaint filed against them.
Three of the priests with valid complaints were serving East Bay parishes between 1950 and 1962 and belonged to the Archdiocese of San Francisco until they were transferred to the Oakland Diocese when it was formed in 1962.
During the same 53-year period, an estimated 1360 priests belonging to religious orders also served in our parishes and diocesan offices. An additional 800 priests are estimated to have served in the diocese as summer replacements, bringing the estimated total to 2,582 priests who have served in the diocese since it was established in 1962. Not included in that total are religious order priests serving in Catholic colleges, private [sic]
Any accusations of abuse against members of religious communities have been filed with their respective communities which have the responsibility to investigate the allegations and under the Charter to remove those priests from ministry, if the accusations are credible.
Diocesan records from 1995 to the present show that allegations were filed against 11 religious order priests and six religious Brothers for sexual misconduct while serving in the diocese. The majority of the abuse took place during the 1970s.
None of the 24 diocesan priests credibly accused of misconduct remains in active ministry. Fourteen of the priests are deceased, one has been laicized and nine have been permanently removed from ministry, meaning that they cannot publicly function as priests.
The offending priests are known to have abused at least 72 children and teens in 22 parishes in our diocese. Forty-six percent of the known victims identify their abuse as occurring in the 1970s, 35 percent report that the abuse took place during the 1960s, 16 percent in the 1980s and 4 percent in the 1950s. There have been no reports of abuse having taken place since 1989.
These are the known victims, but it is quite possible that other minors were also abused and have not come forward. The diocese remains open to hearing from these victims and their families. We will continue to take each allegation seriously, reporting it to the proper authorities and removing from ministry any priest or deacon found to have committed an act of abuse.
Sexual abuse of minors is a grave matter and a reprehensible act, all the more ignoble when committed by a man who has been called by Christ to uphold the highest moral standards.
I apologize again with all my heart to each man and woman who was abused as a child by a priest in this diocese. Each of them has experienced immeasurable harm and I beg pardon from them and their families for the suffering they have experienced.
I apologize also to the communities where the abuse took place, acknowledging the betrayal of trust that parishioners placed in these priests and the grave scandal they have had to endure. I have committed myself to visiting the parishes where this abuse occurred and to apologizing openly again to the victims, their families and their community.
I also want to acknowledge all of the good and faithful priests who have never offended in this way and who now join with me in working to heal the deep personal and community wounds this abuse has inflicted.
In addition, during the past decade the diocese has paid $788,101 in legal fees, $608,357 in counseling for victims and $1,042,741 for counseling and treatment of priests who have abused children. Diocesan staff costs account for another $450,000.
I can assure you that no funds specifically contributed to the annual Bishop’s Appeal or other dedicated programs have been used to pay insurance premiums, settlements to victims, or other expenses related to sexual abuse cases. Monies from this year’s Appeal likewise will go only for the 20 ministries supported by the Appeal.
Earlier this month, our attorneys filed papers with the State Judicial Council asking that these lawsuits be assigned to the same courtroom in Santa Clara to streamline the legal proceedings and insure consistent standards for each case. The Archdiocese of San Francisco and the Dioceses of Monterey, San Jose, Santa Rosa and Stockton filed similar petitions.
Our hope is that this consolidation will move these cases toward a just outcome for both the victims and the diocese.
Those policies clearly stated that all accusations were to be taken seriously, that any incidents involving minors were to be reported to Child Protective Services, that the priest or other Church worker was to be placed immediately on administrative leave and could not be returned to ministry unless certain conditions or limitations were in place. The policies stated the diocese’s prime concern was always to be the welfare of the victim and the victim’s family.
Over the years, the policies were expanded to put even more emphasis on the appropriate care to victims with concern for their rights, reputation, healing and spiritual welfare. The diocese pledged full cooperation with legal authorities conducting investigations of reported abuse and open communication and dialogue about clerical sexual abuse while respecting the privacy of the individuals involved.
It reiterated its commitment to respond promptly to all allegations of clerical sexual misconduct, even if the complaint is anonymous, to place on administrative leave any priest or other Church employee accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, and not to return the priest to ministry where there is contact with children.
With the adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Adults, the diocese further strengthened its policies, moving to a “zero tolerance” policy regarding priests guilty of abuse of minors. No longer would the diocese consider allowing an abusing priest or deacon to serve in any ministerial capacity, even a position where he had no contact with children or teenagers.
Within the diocesan policy, there is a specific set of procedures for handling all allegations of clergy misconduct.
Every allegation is reported immediately to the appropriate legal authority – the police department for cases within the criminal statute of limitations and the local District Attorney in all other cases.
Any new allegations that are made, which are outside of the statute of limitations, will be investigated by an independent private investigation firm retained by the diocese. This firm will report its findings to the Diocesan Review Board, a group of five to nine members who assist me in reviewing cases of alleged abuse and recommending appropriate action. If the report confirms that the abuse did occur, the priest or deacon is permanently removed from ministry.
The diocese has had such a review board since 1993. The majority of its members must be lay persons who are not employed in the diocese. At least one member must have professional expertise in the treatment of sexual abuse of minors, and at least one member must be a victim of clergy sex abuse or the parent of a victim. One priest who is experienced as a pastor in the diocese also serves on the board, as does the head of our office for priest personnel. The members of this board serve in a volunteer capacity and are not compensated for their service.
Currently the Review Board members are: Rosemary Bower, Ph.D.; Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor and victim assistance coordinator; George Fruehan, computer consultant and clergy sex abuse survivor; Frank Heffernan, a retired businessman; Zelda Humphrey, mental health worker; Father Robert McCann, pastor of St. Raymond Church in Dublin; Steve McFeeley, an attorney, and Father Paul Schmidt, diocesan director of priest personnel.
Maintaining a safe environment
We are also training parish and school employees and volunteers to create and sustain abuse-free environments, how to spot signs of sexual abuse in the youth with whom they work, and how to report such abuse to legal authorities. This training is repeated each year.
Further, a panel of sex abuse survivors is available to speak to parishes, parent-teacher groups and other church organizations to raise awareness about the problem and to recommend ways to prevent its recurrence.
All persons who work with children in the diocese must submit to background checks. Priests, deacons, teachers, principals, and directors of religious education must be fingerprinted to verify that they have not committed crimes against children. All catechists, youth ministers and volunteers working with CYO (coaches, athletic directors, referees) are checked through the state Megan’s Law file to insure that they are not registered sex offenders.
A Code of Conduct is currently being developed that will outline the responsibilities of all employees in the diocese, whether working with children or not. Specific protocols address behavior in the presence of children. This code will be signed by each employee during their annual review.
Stopping sex abuse also requires careful screening of all candidates for ministry. All candidates for our seminaries must undergo professional evaluation to determine their psychological health and psychosexual maturity. Additionally, throughout their seminary training they are continually evaluated, and those judged unfit for celibate life are dismissed.
Outreach to victims
This ministry has several goals:
This ministry advocated for the first apology service, which Bishop John Cummins held on March 25, 2000. Coinciding with that service was the distribution of a set of No More Secrets posters to parishes. These posters contained a telephone number where victims could contact a fellow survivor for advice and support. That phone line is still available to survivors: 510-267-8373.
The ministry’s steering committee includes four survivors of clergy sex abuse, two permanent deacons and their wives, two pastors and our chancellor, Sister Barbara Flannery, who also serves as the victim assistance coordinator. This position is called for by the Charter, but had been in place in our diocese for 10 years.
I am very grateful to Sister Barbara for all her sensitive, compassionate work with victims. She has guided our ministry and been undaunting in her advocacy on their behalf. I am grateful, too, to the survivors who have openly shared their terrible stories with us so that the light of justice could begin to shine on the abuse and move us toward further actions to prevent any other children from becoming victims.
I, as bishop of the Church in Oakland, apologize with all my heart for
such acts and beg pardon from all who have been hurt by them.
I ask you to join with me in praying daily for healing, reconciliation and peace — for victims and their loved ones, for those priests who abused our children, and for the many good and devoted priests who have been demoralized by the awful acts of their brothers.
I am confident that God will hear our prayers.
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