DIOCESE OF OWENSBORO KY
By Bishop John McRaith
As this New Year begins, I want to share information with you on a topic that has affected the Church Universal, the Church in the United States, and our own local Church - the Diocese of Owensboro. Of no surprise to anyone, the topic is that of abuse of children and youth. I now have some good news regarding our best efforts to try to ensure that such abuse will never again occur in the Church.
Almost 19 months ago, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which not only presents steps to address the crisis but also holds Bishops and dioceses accountable for implementing those steps. The USCCB National Office of Child and Youth Protection recently audited the Diocese of Owensboro to determine if our efforts for prevention of abuse are in keeping with the Charter, the Norms (now Church Law, as passed by the bishops and approved by the Holy See), and our own diocesan sexual abuse prevention policy. Two auditors were in the diocese for a week to see if we were doing what our new policy calls us to do. I say new because this diocese has had a policy since 1985; that policy was updated in 1995 and again updated following the passage of the Charter and Norms in June of 2002.
Diocese of Owensboro Found in Complete Compliance
Safe Environment Program
Our Safe Environment for Children and Young People Program was one of the items commended in the audit. This program of prevention is now a requirement for all persons involved in ministry to minors (from birth up to the eighteenth birthday). Persons involved in such ministry include priests, diocesan and parish staff members, and all volunteers. The program has been presented in every Deanery and in several places in many Deaneries. I am grateful to those who put the program together, to the Deans who offered the programs in their deaneries, and to all the priests, staff, and volunteers who have attended. In addition to the program required of adults, age-appropriate Safe Environment Programs will be presented to all our children and young people at the parish religious education programs and in the schools.
Program Required for Ministry to Minors
I am aware that some persons involved in ministry to children and youth, whether employees or volunteers, have yet to participate in our Safe Environment Program. Participation in the program is mandatory for all of us who wish to continue in ministry to minors in this diocese. This requirement helps us to assure that our children and young people will find the Church a safe place, so participation in the program is absolutely necessary. I thank all of you who spend so many hours of your time in ministry to children and youth, and I believe you would agree that a couple of hours of our time is a small sacrifice to make to assure their safety.
Nationwide Release of Information
On January 6, 2004, a national composite of the results of the USCCB diocesan audits will be released to the public. The significance of this date of release is clear. Two years ago on this date, articles in the Boston Globe sparked a crisis that eventually engulfed the whole Catholic Church in the United States.
On February 27, 2004, the USCCB will release statistics gathered in a national survey of dioceses across the nation; the statistics will indicate the number of victims affected by abuse by bishops, priests, Church staff, and volunteers involved in ministry in the Church. Since the statistics to be released in February will be a composite for the entire Church in the United States, I want to tell you now what these statistics are for the Catholic Church in our diocese.
Of the hundreds of priests and the thousands of sisters, brothers, lay faculty, and volunteers involved in ministry to minors in the last fifty years, allegations of abuse in this diocese involve nine diocesan priests, four extern priests (diocesan and religious order priests from other dioceses), one religious sister not of this diocese, one religious brother, and one lay teacher. Of course, none remain in ministry. Three allegations of abuse were not substantiated; and four alleged abusers are now deceased.
The victim’s family member or the victims themselves reported incidences of abuse directly to me, the Bishop, but a few cases were reported through others. All but two of the cases alleging abuse against minors in this diocese occurred prior to 1985, when our sexual abuse prevention policy was implemented. The majority of the cases were reported years, sometimes decades, after the approximate date of the alleged abuse. In all instances reported prior to 2002, the victims or their family insisted upon strict confidentiality; however, at this time (after acceptance of the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People), no person acting on behalf of the Church may guarantee confidentiality, as all allegations of abuse of minors must now be reported to civil authorities. And rightly so.
Diocesan records indicate that in settlement of cases of sexual abuse to minors, the Diocese of Owensboro has been responsible over the last fifty years for a total of $598,140 dollars, of which $250,000 was paid by insurance. Of the remaining $348,140, the diocese paid $94,250 in settlements, $30,137 in legal fees, with the largest portion of the monies, $223,753, paid for victim therapy/counseling for healing. Money to fund these expenses came from our Charitable Trust Fund, which is primarily funded through contributions from our diocesan clergy.
Of the 29 alleged victims who have made themselves known to the diocese in the last fifty years, twelve cases alleged abuse by extern priests; three cases alleged abuse by non-clergy teachers; fourteen cases alleged abuse by diocesan priests (three of these claims were unsubstantiated; two of these claims were made against a deceased priest). Of the substantiated claims, most of the allegations were made by people who came to the diocese only in search of healing, with eight seeking funding for counseling, eight seeking settlement in the Civil Court, and six coming forward as a matter of conscience.
As you know, all these statistics of abuse have faces on them — they all have pain and suffering attached to them. This release of information is my best effort, with the help of many people, to be open and up front about what is happening in our diocese.
I cannot in words adequately express my sorrow that anyone has ever been the victim of abuse within the Church. For the victims, I again would like to say that I am deeply sorry for the hurt caused. Even though most instances of abuse occurred before our first policy of prevention was implemented in 1985, it is a tragedy that abuse ever occurs. If there are other victims who have not made themselves known, I again invite them to come forward if they feel the need for healing.
Reports may be made to me or to our Diocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board. I promise that we have one of the best Review Boards in this country. I am so grateful to these women and men who have given hours and hours of their lives to make the Catholic Church of Western Kentucky a safe environment for all children and young people. They, plus other volunteers and numerous staff, have done and continue to do everything possible to make this a diocese where every child and young person can and will be safe within the ministry of the Church.
I would hope that all our efforts of prevention would renew confidence in allowing this faith community to minister to all children and young people.
May our forgiving and loving Jesus bring good out of this crisis and make us a more compassionate people of God in all ways and in all areas of our faith lives. I promise that this diocese will continue to be compassionate toward victims. I quickly add that I pray that such abuse will never happen again in this diocese.
Wishing you God's blessings, I remain
Sincerely in Christ,
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