DIOCESE OF WICHITA KS
So begins an open letter to the people of the Diocese of Wichita from the Rev. Msgr. Robert E. Hemberger, diocesan administrator. Msgr. Hemberger presents not only the local statistical data but also seeks to provide a greater understanding through his own personal insights and reflection.
As we begin this penitential season of Lent, his letter offers a timely opportunity for our own reflection, reaction, and response to this issue, so that, " ... In the end, we will surely be better for dealing with our sin, and working at forgiveness and reconciliation through the Mercy of our God."
**Diocese of Wichita releases child sexual abuse data
Soon you will be hearing the accumulated facts and figures of the past 50 years of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the United States. Naturally, you want to know, "What about Wichita? What about our diocese?" Whether nationally or locally, the child abuse story is tragic, evil, a wound needing God's mercy.
Before presenting the numbers and the spiritual struggle, we need to put four things into our minds:
-- This study involved a fifty-one year period (1952-2003). Record keeping and understanding have improved greatly over that lengthy period.
-- The extent of this crime against children has become known only recently in our society.
-- The knowledge base surrounding the sexual abuse of children has grown tremendously over these 50 years. Much like our knowledge of cancer, arthritis, alcoholism, depression, and a dozen other diseases, we still have much to learn about pedophilia and ephebophilia.
-- While the Church has spent a great deal of time and money paying for the effects of this sin against children, at the same time, dedicated Catholics have spent a hundred or thousand times as much time and money educating children and caring for the least among us.
Too late did we learn that child sexual abuse is more than a sin, even more than a form of mental illness. It is an evil and an illness which leads to a crime against the most innocent.
We Catholics believe in both sin and forgiveness. While we each may be infected by sin, we also are capable of forgiveness and healing. The love of God is more powerful than evil.
The Sins of 50 Years
The John Jay College report will be widely reported, and no doubt the numbers will be staggering. But what about Wichita? Since 1952 thirty-three people have alleged child sexual abuse by priests of the diocese of Wichita. Nine priests were accused out of 368 diocesan priests who have served here during that time - four are dead, four were removed from priestly ministry, and the abuse by one was never substantiated. The most recent removal was more than ten years ago. The diocese of Wichita spent $897,500 on settlements, plus legal fees for settlement work. Another $144,128 was spent on therapy for survivors and the accused priests. Additionally, there were insurance payments of nearly twice that amount.
Priests sinned. People were hurt. I extend the same invitation that Bishops Gerber and Olmsted repeatedly offered - to meet with any victim survivors if I can help with healing and reconciliation. The Church stands in a state of repentance and reform this Lent. We are ashamed and sorry for child sexual abuse.
I also apologize to all of you, our Catholic people, who have had to endure embarrassment, even ridicule, from others because you are Catholic. You did not deserve such guilt by association. I am sorry if you have been through that. I thank you for your faithfulness and kindness to your parish priests who have also suffered this guilt by association.
Repentance And Reform
To bring healing, we now have widespread reporting tools (see the form in The Catholic Advance, or in the back of our Policy on Suspected Abuse of Children booklet, or on our Web site www.cdowk.org ). We have a Review Board consisting of respected lay and clergy members, and a very capable Victim Assistance Coordinator to help people find psychological or spiritual resource people (see side articles). We are constantly looking for new and better tools. And then there is the mercy of God -- the ultimate path to healing. More on God's mercy later.
To protect our children, each priest, each church employee, and anyone who regularly volunteers with children is required to do four things: 1) submit to a criminal background check for sexual predators; 2) read, sign and abide by the diocesan Policy on Suspected Abuse of Children which explains the Church's expectations and the consequences of child sexual abuse; 3) read, sign and abide by the Code of Ethical Standards; 4) attend the VIRTUS educational program on creating safe environments for our children (see side article). Another measure of protection for our children is the now-standard policy of reporting to law enforcement each allegation of child sexual abuse by a church employee.
These are some of the therapeutic, legal, and educational tools of our repentance and reform. They are practical steps to protect children, to keep each child safe from sexual abuse by a church employee or volunteer. There is no ironclad guarantee against future evil or abuse. But we must try. This desire for repentance is moved both by sorrow and by love -- love for God and God's children. Each child deserves our protection. Jesus demanded as much.
Each day in the Lord's Prayer, we pray, "Forgive us . . . as we forgive others . . ." We ask God to forgive us insofar as we are willing to forgive others. That means all others. It means all those for whom Jesus Christ suffered, died and rose.
Forgiveness may be the most difficult thing a Christian does. Yet it is what distinguishes us from all others. Christ, the innocent one, forgave and asked his Father to forgive those who were crucifying him. Forgiveness for us rarely comes in a single breath. You think you are there, then the anger resurfaces. You pray some more, and a little more forgiveness happens. Over and over again, bit by bit forgiveness happens. It is not that God is stingy with His mercy. Sin cuts so deep. The greater the sin, the longer the pain, the more cold and angry the hurt is. It takes much time and many prayers to soak up God's mercy. Money by itself will not fix a broken heart. Prayer begins to heal. Therapy can help. But in the end, it is only the mercy of God received and given that will heal the heart of an abused individual, the family members, the parish, and our entire Church.
Abuses, discoveries, and reforms are all human acts. Healing mercy is a divine gift. Unless an abused person can arrive at this gift, anger and bitterness can be a kind of prison.
I thank you who have stayed with the Body of Christ through this difficult chapter of our history. In the end, we will surely be better for dealing with our sin, and working at forgiveness and reconciliation through the Mercy of our God.
Rev. Msgr. Robert E. Hemberger
**Victim Assistance Coordinator seeks to help heal victims
"It is a great privilege to serve in this capacity," says Lambertz. "I see myself facilitating services for victims of sexual abuse which promote their healing and wholeness. This role is pastoral in nature--I do not make any judgments on whether or not the abuse occurred. What I try to do is meet the people who come to me where they are and then help them move forward."
Confidentiality and trust are key elements in dealing with victims of sexual abuse. As Victim Assistance Coordinator Lambertz is independent of the Diocesan Review Board, Church leaders, law enforcement investigators or anyone else.
"Just coming forward and asking for help is probably one of the most important decisions a victim will ever make," says Lambertz. "It takes a great deal of courage to do that and I am always in awe of those who do so and they immediately earn my respect. It is always difficult, but it is so very important to take that step if there is to be healing and reconciliation."
When a victim contacts Lambertz seeking help, she typically conducts a brief interview to determine which services are most appropriate. "There are lots of resources available but most people don't know where to look or how to connect them with the people in need. That's probably the most crucial service I provide."
While victims are welcomed and encouraged to get in touch with her directly, Lambertz says it is not unusual for someone else to receive the first contact on their behalf. "It could be a friend, a teacher, a parent or some other person of trust who makes that first call," she explains. "The most important thing is to know that I am here to help in any way I can."
To contact Kit Lambertz, you may call her at Catholic Charities in Wichita at (316) 264-8344, ext. 230, or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org
**Diocesan Review Board a cross section of professions
Occupation: Director of Security, Wesley Medical Center Personal/Professional: A native Wichitan, married with six children. Jim is a 25-year veteran of the Wichita Police Department serving as a detective, Lieutenant in Homicide Squad, Bureau Commander and various other positions.
"As a veteran Law Enforcement Officer with six children in Catholic schools who has dealt with these issues my entire adult life, I have been extremely impressed with how the Catholic Diocese of Wichita chose to address them. My whole reason for being on the board is to insure that a system is in place that not only educates the faithful about the dangers of sexual abuse, and now has checks and balances in place to assure that this problem is fixed. I believe that is being accomplished. I am truly thankful for the openness and collaboration given the laity while this process was being developed."
Occupation: Retired pediatric neurologist Personal/professional: Dr. Gilmartin and his wife of 46 years Peggy are parents of 7 children and 15 grandchildren. During more than four decades as an Army physician and doctor in private practice, he worked closely with military and civil authorities in developing and creating a number of child abuse detection and prevention programs.
"What is so impressive to me about the steps taken by the Diocese of Wichita is the willingness to take a 'team approach' to the problem of child sexual abuse. Everyone is deeply involved: law enforcement, social workers and the judiciary, as well as Catholic lay people and clergy. The program and process we have developed is nothing short of groundbreaking and can be rightfully held up as a model for organizations of all kinds."
Occupation: District Court Judge, State of Kansas Personal/professional: Tim and his wife Wendy have been married for 16 years and have five children, ages 4 to 14. He earned his law degree from Washburn University and serves on the 31st District Juvenile Justice Administration Board and the Community Corrections Board. He is also a member of the St. Patrick's Catholic School Advisory Board and the Wichita Diocesan School Advisory Board.
"The issue of child sexual abuse is more than a problem for the Church, it is a problem for all of society. Emotions are, understandably, running high from all involved. One of my goals as a member of the Review Board is to ensure a responsible, measured response that protects our children, respects the rights and dignity of our priests and holds each of us accountable so this crisis is never repeated. I truly believe we are accomplishing that."
Occupation: Medical Social Worker, Via-Christi Medical Center, Wichita Personal/professional: Linda and her husband Dave have four children who have attended Catholic schools. She worked as a social worker and supervisor for Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) in Kansas for nearly twenty years and earned her Master's degree in Social Work from Newman University.
"We began our journey as a Review Board knowing the road would be challenging, difficult, long and virtually uncharted. Bishop Olmsted's goal was to provide a safe environment for the children of our Diocese. We were blessed to have his unconditional support, leadership and directive while working to complete each task. As a parent, parishioner and medical social worker, I am confident our efforts are making a positive difference."
Member: Kathleen M. O'Flaherty Perez, Ph.D.
Guadalupe, South Hutchinson
Occupation: Associate Professor of Sociology at Wichita State University Personal/professional: Kathleen joined the WSU faculty in 1983 and has served in a variety of capacities including Chairperson of the Department of Sociology and has a special interest in issues related to marriage, family and social problems. She helped design the "Listening to the Youth" survey used during the recent Synod of the Diocese of Wichita and was involved in the Disciples 2000 Lenten Faith Sharing Groups program.
"My membership on the Diocesan Review Board allows me to combine my professional and personal interest in helping to address and alleviate the problem of child abuse within our society. While many of us on the board were not acquainted with one another before Bishop Olmsted asked us to serve, I have been deeply moved by the level of commitment and integrity each member has shown as we helped develop a set of policies, guidelines and procedures to ensure, to the extent possible, that the abuse of children and young people will not occur in the future within our diocese. I am proud of the common voice and vision that so quickly arose between the members of the review board and Bishop Olmsted."
Personal/professional: In addition to 35 years as a pastor, Msgr. Gilsenan holds a degree in Canon Law and has been a member of the Diocesan Marriage Tribunal for 20 years. He currently serves in the capacity of Promoter of Justice
"As a priest, pastor and long-time member of the Marriage Tribunal I believe I have a unique perspective and understanding of the difficulties and challenges people face in our culture today. The sexual abuse of our young people at the hands of certain members of the clergy or anyone else cannot and will not be tolerated. I am gratified with the comprehensive response to this issue by Bishop Olmsted and now by Monsignor Hemberger, as well as the expertise and commitment of others serving with me on the Review Board. As we move forward let us pledge to do everything possible to ensure the safety of our children while continuing to embrace the Gospel values of love, compassion, justice, healing and reconciliation for all involved."
**Protecting children, promoting justice: role of the Diocesan Review
Likewise, there is an internal process for determining the validity of an allegation, the facts surrounding it and what action the Church should take. This is where the Diocesan Review Board plays such a key role.
Established four years ago by Bishop Olmsted, members of the current review board include one priest and five laypeople from the Diocese of Wichita. When an allegation of child sexual abuse is made, the Review Board receives and reviews the facts. The members then report directly to the Bishop and advise him of their assessment of each allegation as well as their determination of the accused's suitability for service in the Church. The Board also reviews Diocesan policies for dealing with the sexual abuse of minors.
"I am deeply grateful to the time and energy given by the members of the Review Board," says Monsignor Hemberger, Administrator for the Diocese of Wichita. "Theirs is a new and vitally important role in our efforts to create safe environments for our children while protecting the dignity and rights of all involved."
"These men and women were selected for their impeccable professional credentials and high moral character as Catholics in good standing. They are strong, independent voices who will no doubt share their thoughts, concerns and recommendations about how to handle specific allegations of abuse and develop policies and procedures for the protection of children."
**VIRTUS program in diocese is 'model' for organizations
VIRTUS© is a safe-environment program developed by prominent national experts designed to help prevent wrongdoing and promote "rightdoing" within religious organizations in regards to child sexual abuse. Each session features trained facilitators who use handouts, personal experiences and powerful videos featuring actual child sexual predators who recount how they seduced and abused children. Since May of 2003, about 4,500 people in the Diocese of Wichita have participated in 150 VIRTUS training sessions. Of that number, there are about 2000 paid employees of the diocese and religion catechists who are required to continue their education on various related issues through the study of bi-monthly "updates" provided to them online. The VIRTUS program is considered unprecedented in terms of the content of the training sessions and the number of people taking part in them.
KBI background checks are conducted on all clergy members, church employees and volunteers who work with children. Each person is checked against the KBI's registered offenders list. Each new clergy member, church employee and volunteer who works with children is required to authorize this background check, the results of which are kept on file.
The Diocese has established an Outreach Program for Victims of Sexual Abuse providing information about counseling through individual therapy and/or support, as well as information about spiritual directors and/or spiritual healing resources.
The Policy on Suspected Abuse of Children was first implemented in October of 1992 and most recently updated and revised in September of 2003. The Policy provides specific steps to be followed when there is a suspicion of sexual abuse and reaffirms Church belief that considers "abuse or neglect of children as contrary to Christian morality and as an offense against God and the dignity of the human person." Each member of the clergy, church employee and volunteer who works with children is required to read, sign and follow the directives of the Policy.
The Code of Ethical Standards for Church Personnel (and Volunteers) has been established to help delineate boundaries by which ethical questions can be evaluated. While not intended to supercede canon law, civil law and other ethics documents in use within the Diocese, it does establish ethical standards that Church personnel and volunteers are expected to adhere to in the performance of their duties.
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