Bishop Accountability

Accused Priests: 7 (of which allegations 2 were rumors, though the priests "left the ministry," and one was "false")
Total Priests: NA
Alleged Victims: NA
Counseling and Therapeutic Services for Victims: $10,000
Data since 1971, before which the territory of the diocese of Memphis was part of the diocese of Nashville.

Report on Abuse Cases

By Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D.
Bishop of Memphis
February 19, 2004

Sisters and brothers,

I have been stunned by the terrible behavior of priests who abuse children. My heart goes out to every victim whose trust of a priest has been broken because of abuse. I often pray that God will forgive our Church for the immeasurable harm that has been done to children because of such abuse. Jesus knew of a child's innocence when he urged his disciples to let the children come to him. (Luke 18,15-17) He knew that unless we all became like children we would not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mark 10,15) How unfortunate it is, then, that some who act in the name of Christ, as priests do, have betrayed Him by abusing those whom Jesus gathered to Himself and blessed.

On February 27, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York will issue a report about the abuse of minors by priests. The report has been commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It covers the years 1950-2002, and will tell us the number of sexual abuse cases against minors perpetrated by Catholic clergy, the number of clergy involved and the financial cost to the dioceses and archdioceses of the United States. I expect the report will be a shock to many. But raw data will only help us to understand the sexual abuse of children by priests if we are able to put that data in context. Part of that context is understanding what has happened here in our own diocese.

As you know, the Diocese of Memphis began in 1971. In 1985, the diocese established a policy to deal with allegations of possible sexual abuse by the clergy or any employee. That policy has guided the Diocese of Memphis in the ensuing years, and has been recently updated to reflect the changes called for by the United States Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Minors and Young People.

One case of clergy abuse of children is one too many. But the report I made to the John Jay College research will show that since its inception, the Diocese of Memphis has had seven priests accused of the sexual abuse of a minor.

In each case in which it was appropriate, the victims of the accused were offered the opportunity for counseling and pastoral care. I am constantly concerned that those who are victims will receive the best possible treatment both pastorally and psychologically so that they can begin to heal the psychic wounds caused by abuse.

Of the seven priests accused, two cases were determined to be rumors rather than allegations. The priests involved, however have left the ministry. One priest from a religious community was accused of abuse, removed from the diocese and is no longer functioning as a priest. Recently, a priest was accused of "inappropriate behavior" which occurred over forty years ago. The priest is now retired. More recently, two priests have been accused of abuse. The alleged improprieties occurred twenty years ago. Their cases are being investigated, and when the investigation is completed, appropriate action according to our guidelines will be taken. The most recent case involves a priest who was accused of abuse. After investigation, the allegation was found to be false. The priest continues with his ministry.

The diocese faces no lawsuits from victims of sexual abuse by priests at this time. No money has ever been given by the diocese to victims because of suits or in any confidential manner. However, the diocese has spent approximately $10,000 to pay for counseling and therapeutic services for victims.

Should any allegations of abuse against minors be brought forth now or in the future, the diocese has a process in place so that we can investigate and deal appropriately with each case as it occurs. Should it be determined that the allegations of abuse are true or credible, the accused will be removed from priestly ministry. Should the allegations prove to be false, every effort will be made to protect the good name and reputation of both the accused priest and the alleged victim.

I ask you to join me in prayer that the policies we have put in place in the diocese to protect our children from abuse will never need to be used again. And I pledge to you that I will do all in my power to assure that the children who come to our Church and its many facilities will be safe. What else should children expect when Jesus has told us: "Anyone who welcomes a child in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me." (Luke 9,48)



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