Hope in the Lord — Getting the message out: Communicating about the abuse scandal

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on sexual abuse within the Church and the revelations of the horrible deeds of Archbishop McCarrick have filled the news since the summer. Both to address this national news as well as to respond to local questions, I have sought to communicate with you the faithful. The message from so many of you was clear: “Communicate! Let us know what happened in the past, what steps have been taken recently and what the situation is now.”

Many have forgotten the details regarding the past abuse of minors by clergy that came to light in the Archdiocese of Louisville through the lawsuits of 2002-2003. The steps that have been taken over the last 15 years also have been forgotten. Many perceive that these misdeeds are happening in the present and are understandably horrified.

Make no mistake. The incidents of abuse by a priest of a minor rightly bring forth anger, confusion and pain. There is no place in the Church, the body of Christ, for such horrendous acts.

So how did I communicate? A comprehensive report was published in the October 18th edition of The Record. This report included a statement of deep sorrow from me for these past sins as well as testimony from those with whom I have worked to take concrete steps to reach out to victim survivors, to address credible incidents of sexual abuse firmly and swiftly, to report to the police and public authorities and to create a safe environment in our parishes, schools and all ministries. I must commend so many, including our public officials, who have helped us in these urgent and necessary steps.

As I continued to meet with the chairs of parish councils, our Catholic Education Foundation board, Finance and Development boards as well as small groups of priests, I found that the four-page report was very difficult to digest in one sitting. Thus, three weeks ago I began a new way to communicate, through my “Archbishop Leadership Briefings.” These one-page briefings are being emailed to all priests, deacons, members of boards and other lay leaders. The briefings are also posted on the archdiocesan web site.

Through these briefings, the reader has been able to access the three 9-minute videos on the abuse scandal, including an interview with Martine Siegel, who is normally the first person to speak with a victim survivor of abuse who turns to the Church for help. Another is an interview with Judge John Laun, who has headed the Archdiocesan Sexual Review Board for the past 15 years. This review board, comprised mostly of lay people who are experts in their fields, ensures that the policies concerning sexual abuse within the Church are being followed, public authorities involved and appropriate actions taken by me. I hope you will go to www.archlou.org/conversations to view each of these video interviews.

One of the recent briefings shared the statement of Cardinal DiNardo, President of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference, given at the end of the Baltimore meeting two weeks ago.  Let me quote briefly from his summary:

“When the summer’s news first broke, we committed to three goals: to do what we could to get to the bottom of the Archbishop McCarrick situation; to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier; and, to develop a means of holding ourselves accountable that was genuinely independent, duly authorized, and had substantial lay involvement… Now, we are on course to accomplish these goals. That is the direction that you and the survivors of abuse across our country have given me for the February meeting in Rome. We leave this place committed to taking the strongest possible actions at the earliest possible moment. We will do so in communion with the Universal Church. Moving forward in concert with the Church around the world will make the Church in the United States stronger, and will make the global Church stronger.”

More work is being done, including an independent third party review of priest files, policies and protocols regarding sexual abuse. These steps will continue to ensure that the faithful can have confidence that decisive steps have been taken and will continue to be taken to eradicate the sin and crime of sexual abuse among clergy and build up a safe environment. I will continue to communicate with you on these directions.

Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral
Letter on Racism

Easily overlooked was another important step by the U.S. Bishops — the approval of a pastoral letter on racism.        

The title says it all. It is timely and takes up both the subtle and not too subtle racism in each person as well as institutional racism. Examining the experience of African Americans, Latino and Native American Catholics, the pastoral letter gives sound teaching and clear pastoral direction. You will be hearing more about it but here is the link, https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/racism/index.cfm, to read the document.

Affirmation of and Commitment to the Call of the 1978 Pastoral Statement on People with Disabilities

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral Letter on Disabilities, I was privileged to present to the bishops a handsomely prepared statement by the board of the National Catholic Partnership on Disability to affirm and recommit to the full integration of people with disabilities in the life of the church. Emphasizing the common baptismal call and the gifts that persons with disabilities bring to the life of the church, this statement celebrates the progress over these 40 years and calls for continued growth. My deep and personal experience with my dear brother, George, who was born with Down syndrome, has made this pastoral ministry a high priority in my life.

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