by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
At the beginning of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) general meeting in Baltimore, I was stunned by Cardinal DiNardo’s announcement that the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops had requested the United States bishops not to vote upon the proposed reforms to strengthen the accountability of bishops.
The reasons given for delay were: 1) to wait for results from the upcoming February meeting of the presidents of bishops’ conferences throughout the world that has been convened by Pope Francis; and 2) to ensure that the proposed reforms were in conformity with canon law.
In my estimation, our meeting was still fruitful. Most of the first day was spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. During this time of prayer, we heard the testimony of victims of clergy sexual abuse; pondered readings from Scripture, St. Gregory Nazianzus and St. Charles Borromeo; prayed the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary; had the opportunity to receive the sacrament of reconciliation; and concluded with the celebration of the Eucharist.
The message from the victims was particularly both poignant and powerful. In his homily at the Mass, Archbishop Bernard Hebda of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul urged us to pray for the strength not to “save our hides,” but instead for the courage to lay down our lives for those entrusted to our pastoral care.
Although there were a couple of other important items on our agenda, the vast majority of the meeting was devoted to a very candid and constructive discussion on both how we as a conference and as individual bishops can be even more vigilant in our safe environment efforts and improve our care for victims.
We need, as bishops — successors of the apostles — to act always in communion with our Holy Father, the successor of Peter. Though we were impeded for the moment as a conference from adopting the proposals that will strengthen the accountability of bishops, nothing prevents me in the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas from increasing the quality of our care for victims and from improving our transparency with our parishioners.
In his address to the bishops, the apostolic nuncio (the ambassador of Pope Francis to the United States) Archbishop Christophe Pierre, while reminding us that one case of clerical abuse of young people is too many, also pointed out the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” adopted by the U.S. Bishops in 2002 has resulted in a steep decline of the incidents of sexual abuse by representatives of the church.
He noted that our safe environment programs and protocols have become a model for civil as well as other charitable institutions.
Archbishop Pierre also counseled us: “Indeed, as painful and humiliating as it may be at times, we can thank the media for bringing attention to this issue.
“There have been times when the media drew attention to precisely what we did not attend to ourselves. . . . It is also the case that an impression is sometimes left in the media that the church has done little. That is simply not true, and we should not be afraid to refute this.”
The Pennsylvania grand jury report, as troubling as its revelations of sexual abuse of children and youth by clergy in the past are, actually verifies the scarcity of sexual abuse cases by clergy during the past 15 years.
This is not to minimize the importance of extending the proper pastoral care for past victims, but it does demonstrate our current safe environment efforts are effective.
My sense from the November USCCB meeting is that the bishops of the United States have no higher priorities than maintaining and increasing the vigilance of our safe environment programs, improving our care for victims and being accountable to the code of conduct that is contained in the ordination rite of bishops and priests.
These priorities are important because protecting children and youth, caring for those wounded by representatives of the church, and being accountable and transparent are essential parts of our responsibilities as pastors.
They are also important because failure in these areas jeopardizes every other aspect of the church’s mission and ministry.
In accordance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” throughout my nearly 14 years as archbishop, I have made public all substantiated accusations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
Moreover, the review of our clergy files by an independent team that I announced in this column on Aug. 31 is nearly completed. With the benefit of this review, I will soon be able to share with you all substantiated allegations here in the archdiocese of sexual abuse of minors by clergy going back to 1950.
I have been edified by the victims of sexual abuse who have come forward with accusations in order to prevent other young people from experiencing the pain they know too well. I am very grateful for all those who have assisted me with the care of victims of sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy.
I know that we can do even more. In the coming months, I am determined to enhance our ability to assist with the healing of those wounded by sexual abuse, particularly those who have been hurt by representatives of the church.
Finally, I am grateful for our many faithful and zealous priests who labor unselfishly and tirelessly for the spiritual welfare of their people. They also have been wounded by the clergy abuse scandal and the ineffective leadership of bishops to address adequately this cancer within the church.
I want to do everything I can to support and encourage our dedicated priests to persevere in their pastoral care for their people.
My confidence is not in my own abilities, but in Our Lord’s fidelity to his church. He promised the guidance of the Holy Spirit and on this I rely.
Despite the present challenges, I remain grateful to God for his abundant blessings upon the Catholic Church in northeast Kansas. There are so many miracles of grace happening every day in our parishes, schools and ministries.
I pray for each of you and your families that you enjoy a grace-filled Thanksgiving season. May this secular season of gratitude remind us as Christians that always and everywhere we are called to give thanks.
May we all remain profoundly grateful for the gift of our Catholic faith!