by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Pope Francis issued on May 7 an apostolic letter entitled “You are the light of the world.”
This apostolic letter is the much anticipated concrete fruit of the gathering this past February of the presidents of episcopal conferences throughout the world convened by the Holy Father to address the issue of sexual abuse by members of the clergy (bishops, priests and deacons) as well religious priests, Brothers and Sisters.
The apostolic letter includes decrees by Pope Francis mandating universal procedures to be implemented throughout the world. Pope Francis identifies these universal norms as the concrete and effective actions necessary both to respond to instances of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and, as much as possible, to prevent these crimes in the future.
In large part, the Holy Father is requesting that the church throughout the world develop policies and protocols similar to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” that was adopted by the bishops of the United States in 2002.
Significantly, the apostolic letter clarifies that these same policies apply equally to cardinals, archbishops and bishops and makes clear those responsible to investigate and judge such allegations.
Pope Francis also stipulates that qualified individuals, including members of the lay faithful, be identified and called upon to assist with investigations.
The Holy Father has also expanded the application of these norms to include sexual misconduct that involves coercion of adults by violence, threat or abuse of power.
These procedures also apply to misconduct with vulnerable persons, defined as anyone “in a state of infirmity, physical or mental deficiency, or deprivation of personal liberty which, in fact, even occasionally, limits their ability to understand or to want or to otherwise resist the offence.”
Pope Francis also decrees the assumption of innocence of the accused while, at the same time, mandating that those making the accusation be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
The apostolic letter also makes clear that all allegations must be taken seriously and investigated carefully and thoroughly. The Holy Father also insists victims should be offered spiritual assistance and medical assistance that includes appropriate psychological counseling.
Pope Francis also emphasizes the responsibility of bishops — not only for integrity in our own personal conduct, but also to be conscientious in the protection of all those entrusted to our pastoral care.
During our June meeting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will take the necessary steps to expand what we are already doing under the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” to address those additional areas specified in the pope’s apostolic letter.
We will also adopt the necessary procedures as how the mandated accountability of bishops will be implemented in the United States.
Recently, the archdiocese hired Jenifer Valenti as the director of our office of child and youth protection. Father John Riley, the chancellor for the archdiocese, formerly served in that capacity.
Father Riley has done an outstanding job in leading our efforts to implement carefully and faithfully the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in our archdiocese.
Father Riley has many other significant responsibilities as chancellor of the archdiocese. He also currently serves as the administrator for St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
We have been searching for some time for a qualified individual whose full-time responsibility would be the leadership of the office of child and youth protection. Jenifer Valenti’s experience as a former prosecuting attorney and the ombudsman for the Diocese of Kansas-St. Joseph uniquely equips her for this position.
It is imperative for the church to do our very best in our efforts to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults from the spiritual, emotional and psychological trauma caused by abuse.
Moreover, to fail in this responsibility jeopardizes and compromises all of our other ministries. The church also has an obligation to respond to victims of abuse with compassion and practical assistance. I am confident that with Jenifer Valenti’s leadership, we can improve and strengthen our efforts.
Please pray for the healing of all victims of sexual abuse, especially those harmed by representatives of the church. Please also pray for the success of our efforts to prevent future abuse of children, youth and vulnerable adults.
I am determined that our churches as well as our schools and other ministries will be abuse-free and truly safe havens for everyone — and especially for all children, youth and vulnerable adults.
I am also committed to making certain our response to allegations of misconduct is always serious and thorough and providing the highest quality care for victims of past abuse.
We cannot be satisfied with anything less.