Saturday, June 26, 2010

An apology isn't enough

Guest column: An apology isn't enough

RICHARD E. PATES is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of D.M. This essay is adapted from his column in The Catholic Mirror. Contact: • June 26, 2010
Until recently, the media once again had focused on the abuse of children by Catholic clergy - due undoubtedly to revelations of abuse by priests in Europe. Such news is disturbing to Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and needs to be addressed.

First, the publicity gives leaders of the church another opportunity to apologize for the horrific actions of members of the Catholic clergy who exploited their positions of trust to abuse children. Nothing can be said to justify such actions, or of any attempts to cover them up. Priests have traditionally held places of privilege and honor among Catholics and to betray that trust is indefensible.

That place of privilege is undoubtedly related to the media's, and the public's, continued interest in the problem, by the way. Many other professionals, and non-professionals, have abused children, but more is expected of priests, who dedicate their lives to God. So, I want to be clear that such actions are abhorrent and, as bishop, I ask forgiveness for the harm they have caused.

Much more than an apology is needed, however, so I profess my commitment, with my fellow bishops, and strongly supported by the Presbyteral Council of the Diocese of Des Moines, to do all in my power to prevent such conduct by the clergy or any church employee. The Diocese of Des Moines subscribes to the "Charter for the Protection of Minors from Sexual Abuse," adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and revised in 2005, which provides uniform guidelines on reporting sexual abuse, accountability, reports to a national board and mandatory education programs in parishes and schools.

In our diocese and around the country, civil authorities are notified of any allegations of sexual abuse of a minor. And, pending an investigation, any cleric guilty of such an act is permanently removed from ministry.

As many Catholics know, one of the principal elements of our effort to protect children is VIRTUS. The word virtus derives from Latin, and means valor, moral strength, excellence, and worth. The VIRTUS programs empower organizations and people to better control risk and improve the lives of all those who interact with the church. All who are "regular" diocesan volunteers and employees, or who have more than three hours of contact with children per month, are required to participate. A total of 8,168 have taken the training in the Diocese of Des Moines.

One other feature of the bishops' efforts to address this problem is an extensive study commissioned to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York on the "Causes and Context" of this problem which was most virulent in the 1970s and 1980s. While the church accepts responsibility for the issue among its members, sadly, the matter is much broader and is a societal problem. It is the hope of the bishops that our experience in addressing the problem will be of benefit to society at large and that insights gained by the John Jay study will be illuminating to all.

The bottom line in all of this is that the Catholic Church cares about children all children and wants to protect them. Jesus had a special place in his heart for them, and the church can be no less loving. That's why abuse of children by priests, the vast majority of whom are dedicated, caring people, is a great embarrassment and causes pain for victims, their families and all the church's members.

The best we can do for victims is to do all we can to make sure it doesn't happen again.

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