Editor’s note: Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne posted the following letter on his blog in response to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clergy sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. This letter is to be read in every parish in the Anchorage Archdiocese over the weekend of Aug. 18-19.
Many of you are aware of the disturbing Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report on Clergy Sexual Abuse of Minors and Vulnerable Adults released earlier this week. The report is devastating in the graphic detail of the sinful behavior of priests and the negligent response of bishops and church leaders to properly respond to victims.
This report, so quickly on the heels of the revelations earlier this summer of similar misconduct by a Cardinal of the Church has been deeply harmful to victims and their families, as well as to you, the members of the Church. I share your anger and disappointment.
How should we respond to this new revelation of sexual abuse in the Church? I believe that we must first and foremost focus on the needs of the victims. We as Church need to listen to them and do all that we can to provide for their care and healing. I express my sorrow for the harm these victims have incurred at the hands of those they should have been able to trust. I am also embarrassed that brother bishops were more concerned for the good reputation of the Church rather than for the care and healing of those who were harmed.
The first way we should listen to victims is to take their allegations seriously. If you or anyone you know has been abused by a member of the clergy or any representative of the Church we encourage you to please report this to law enforcement and contact our victim’s assistance coordinator. Contact information for such reporting may be found on our Archdiocesan website and should also be publicly displayed in all our parishes and institutions.
If I were a parent reading this devastating news, my first concern would be for the well being of my children. Parents, I want you to know that the Church implemented major reforms fifteen years ago and these reforms have had the desired effect of creating a much safer environment for our children.
So what are some of those reforms?
Our Safe Environment programs provide training to all priests, deacons, seminarians, church and school employees and volunteers to bring about awareness of abuse by learning risk factors, signs and the policy and procedures requiring all concerns or incidents of abuse to be reported directly to law enforcement. We also teach and train our children and youth about the importance of their dignity, safety and how to seek help if experiencing any concerns or harm. Criminal background checks are mandatory for everyone who has contact with children and vulnerable adults. We have created an independent review board of professional lay people to advise the Archbishop on policies and any issues that may arise related to allegations of misconduct towards vulnerable populations. We have an independent Victim’s Assistance Coordinator who is available to offer support and advocacy for anyone impacted by abuse and an Office of Safe Environment to provide all Archdiocesan parishes and schools the information and support needed to ensure that policies and procedures are being followed. Every Diocese in the United States undergoes an annual external audit of our Safe Environment procedures, which is conducted on sight every three years.
During these very days, additional measures are being designed at the national level to further strengthen our resolve, with a commitment to even greater transparency and greater involvement of the laity.
Finally, I firmly believe actions to address this present crisis are not enough. We also need as a Faith community to come together in prayer, because at its core, we are facing a spiritual crisis. Therefore, I am declaring this Wednesday, the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, a day of Prayer and Penance for Healing.
On Wednesday of this week, I invite everyone to come to our Co-Cathedral, Our Lady of Guadalupe for a 9 a.m. Mass followed by a day of Eucharistic Adoration. The day will close with Benediction at 6:45 and a Prayer Service of Penance and Healing at 7 p.m. We will pray not only for the healing of all who are victims of sexual abuse, but also for the healing of the Body of Christ, the Church. On Wednesday, every member of this Church is encouraged to offer prayers and sacrifices for the special intention of healing.
In parishes outside of Anchorage, I ask Pastors on Wednesday to devote and provide at least a three-hour period for Eucharistic Adoration in each of your churches and join us in this important day of prayer for healing.
As always, I remain,
In The Heart of Christ