“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side He stands,” Pope Francis said in a letter “to the people of God.”
The pope’s letter came less than a week after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on decades of alleged clerical sexual abuse and alleged cover-ups by Church leadership in six dioceses in that state.
But, even before the pope’s letter, Bishop Curtis Guillory, SVD, addressed the issue at a gathering of clergy and lay leadership on Saturday, Aug. 18, and again at a Pontifical Mass at the cathedral basilica on Sunday, Aug. 19.
The comments came during his homilies and his words at both were strong – calling the abuses “grievous sins” and “crimes.”
Those comments came after the diocese published a short statement from Bishop Guillory on Aug. 16 saying that he concurred with words and sentiments of Cardinal Daniel DiNardo who told U.S. Catholics that the Church was “faced with a spiritual crisis that requires not only spiritual conversion, but practical changes.…”
Cardinal DiNardo’s words came in a statement issued that morning from his position as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The cardinal’s full statement, which appears on the Diocese of Beaumont website www.dioceseofbmt.org, calls for those practical changes to be pursued according to three criteria: “proper independence, sufficient authority and substantial leadership by laity.”
“We have zero tolerance in the Diocese of Beaumont,” Bishop Guillory said. “And we investigate all allegations, even those that are made anonymously. We contact both police and Child Protective Services. And more than 15 years ago, I established a Diocesan Review Board to assist me in carrying out my responsibilities of assessing allegations of sexual abuse. On that board we have lay men and women who are not employees of the diocese and are competent in fields like psychiatry, law enforcement and social service. We have an effective system in place for reporting and investigating suspected abuse and for removing any offender from ministry.”
“But please remember, we have thousands of good priests in the U.S. We have had thousands more good priests during the seven decades that are covered in the Pennsylvania report. So, in relation to those good priests the numbers named in the Pennsylvania report are small. But the thought of even one incident would have been too much,” he said.
“My heart breaks when I think about the victims and their families. I continue to pray for them daily.”
Pope Francis asked all Catholics – both clergy and lay – to pray and fast so they would be able to hear the “hushed pain of abuse survivors.”
The Pennsylvania report spoke of credible allegations against 301 priests in cases involving more than 1,000 children.
In his letter, the pope acknowledged the Church’s failure.
“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives,” the pope wrote.
In his statement Cardinal DiNardo said that whatever the details may be of the abuses in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, we already know that one “cause is the failure of episcopal leadership.”
Bishop Guillory told the ETC he was also “deeply grieved about the failure of some of our bishops to act.”
He added, “But please remember just like we have many good priests, we also have many good bishops who have been vigilant. Our Beaumont Diocese is committed to the safety of children and young people and the integrity of the Church’s ministry.”
“Some of our Catholics may be thinking about leaving the Church. I understand it is easy to become discouraged. But I ask all, especially our priests, to place full trust in the Holy Spirit, who abides with us in every step of faith,” Bishop Guillory said.
Cardinal DiNardo’s letter can be found on the diocesan website along with more information on what the Beaumont Diocese does to create a safe environment for children and young people. That information can be found under the tab “Safe Environment.”