Jesus is the salve for hurt and the instrument of healing

The tragedy of child sexual abuse by clergy has sadly been raised up again with the release of a report from the the Attorney General of Pennsylvania made worse by documented lack of attention or intentional cover-up by some bishops. This is compounded by the revelation that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick violated children and abused his power over young adult seminarians placed under his pastoral care.

As I wrote in my statement sent by e-mail to some 19,000 Catholic households registered in our parishes, I am horrified, angry, and embarrassed by these tragic facts. Portions of my statement are repeated below. There are several thoughts I would offer to you in addition.

First, given the violation of trust by some bishops over many years, I believe there needs to be a serious review of the process by which bishops are appointed and bishops transferred. It is rightly a confidential process in anticipation of the recommendations to the Pope who has ultimate freedom and responsibility of appointment. There also needs to be a clearer and transparent process for accountability of bishops.

Secondly, I want to assure you and especially parents that we are protective of our seminarians. I recently met with many of them and told them that they should not put up with any untoward advances by anyone. How sad that I had to even raise the issue. I charged them to promptly report any such instances to appropriate authorities and to me.

Thirdly, there are clear implications of the sexual nature of many such violations. I can assure you that our screening process confronts all applicants on this issue both through personal revelation and professional psychological evaluation. This has not always been the case in the past. The promise of celibacy is more than not marrying; it also means living chaste lives.

I will be praying a Mass on Saturday, September 15 at 9 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph on the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, for the support and healing of victims of child abuse wherever it occurs and for forgiveness for the failures of Church leaders to assure a safe environment. Please join us in person if possible but in prayer if not.

Finally pray for our priests who overwhelmingly serve you well with integrity, sacrifice and love. They are angry at their brothers who have violated their promises and hurt others, especially young people. All innocent priests bear a burden by association that they do not deserve and need your support. I thank them for their fidelity. Please support your priests, encourage them, and thank them. You can lift their spirits in these difficult times. They remain in persona Christi, instruments of Christ.

Below is a portion of my statement. The entire statement can be found here.

“Recent revelations released by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concerning child sexual abuse by clergy in many of the dioceses in that state and the lack of appropriate response by some bishops over seven decades have shocked, sickened and saddened us all. The graphic details reveal that the innocence and dignity of young children were violated by priests ordained to minister in the name of Christ through His Church who betrayed like Judas their ordination promises. I fully share the disgust and anger of all affected especially the victims and their families, and all faithful Catholics.

“The shock and sadness at these recent revelations is enhanced by the disclosure that former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused youth and young adult seminarians placed in his care. As a bishop I am ashamed and angry with his fraudulent and deceptive participation in Church affairs at home and abroad over so many years. His misconduct is compounded by what appears to be a cover up by some Church officials that resulted in his promotion rather than his accountability. The full details will be addressed in a canonical trial in the near future.

“This is not the Church I professed faith in some 35 years ago. In truth it is not the Church Christ instituted. It is the work of the evil one and those who have given in to him.

“Clearly a full investigation in pursuit of truth and justice with complete transparency of its results must be courageously undertaken without concern for how painful its conclusions might be. We bishops no longer have the credibility to do so ourselves. Professionally experienced and committed lay leadership must guide this necessary investigation so that such egregious personal and ecclesial misbehavior does not happen again and that procedures for accountability of bishops are more clearly defined.

“To the victims of the heinous abuses, words and apologies can never be sufficient to overcome the harm done to you. However, I wish you and all victims to know that you are being heard and responded to. What happened to you was wrong and sinful for which in the name of the Church I apologize. The lingering effects of the violations to your dignity we know are real. I am sorry that you bear these wounds. I ask all Catholics of our diocese to join me in praying for you and all victims of child sexual abuse wherever it occurred.

“Jesus said, ‘come to me those who are burdened and I will give you rest.’ (Mt 25:40) Jesus is the salve for hurt and the instrument of healing.

“Attempts to keep child abuse from public light and accountability diminish the confidence Catholics ought to have in us bishops and other Church leaders. I express my profound sorrow; embarrassment and deep regret to all harmed no matter how long ago, and ask your forgiveness.

“If you have been harmed at the hands of a minister or volunteer, whether ordained or lay, I encourage you to report it to local law enforcement. I invite anyone who has been harmed to also come to the diocese where supportive assistance will be offered. The Diocesan Victim’s Assistance Coordinator stands ready to listen to you and to walk with you as you seek ways to heal the hurts caused by others.

“The Diocese of Sioux Falls has adhered to and benefitted from the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted sixteen years ago by the Catholic Bishops of the United States which continues to guide how we as a Diocese respond to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by anyone acting under the mantle of the Church. This includes raising the awareness of all who minister in the Church that this evil is a possibility in our parishes and schools and that we must be ever alert to its destructive presence.

“It is important to recognize that such dreadful sins were perpetrated by only a small number of the thousands of priests over the years and hidden by only a small number of bishops. Yet we are all tainted by the sinful behaviors of others. Most priests courageously and sacrificially serve the faithful, yet always under the threat of an accusation. They deserve the opportunity for due process to protect their good name and their vocation.

“I am grateful to the Diocesan Review Board members, the majority of which are accomplished laity, who have and continue to serve in the important role of advising my predecessors and me on the credibility of accusations of child sexual abuse that come forward. The Review Board also holds the Diocese accountable for ensuring that pastoral and practical outreach is provided to victims who come forward and to priests unjustly accused.

“The evil one is real, taunting and challenging us. Jesus crucified and risen is also real. He instituted the Church and governs her still. We take solace in His promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against her, as hard as that seems in times like these to believe. I do believe. That is the Church I professed faith in so many years ago and reaffirm today.

“May Christ, the Divine Physician, heal those who have been harmed, and may Mary, Mother of the Church, intercede for those entrusted to the care of her Son’s children that we may live up our high calling.”

Bishop Swain's Column, September 2018, ,