My heart is heavy

Friday, August 17, 2018 - Updated: 2:25 pm

As I write this, my heart is heavy.

No one who has read the grand jury report can be unaffected. It is a record of the violation that children suffered at the hands of men who were ordained to protect their souls from harm. The victims’ wounds remain, like the wounds of Jesus, bearing witness to the truth that sexual abuse destroys lives.

We all have reasons why that truth affects us.

Some of you are affected because you are victims of child sexual abuse, and this report brings back pain that you have tried to put behind you.

Some of you are affected because you are moms and dads who empathize with the undying pain of the mom or dad of a victim.

Some of you are affected because you feel betrayed by a church that has been your inspiration.

I am affected because over the course of 30 years I have met personally with many of these victims. Their words have broken my heart, and they break the heart of Jesus. I have cried with them and for them over the damage done to them and their families.

Now we all have this opportunity to listen to the voices in the grand jury report and learn from them. We must never minimize the harm of child sexual abuse, or believe that someone is “too good” to commit it. We must never allow it to continue.

So my response must begin by saying in the name of the Church of Pittsburgh, in my own name and in the name of my predecessors: We are sorry, I am sorry.

I promise to continue to meet with any victim to apologize in person and in the name of the church. But our church teaches that sorrow for sins and failures is never enough. True repentance occurs when we change our behavior. So, while an apology is an important step, continued action is necessary.

Significant changes

The Diocese of Pittsburgh today is not the church that is described in the grand jury report. It has not been for a long time. Over the course of the last 30 years, we have made significant changes to how we prevent abuse and report allegations. And those changes have made a difference.

At least 90 percent of all reported cases of child sexual abuse in this diocese occurred before 1990. Today, there is no priest or deacon in public ministry in the diocese with a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse against him.

While not intending to be critical of the grand jury, the report does not tell the whole story. It leaves out the work that this diocese has done for 30 years to remove perpetrators and prevent abuse. It also contains some inaccuracies and omissions, some of which we have sought to correct through our official response to the report. You can find our response documents at www.diopitt.org.

Anyone who has sought to take an active role in our parishes, schools and institutions knows that our concern to create safe environments for our children is primary and paramount. No one growing up in the diocese today can remember a time when we didn’t prominently post information about child sexual abuse or run background checks on every priest, deacon, employee or volunteer who works with them.

We do our utmost to prevent potential offenders from becoming priests. Psychological screening for seminarians began decades ago. But this evaluation has become far more sophisticated over the years. The diocese now does an intensive evaluation twice: when a man seeks to enter seminary and again after he has been in formation for several years. If a candidate appears unsuitable for ministry, he must leave the seminary. I only ordain men whom I believe are capable of exemplary service to you and to Jesus.

The seminary curriculum has been overhauled to better prepare men for a healthy celibate lifestyle. Thirty years ago, the Vatican instituted new requirements for “human formation” to help future priests integrate their emotions, intellect and sexuality with the spirituality of the priesthood. This is a vast improvement over my seminary days, when our seminary faculty said nothing about sex apart from classes on moral theology.

Beginning in 1989, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has engaged an Independent Review Board of outside experts to advise the bishop concerning allegations of child sexual abuse. In 1993, we were the first diocese to hire an assistance coordinator to meet with victims and respond to their needs.

Our policy on reporting abuse evolved over more than a decade. Most abuse has been reported to us by adults, many years after they were abused. Often they told us they did not want to go to the police.

If the victim was still a minor, since at least the late 1980s we have notified law enforcement ourselves if the police didn’t already know of the allegation. Since 1993, we have encouraged all victims to contact civil authorities. In 2002, it became our policy to notify law enforcement no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

Sorrow, shame, shock

But we must always be open to improvement. Consequently, we have engaged an expert on the prevention and prosecution of child sexual abuse to thoroughly review our practices and make recommendations for improvement. We have also created a position and are hiring an experienced professional to actively monitor clergy who have been removed from ministry following allegations of child sexual abuse.

As promised, I have posted on our website a list of 83 priests of the Diocese of Pittsburgh against whom there have been allegations of sexual abuse of minors, including some that the grand jury chose not to publish. There is a separate list of those against whom allegations were made which were not substantiated as child sexual abuse, but whose names appear in the grand jury report. Some of those clergy remain in ministry. The names of those who have made appeals may be added after the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania rules on whether publication of their names violates their constitutional rights.

But as you and I view those names in sorrow, shame, shock or anger, we must also remember the faithful ministry of more than 1,700 other priests who have served this diocese since the first allegation from 1935. Your priests are in pain due to the shameful behavior of others, many of whom they have never met. Pray for your priests and deacons, and let them know that you appreciate their service.

I want to close with a litany from the Service of Apology that I held in 2009 at St. Paul Cathedral:

• To those of you who have in any way been the victim of any abuse, sexual or otherwise, whether as a child or as an adult, or as a parent, or a sibling, or friend who shared the pain of that someone you love — I ask you, the church asks you, for forgiveness ...

• For whatever ways any representative of the church has hurt, offended, dismissed, ignored any one of you — I ask you, the church asks you, for forgiveness ...

• With all the love in my heart and with all the sincerity in my soul, you can be assured that I will continue to do all that I can to restore your trust in the church and to work together with you to reflect the very love, compassion and mercy of Jesus himself, in and through the church.

Bishop Zubik's Columns

Current Magazine

Click here to see, download more issues

Current Magazine
Current Magazine

Click here to see, download more issues

Most Popular