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Spotlight and Sexual Abuse in the Church

1192b744c1495ee7134e208a0cca8b01In 2010, I wrote a column about sexual abuse for our archdiocesan newspaper The Record. In it, I made the following statement:  “I think we should acknowledge the role of the media in calling us to accountability and the firm resolve that is expressed in the Charter. At times, I have disagreed with the tone, approach, and extent of the media coverage, but the media did not cause this crisis.  I hope that what we have learned from our failures will assist others within and beyond the Church as we all work to address this terrible tragedy of sexual abuse.”

The role of the media will be debated again as the movie Spotlight is released.  This film details the work of the Boston Globe in 2002 as it reported on cases of sexual abuse and the Church’s handling of these cases.  The movie has received critical acclaim for its accuracy and approach.

I reiterate the statement I made in 2010.  The media was one of the major forces pushing the Church to respond in a way that it had failed to do up to that point, and we are better for it.  As a result of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (see here), approved by the U.S. Bishops in 2002, a nationwide network of victim assistance and safe environment training was created that serves us well today.  The Charter directs the following issues:

  • Creating a safe environment for children and young people.
  • Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors.
  • Making prompt and effective reports to the authorities.
  • Cooperating with civil authorities.
  • Disciplining offenders.
  • Maintaining an effective response system within the Church (Victim Assistance Coordinators and Sexual Abuse Review Board)

Recent events in our own local Church remind us of the need for continued vigilance as we renew our commitment to the principles of the Charter.  In an effort to remain transparent, we report each year in our annual Accountability Report on what has happened over the past year.  If you have not seen this year’s report, please go here. I also encourage you to review the resources, policies, and information we have amassed about this topic on our website here.

I want to say a special word to those who have been victims of sexual abuse in the Church since this movie will likely evoke memories of your own abuse. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you suffer and the lifelong effects that you must deal with because of the terrible evil that was committed against you.  I am deeply sorry for the times when our own Church added to your pain. Please know that your wound is our wound.

We can only be healthy as a Church and as a society if we honestly confront the sexual abuse of children and rebuild relationships one at a time.  I have been inspired by those victims I have met, and I encourage all victims of sexual abuse and all those who know of any abuse to seek help and to contact law enforcement. I know our pastors, counselors, and all in pastoral ministry stand ready to reach out and support you.

Please join me in seeking forgiveness for the sins of members who have hurt children and work with me in efforts to protect our children and youth. May God’s grace guide us.


Read Shining the Light on “Spotlight” by Bill Donohue

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