The one-year anniversary of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report on clergy sexual abuse provides an opportunity for me to report on what the Diocese of Allentown has done, and what we will continue to do, to prevent abuse and to keep children safe.
On this issue, we can never forget the victims, we can never erase the past, and we can never let down our guard.
We have taken many concrete actions during the past year, in addition to the robust prevention and safety programs we already have in place. My first priority is keeping our children safe.
The grand jury acknowledged in its report that much had changed for the better in the Catholic Church in the previous 15 years. Here’s a look at what we have done in the Diocese of Allentown over the past 12 months:
More transparency and accountability: We published the names of credibly accused priests on our website, even those who were not listed in the Grand Jury Report. All of them are removed from ministry, and most are deceased. I met with parishioners, answered questions publicly in many forums, and in an era of demands for better Bishop accountability, I hold myself personally accountable for my actions.
Enhanced partnership with law enforcement: I hosted a meeting with District Attorneys of all five counties of the Diocese in November 2018 to pledge continued cooperation and partnership, and to discuss the shared goal of eliminating abuse wherever it may occur in society. In 2002, the Diocese of Allentown was the first in Pennsylvania to meet with its District Attorneys and turn over personnel records of credibly accused priests.
More involvement of lay men and women: I have appointed parishioners and others, many of whom are experts in their fields, to key posts in the leadership and operation of the Diocese, in advisory roles, and in the oversight of the compensation program for victims.
Millions of dollars for victim compensation: Under our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, victims of clergy sexual abuse are applying for compensation as one aspect of their healing. The program is overseen by an independent board, and run by an arbitrator not affiliated with the Diocese.
New leadership to improve prevention and safety: I named Ms. Pamela Russo, an experienced leader and licensed social worker, to the new position of Secretary for Youth Protection. She has overall responsibility for abuse prevention and child safety programs.
Healing program in parishes: At the request of parishioners, we sponsored an effective program of small-group discussions, led by fellow parishioners, to encourage reflection and conversation about clergy sexual abuse.
In addition, we have continued many of our long-standing policies and procedures that are reducing instances of abuse and keeping children safe. These include:
Zero-Tolerance: In the event of an accusation, I immediately remove the priest from ministry, law enforcement is immediately notified, and we act with transparency in cooperation with law enforcement.
Care for victims: We provide compassionate care for victims of abuse. I have met with many victims of abuse and offered pastoral and spiritual support.
Screening for aspiring priests: Screening for men entering the seminary has been greatly enhanced over the past 15 years. This includes two psychological tests, one before acceptance to the seminary, and one during seminary studies.
Background checks, training and education: Each year, every child in diocesan schools and parish religious education programs receives age-appropriate training in recognizing and preventing abuse. All clergy, employees and volunteers are required to have background checks and special training in recognizing the signs of abuse, and in reporting it immediately as required by law.
Annual outside audits: Each year an independent auditor assesses the effectiveness of our programs and compliance with child-protection requirements. In every year since the audit began, the Diocese of Allentown has been found in full compliance.
This past year was an extremely difficult one for victims of clergy sexual abuse, and also for Catholics and all people of good will. It was a time of pain, but there also were moments of renewed commitment, and of hope for the future.
Together with God’s help and our strong resolve, we can ensure that the abhorrent actions of our past have no place in the present and that they will not define us in the future.