The Cardinal's Column
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
Victims of sexual abuse and the healing of lives
March 22, 2007
His Eminence, Francis Cardinal George announces the following appointments:
Reverend Mr. Ladislaus M. Anatoly, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Lawrence O’Toole Parish, Matteson, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Marcin J. Bulinski, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Linus Parish, Oak Lawn, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Krzysztof D. Ciaston, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Tarcissus Parish, West Ardmore, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Jorge L. Estrada, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Blase Parish, Argo, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Juan C. Gavancho, transitional deacon, to assist at Queen of the Universe Parish, South Hamlin, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Martin D. Ibarra, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Agnes of Bohemia Parish, South Central Park, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Krzysztof A. Kulig, transitional deacon, to assist at St. James Parish, Arlington Heights, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Jesus Eduardo Martinez, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Colette, Rolling Meadows, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Charles E. Musula, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Paul of the Cross Parish, Park Ridge, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Michael Sande Oduor, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Orland Park, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. George O. Omwando, transitional deacon, to assist at Our Lady of the Ridge Parish, Chicago Ridge, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Robert M. Pajor, transitional deacon, to assist at St. Thecla Parish, West Devon, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Michael G. Scherschel, transitional deacon, to assist at St. William Parish, North Sayre, effective immediately.
Reverend Mr. Patrick M. Wangai, transitional deacon, to assist at Our Lady of the Wayside Parish, Arlington Heights, effective immediately.
Cardinal George's Schedule
- April 1: 11 a.m., Palm Sunday Mass, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 2: 10 a.m., School Mass, Saints Faith, Hope, Charity, Winnetka
- April 3: 10:30 a.m., Day of Reflection for Priests, Holy Name Cathedral; 2:30 p.m., Chrism Mass, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 4: 7:30 p.m., Tenebrae Service, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 5: 5:15 p.m., Holy Thursday Liturgy, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 6: 11 a.m., Stations of the Cross, St. Adalbert, 5:15 p.m., Good Friday Liturgy, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 7: 11 a.m., Blessing of Easter Baskets, St. Ferdinand; 1:30 p.m., Blessing of Easter Baskets, St. Constance; 8 p.m., Easter Vigil, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 8: 11 a.m., Easter Sunday Mass, Holy Name Cathedral
- April 10: 10 a.m., Episcopal Council Meeting
- April 11: 10 a.m., Dedication of Catholic Charities’ St. Leo Residence (S. Emerald)
- April 14: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring Dicastery Visits, Rome
The season of Lent is given over to self-examination and the doing of penance for our sins. Especially since 2002, the Catholic Church in the United States has been faced with the sin of sexual abuse of children and young people by some bishops and priests. Much time has been spent in self-examination, by bishops and many others, and much has been done to make amends to those whose lives have been wounded.
In the last ten years, I have spoken with dozens of victims of sexual abuse, individually and in groups. These conversations have affected me deeply, as would be the case with anyone who listens to tales of betrayal and tragedy. Some victims have been able to put their lives together and live with dignity. For others, however, the abuse remains close to the surface of their memories and overshadows their lives. They have different needs, but all want to be sure that no one else will suffer as they have. Most seek recognition and an apology for what has happened to them. Some say that financial settlements leave them feeling angry and manipulated and serve mostly to punish the Catholic Church today, which is made responsible for conduct that occurred years and sometimes decades ago. Financial settlements are usually part of a program to help victims, of course, because that is expected in our present legal system and because, it seems to me, they can be of some help to people whose lives are still injured.
To try to keep faith with the many victims who have been helped by the Archdiocesan Victims' Assistance Ministry, the Archdiocese has trained over fifty thousand Catholics, including priests, religious and lay people, to watch for the signs that a child might have been abused. Information on Virtus training and on the Children Matter program are available on the Archdiocesan website. Background checks are mandatory for all clerics, employees and volunteers who have any contact with children. Revised Codes of Conduct have been put in place. Over two hundred thousand children in schools and religious education programs have been trained to be aware of possible predators and to defend themselves by reporting improper advances immediately to an adult.
The Archdiocese lists the names of priests who have had allegations sustained against them on its website. Moreover, it has published detailed information about abuse in three substantial reports (1992, 2003 and 2007). Nonetheless, many Catholics and others remain unaware of what has been done to address this issue. In part, this ignorance is tied to inadequate reporting. The story reiterated in the national media is simply one of cover-up, but there is no cover-up here. Another reason for the story's not being adequately understood lies in distortions of fact constantly repeated by individuals and groups with an interest in discrediting the Church and, in some cases, despoiling her. Whether recognized or not, there have been effective efforts to correct errors, be transparent in assessing actions and, most importantly, make reparation for these terrible sins.
So what is the story, at least in general? What is done to reach out to victims and address their concerns? The Archdiocese follows policies originally adopted in 1992. When someone comes forward to report that he or she was abused by a priest, the Archdiocese's Office for Child Abuse Investigations ((312) 751-5205) promptly contacts the civil authorities: the State's Attorney and, when appropriate, the Department of Children and Family Services. Because in almost every case the victim is no longer a minor, the Archdiocese has to process the allegation without State help. The case is sent to the Archdiocese's independent Review Board to determine whether or not the collected evidence indicates there is reasonable cause to suspect that the alleged misconduct happened. Depending on the complexity of the information brought forward, this process can take some time. Before January 2006, the accused priest was supervised but allowed to remain in ministry during this period of inquiry; now he is asked to remove himself from his place of ministry and wait for the recommendation of the Review Board to the Archbishop.
If the Review Board determines that the accusation is sustainable, the Archbishop reviews the evidence and, if he accepts the Review Board's determination, formally removes the priest from active ministry, pending further review. The case is then sent to the Holy See for its review and to receive permission to remove the priest either from the priesthood itself or from active ministry. Parishes where the priest has served are notified of his removal from ministry in order to give any other possible victims the chance to come forward.
The victim is offered spiritual and psychological help by the Archdiocesan Victims' Assistance Ministry. Many have accepted this offer, which has usually proved beneficial to them. If victims so desire, they meet with me. Financial settlements are mediated, even if the civil statute of limitations has expired. These settlements, amounting to some tens of millions of dollars in the past twenty years and reported in the annual financial report of the Archdiocese, have been paid for by the sale of undeveloped Archdiocesan property.
No process is perfect, so there have been improvements made to the policies and the process over the years. There are also regular audits under the supervision of the National Review Board in order to assess a Diocese's compliance with the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The Archdiocese of Chicago has always been found to be in conformity with the demands of this Charter.
It is good to reflect on these facts, to think of victims and to take stock of what has been learned. Those who have suffered sexual abuse as minors should be in our hearts and prayers during Lent, along with those who abused them. Sin imprisons the sinner; but God's grace sets both sinner and victim free. The Church, facing the sins of any of her members, prays collectively for God's forgiveness as she works to make penance effective by reaching out to victims.
It occurs to me that, because the Archdiocese does work with good effect to address the tragedy of sexual abuse of minors, the process outlined above might also be effective in healing the many people who have been sexually abused not by priests but by others who have abused the trust of children: coaches, counselors, public school teachers, lawyers, dance instructors, doctors, family members, grocery clerks and anyone else. The statistics from a federal government assessment of the problem in the public schools indicate that ten per cent of all pupils have been victims of sexual abuse or unwanted sexual advances at some time during their twelve years of public school education. That means hundreds of thousands of people who have been abused have probably never received help to overcome the consequences of that abuse.
Our efforts have not always been successful, and we need to be vigilant and keep improving them. I sincerely believe, however, that few private institutions have done more over time to protect children and help heal those who have been abused. What else might help? Efforts by governmental agencies to heal the wounds of past abuse, even in the case of a victim now an adult, could provide for accurate assessment of the facts of each case and facilitate compensation, including necessary psychological and other help. A public system that complies with the necessary legal and constitutional norms and is similar to what the Archdiocese is now providing could help victims find a new peace, a new beginning and new freedom.
That's what Lent is about; that's what the Church has been trying, sometimes with difficulty and with mistakes, to accomplish in recent years. That's also what our society, if we were honest about the extent of this tragedy, should be offering to all those who have been harmed by sexual abuse when they were children. May God be good to them now, and may we find ways to address this widespread violence more effectively.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago