Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report in August of 2018 left many Catholics across the country and in the Diocese of Greensburg feeling betrayed, angry, confused and disillusioned with their Church and its former leaders. I can understand why. I am ashamed by the horrible misconduct revealed in the report.
It is hard to say what reality is worse: the priests who abused children or the leaders who failed to protect them. These people robbed many of their childhood innocence and, in some cases, their faith.
In many instances, the wounds of 50, 60 or even 70 years ago have still not healed. The ripple effect continues to cause pain for survivors, their families and Catholics across the world.
I cannot change the past. I cannot rewrite this awful chapter of our Church's history. But I can try to help survivors, their families and our parishioners get through this time of suffering. I have spent nearly every day of my time as Bishop solidifying our commitment to higher standards of accountability in the Diocese of Greensburg.
Today I want to speak to you about Today's Catholic Church and the higher standards we live by each and every day. I think it's important that everyone knows we are doing far more than any other organization to protect children, support survivors of abuse and trauma, and empower every member of the Catholic community and beyond to recognize, report and prevent abuse.
First, about protecting children:
Each of our seminarians and candidates for the Permanent Diaconate and Lay Ecclesial Ministry goes through extensive background checks and psychological testing before being accepted into our formation programs.
But background checks aren't just for them. More than 15,000 people, many of them staff and volunteers, have been screened and trained to recognize when a child may be in danger and how to immediately report it. That's because our requirements to work or volunteer in the diocese include a series of state and federal background checks with fingerprints, mandatory reporter training and VIRTUS, a best-practices program designed to help prevent child abuse and promote correct responses by those who work or volunteer in religious organizations.
Those same people, with their training, are now helping the larger community to recognize, report, and prevent child abuse. We truly believe that we are making a difference!
Now, about supporting survivors of abuse:
In February of this year, I announced details of a Comprehensive Reconciliation Initiative. The initiative includes a Survivors' Compensation program, an opportunity for survivors to have personal interaction with an objective program administrator, as well as access to counseling and spiritual guidance.
Personally, as I listened to the stories of these survivors, I must say that their pain and their anguish have had a tremendous impact on me. I want this outreach to be more than just a compensation fund. I want to ensure that this effort is a commitment to listening to and supporting the same people we have failed to protect in the past.
To that end, this summer many sexual abuse claimants met with the independent mediators of the compensation fund and told their stories. And we made sure they were heard.
The Diocese of Greensburg will make a full disclosure of the funds distributed through this program by the end of summer. We will be as generous as possible in order to enable survivors to heal as much as possible from this tragedy. We must do everything we can to assist these innocent victims.
Now, about today's Diocese of Greensburg:
I am grateful that it seems a good number of Catholics have returned to the practice of their faith after they moved away from the Church in the months following the release of the Grand Jury Report. I am saddened to say that although contributions to our parishes and Diocese have remained steady for the most part, we estimate that in the Diocese of Greensburg there are about four percent fewer Catholics in our parish pews today than at the same time last year. We all need to work at evangelizing these and other people because we have much more Good News than bad news in our Church. Ultimately, it is the Gospel of Jesus that keeps us in His Church.
On a more positive note: I have had countless members of the Catholic community reach out to me to offer support, a kind word, and to pledge their prayers and their help in this difficult time.
In order to increase our transparency and outside oversight, in the last year I convened a Safe Environment Advisory Council to assist the Diocese of Greensburg.
The advisory council consisted of laypeople from each of our four counties. Members came from a variety of backgrounds, including law enforcement, the legal community, health care and parish ministries.
Last fall, this Council oversaw a series of listening sessions held at parishes across the Diocese which gave parishioners the opportunity to express their feelings about the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, make observations and offer suggestions.
I realize that the scourge of past abuse and how we dealt with it at the time have made it difficult for many to trust the good things that we are doing now. That is why it was important for me to hear the anger and confusion of those who are understandably angry at the revelations of the Grand Jury Report. They are a constant reminder to me of just how important our actions and level of transparency are to survivors, parishioners and our clergy.
These listening sessions also provided me with the opportunity to reassure people that today's Church is not the Church of the Grand Jury Report. Much of what people wanted us to do we have been doing for a long time. Still, we can and will do better. In fact, I believe that today we are a model for other institutions to imitate in their own initiatives to deal with past child abuse and prevent future abuse.
What I heard from our independent lay council and from countless individuals at the listening sessions, in dozens of letters and phone calls, e-mails and Facebook messages was this:
Be accountable. Be transparent. Tell the truth.
A commitment to transparency sometimes requires that difficult actions be taken. And so, when some members of our clergy were recently removed from their place of ministry following an allegation of child sexual abuse, the public announcement of the removal of the cleric occurred within 24 hours of the allegation being made. At the same time we also have made it clear that every person, including every priest, enjoys the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, as any citizen should expect.
Even so, some people have criticized us for this level of transparency. I understand their concerns, but I am committed to maintaining our process and policies for the ultimate protection of all.
These public announcements about allegations support zero tolerance of abusers in ministry. We have been moving toward this reality for a long time and hope you can see our actions as progress toward that end.
This past year has been a painful reckoning for us knowing that some members of the clergy were not faithful to their commitment to be good shepherds of the people of God. This truth is not always easy to hear. In fact, at times, it can be downright painful. I am sorry for what has happened in the past, and I am resolved, to the best of my ability, to make sure that it will never happen again.
I ask you to walk with me into that future and be vigilant so every child is safe.
In closing, I ask your prayers for all victims of sexual abuse that they may find peace and healing. And I ask your prayers for me and our Church that we may always find the way to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to people everywhere.