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WASHINGTON (CNS) – Twenty years ago, in 2002, the revelations of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston was the metaphorical bombshell that fell on the Catholic Church in the United States.

The U.S. bishops, when they met in June in Dallas, approved the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth,” a comprehensive set of procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

That’s exactly what his one-shot-and-you’re-out policy did: permanently remove from the public prosecutor’s office the priests against whom the abuse allegations were founded.

Pittsburgh resident Jim VanSickle, left, who told a Pennsylvania grand jury he was molested by a priest as a teenager, talks to former high school classmate Jack Rae of Bradford , Pennsylvania, during an August 21, 2018 visit to his childhood parish, St. Bernard Catholic Church in Bradford. (SNC Photo/Chaz Muth)

Twenty years later, at their Nov. 14-17 assembly in Baltimore, the bishops marked the anniversary of the charter and said they had taken action to address clergy sex abuse and would continue to listen. , heal and walk with the survivors.

Over the past 20 years, the fallout from the Boston revelations has touched nearly every diocese. Dozens of dioceses have filed for bankruptcy protection to reach a group settlement of claims filed by survivors of abuse. Many of these dioceses, however, have now emerged from bankruptcy.

The most recent diocese to announce it would file for bankruptcy protection was the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif., which said Dec. 5 that it would file for Chapter 11 protection between December 31 and March 1.

In Maryland, Attorney General Brian Frosh filed a November 17 motion in the Baltimore City Circuit Court seeking permission to release a 456-page report into clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore over the past 80 years. Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori and others said the historical conduct described in the report does not describe how the archdiocese operates today.

High-level clergy have also been accused of abuse. The latest was Father Michael Pfleger, an incendiary priest who speaks openly about gun violence, gangs, poverty and racism. He serves the Faith Community of St. Sabina in Chicago, a historically African-American parish.

But the 73-year-old priest, in an October 15 letter to parishioners, said: “Let’s be clear – I am completely innocent of this accusation.”

This is the second time the Archdiocese of Chicago has asked him to step down from the ministry following an abuse complaint. In January 2021, he was charged with abuse that allegedly happened 40 years ago. He was reinstated to the ministry after the charge was found not to be credible.

In November, retired Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, New York, announced that he had asked the Vatican to “return him to the lay state.” He has long been criticized for his handling of abuse cases in the diocese. And because he himself has been accused of abuse, he said, he is prohibited from acting as a priest – a policy he supports.

The 84-year-old bishop said Nov. 18 that he made the request because of his age and the fact that he is retired from active ministry. He also repeated that he denied abusing anyone.

As the Dallas charter turns 20, abuse has become a problem for much of society
Abuse survivor Mark Joseph Williams speaks during a November 15, 2022 session of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall general assembly in Baltimore. (SNC Photo/Bob Roller)

The problem of sexual abuse of children, young people and vulnerable adults is of course not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church.

The Boy Scouts of America had to declare bankruptcy in 2020 after abuse accusations rocked the organization.

Abuse has seeped into sports, particularly gymnastics. Former doctor Larry Nassar is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison after his conviction five years ago on multiple charges of abusing young gymnasts. This year, youth hockey made headlines for abuse cases.

On Nov. 11, a doctor who spent two decades providing medical care to youth hockey teams in Michigan and Minnesota was charged with multiple sexual assaults.

High-ranking clerics in other parts of the world have faced accusations of abuse or have admitted to abusive acts. In August of this year, the Southern Baptist Convention acknowledged that a federal investigation had begun into its handling of abuse charges. And that only scratches the surface.

In an interview earlier this year with Catholic News Service, Cardinal Wilton D. Gregory of Washington recalled when he was president of the US Episcopal Conference in 2002, when the Boston scandal broke, and his first of 13 visits to the Vatican. regarding the charter.

“I was told it was an American problem. And then it was suggested that it was an Anglophone issue,” he said.

“Well, now he doesn’t just speak English. He speaks Polish, he speaks German, he speaks Spanish,” he said, referring to abuse crises that have emerged in other countries. “The world has come to realize much more clearly that this is an issue that has affected the church worldwide. Praise be to God, Pope Francis has provided a much more direct, active response and, I hope, effective at these problems.

The U.S. bishops have revised the original charter three times since its adoption – in 2005, 2011 and 2018.

In 2019, Pope Francis issued the “motu proprio” “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), which revises and clarifies norms and procedures for holding bishops and religious superiors accountable for the protection from aggressors worldwide.

At a meeting in June that year, the U.S. bishops adopted three new bishops’ accountability reforms and they established a third-party reporting system for alleged violations by bishops.

The abuse crisis has few, if any, winners. A survivor may feel encouraged to have their story recognized and believed, but that does little to erase the initial abuse.

“We have suffered a serious loss of credibility” as bishops, Cardinal Gregory said in a second interview with CNS. “We have many wonderfully generous, honest, open, transparent and credible bishops. But it only takes one or two to undermine all the hard work they’ve put in.

“I think one thing that was really great last year was the information that came out of all these government reports” such as Germany, France and England, said Zach Hiner, executive director of the Network of survivors of those abused by priests.

“I think it’s a good sign that governments around the world think they need to get involved in stopping sexual abuse and not shifting the burden onto the institution,” he told CNS, adding that he hoped the United States would investigate. .

But Hiner said he sees it as “a particular black mark” on the church’s response to abuse the November election of Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the archdiocese for military service as president. of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

According to SNAP, Archbishop Broglio leads one of three archdioceses that has not released a list of clergy and other church workers credibly accused of abuse.

Hiner called this “unconscionable” and believes that “the USCCB has sent a message that they don’t really care about this anymore (publishing lists of credible defendants), and I find that problematic.”

The Military Archdiocese, like all U.S. dioceses, has a policy in place to deal with allegations of child sexual abuse. Bishop Broglio expressed shame “for the mistakes that we bishops in the United States have made in the past” in dealing with the abuse.

Despite SNAP’s reputation as a confrontational organization, “church leaders want to work with SNAP,” but most survivors come to SNAP because it’s independent, Hiner said. “Most of our members want this arm’s length relationship.”

“The church will always have to deal with issues of abuse in general. The charter from 20 years ago opened a door for people to address and reminisce,” said Deacon Bernie Nojadera, now in his 12th year as executive director of the Bishops’ Secretariat for protection of children and young people.

Regarding the pressure placed on diocesan operations and budgets due to abusive payments, Deacon Nojadera said, “I have had bishops reporting to me, tell me that because of the economy, because of monetary shortages, bankruptcy, they tell me that they had to close the ministries.

“But they tell me that their ministry of protection will be the last ministry to be closed,” he added.

Deacon Nojadera said he is “eternally grateful to survivor-victims who tell their stories and report back. It is saving grace. They brought to light what was in darkness. And thank goodness for the Boston Globe and that “Spotlight” movie and any other opportunity for survivors to feel empowered.

The deacon said: “It is a pity that there has been abuse. I have all the sorrow and all the excuses; it hurts my heart. …of having to keep this quiet out of fear or maybe thinking that maybe they’re the only ones.

“The miracle of this Boston Globe title is for those survivors who thought they were alone, (it) gave power, gave strength to all those other survivors who thought they were alone,” said- he declared.

Today, he added, “every diocese in the United States has a victim assistance office and a safe environment coordinator, and a consistent and reliable relationship with law enforcement and elected”.

And that, Deacon Nojadera said, is due to “this reality that abuse happens. Abuse is in society, and what the church does is to provide an example to other segments of society.

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As the Dallas charter turns 20, abuse has become a problem for much of society

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