The Catholic community received the grand jury report about past sexual abuse in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown with shock and anger. We pray that the Catholic Church’s painful past will contribute to a better understanding of sexual abuse in all sectors of society. We must always encourage anyone who has been abused to report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or local law enforcement.
As a Church we have and will continue to offer our most humble apologies to the survivors and are committed to supporting their healing. They are in our constant prayers, but ultimately we know that actions speak louder than words.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and a good time to remind ourselves what the Church and the dioceses of Pennsylvania have done and continue to do to support survivors, protect children, and hold perpetrators accountable. In fact, no other institution has done more to change its policies, hold its clergy, employees, and volunteers accountable, and educate its people on how to recognize and report abuse.
Every one of Pennsylvania’s dioceses is bound morally and by canon law to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This document, enacted in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and updated in 2011, acknowledges the impact of the crime of sexual abuse and provides strict standards for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse. The Charter is not only a binding contract between the Bishops and the faithful, it is church law.
Every diocese is subject to regular audits by third party firms to evaluate Charter adherence and ensure that these strict policies and procedures are upheld and effective. There were six cases of substantiated abuse of current minors within the Catholic Church in the entire United States in 2014. Six is still too many. The Church will not stand down in our vigilance.
Every day, every diocese in Pennsylvania offers:
Assistance and Support for Victims/Survivors
The Catholic dioceses proactively reach out to survivors and routinely publicize resources for survivors in their Catholic newspapers, websites, and parish bulletins. Dioceses encourage anyone who has been abused to report the abuse to law enforcement and Pennsylvania ChildLine at 800.932.0313.
The Church has invested millions of dollars since 2003 in compassionate, supportive, and sensitive assistance for survivors and their families to help them in the healing process:
- Every Catholic diocese has a professional victim assistance coordinator on staff.
- The Catholic dioceses offer financial assistance for compassionate professional counseling for survivors and their families; and they give referrals and compensation for outpatient therapy, pastoral support, and counseling, as well as related psychiatric services.
- The dioceses also work to eliminate obstacles to treatment for survivors, including financial assistance for child care and transportation.
Protection of our Children
Anyone who sexually abuses a child should be severely punished to the fullest extent of the law. Sexual predators should be locked behind bars and removed from society so they cannot hurt anyone else. The Catholic Church aggressively responds to allegations of child sexual abuse by immediately reporting to the proper law enforcement agency.
More than 450,000 adults and children in Pennsylvania have received training to recognize, respond to, and report child abuse since 2003. Safe Environment Coordinators work in parishes, schools, and youth-serving ministries to ensure compliance with laws and policies.
The Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania have responded to the call to protect children and assist survivors with an array of programs and policies that meet and exceed state law:
- Every Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania has a one-strike-you’re-out policy for clergy, employees, and volunteers credibly accused of misconduct with children.
- Every allegation of child sexual abuse must be immediately reported to the proper law enforcement agency. Any credible allegation against a member of the clergy results in the immediate removal from ministry.
- For many years prior to the state mandate, the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania have required background checks on all adults who interact with children through the Church, including clergy, employees, and volunteers.
- The Catholic dioceses train all employees and volunteers who interact with children about how to keep children safe from sexual abuse, how to recognize the signs of abuse, and how to report it. Catholic school students receive age-appropriate safety training.
- The dioceses adopted the Charter’s strict and comprehensive mandatory reporting requirements in 2002. The Pennsylvania General Assembly recently adopted similar requirements for a wide array of groups and professionals who regularly interact with children.
The tragedy of sexual abuse should cause great concern in all of us. Unfortunately, perpetrators of these heinous crimes can be found anywhere there are children. As more organizations and individuals become aware of child sexual abuses’ evil prevalence and work to educate adults and children on how to recognize and report signs of abuse, fewer children will endure this terrible trauma.