Serious discouragement best describes our reaction to the outcome of the Grand Jury investigation of six dioceses in Pennsylvania regarding clerical sexual abuse and the negligent response of diocesan leadership to this abuse.
Again, we cite the responses of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis who in the past have expressed “deep shame” in the face of this activity. “While the time period covered by the investigation dates back to the 1950s, we must still acknowledge the behavior as totally unacceptable and heartfelt apologies are in order to all the victims,” said Bishop Richard Pates.
The most sincere reaction to the situation is reform. This reform was initiated in 2002 when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms. The Charter was revised in 2011 and 2018. The implementation for the Diocese of Des Moines embraces the following:
1. Any report of sexual misconduct of a Catholic Church worker is immediately reported to law enforcement followed by an appropriate civil/ecclesial investigation. The person to whom the allegation is directed is suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
2. Any ecclesial person credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor is removed from office until the investigation is completed.
3. Victims are encouraged to contact the diocese’s Victim Assistance Advocate, Sam Porter, at 515-286-2015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or Sam.Porter@polkcountyiowa.gov. He can help victims file a complaint and seek counseling. Victims can also call Polk County Crisis & Advocacy Services at 515-286-3600. The agency will provide advocacy with the diocese regardless of where the victim is living.
4. In the last 15 years, the Diocese of Des Moines has been served by an Allegation Review Committee. The present composition is a police chief, a counselor, a civil judge, a lawyer (who currently serves as chair), a teacher, a permanent deacon, and priest. This body advises the Bishop on all reports of sexual misconduct and diocesan sexual behavior policies.
By way of prevention, the following practices have been initiated:
1. A criminal background check is conducted of every individual who undertakes a volunteer, paid or clerical ministry in the diocese. Since 2002, the diocese has completed 18,525 background checks.
2. Ministers (volunteer and compensated) need to sign a “Code of Conduct” which they agree to abide by.
3. Visiting clergy are required, through their diocese, to submit a “personal statement of suitability.”
4. Since 2002, 18,525 people have completed this safe environment training. All ministers in the diocese are required to complete monthly “Virtus” readings which highlight dimensions of abuse/boundary issues.
5. All youth participating in Church programs are required to participate in education programs alerting them to possible abuses/behaviors.
6. There is an annual audit currently conducted by Stonebridge Business Partners. Every third year this exercise is “on-site.” The other two years it is done in writing. For the 14 years, the audit has been conducted, the Diocese of Des Moines has been found to be in compliance with the Charter.
7. An independent, third-party conducted an audit of all diocesan files of living priests in July 2014.
8. The matter of sexual abuse of minors is governed nationwide by the National Review Board.
The Charter and Essential Norms are available for viewing on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Since the adoption of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms, the actual numbers of sexual abuse of minors by clergy and priest personnel in “real time” have dwindled dramatically.
The Diocese of Des Moines is committed to continuing to implement the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms as a matter of highest priority.
In the meanwhile, we encourage intense prayer to our provident God that this scourge will be removed from our Church as well as the broader domain of contemporary culture. Please join me in this exercise of the daily petition to the Lord for this cause.