For almost two weeks now, a pall of suffering, disbelief, anger and betrayal has fallen upon Pennsylvania and far beyond. While the 40th statewide grand jury report finally validated the suffering of countless victims of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, sadly, far too many victims and their families have had to face, yet again, these painful memories.
Devoted parishioners have been betrayed by once beloved members of the clergy. Good and faithful priests, deacons and parish leaders have had to speak for a Church that let its people down, even as they suffer with those entrusted to your care, bearing their own feelings of grief, loss, anger and pain.
And people of all faith traditions and none at all have come face-to-face with nothing short of evil in the midst of an already challenged world.
None of you deserve to be confronted with the tragic details described in the report. To all of you – I am sorry. The Church has failed you.
While so much of the 70-year history that was chronicled in the grand jury report portrays leadership in the Church that has lost its way, the fact is that our children are safer today than ever before.
Since becoming bishop in 2010, it has been my priority not only to properly handle allegations of abuse quickly and transparently in partnership with law enforcement, but also to eradicate abuse from the Church altogether. This has – and will remain – a critical matter to me and to the many clergy and staff at the Diocese of Scranton who are committed to providing safe environments for our children and youth.
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, offering procedures and guidelines for addressing allegations of abuse related to healing, accountability and prevention. At the Diocese of Scranton, we follow the Charter closely and have adopted our own Child Protection/Safe Environment Program that includes a zero tolerance policy on abuse. Since the Charter, we’ve trained nearly 29,000 adult employees and volunteers on prevention, reporting and signs of abuse.
We have consistently reported all credible allegations of abuse to law enforcement and Pennsylvania Child Line, and we alert the public when an individual is removed from ministry based on these allegations. That is our standard practice that has been in place since 2002.
The grand jury report reflects these efforts. In fact, 93 percent of the abuse detailed in the report occurred before 2000. This goes to show what we already know to be true: reforms in the United States – and our prevention efforts – are working as the occurrences of abuse have been drastically reduced over the last two decades. We know there is more work to be done, and we’re constantly reviewing and updating our policies and procedures.
When abuse does occur, we maintain a Victim Assistance Coordinator who serves as a compassionate advocate for victims and assists throughout the healing process.
And in an effort to maintain transparency, we shared the list of accused individuals with all 11 district attorneys within the diocese before we were even aware of the grand jury investigation. On Aug. 14, we publicly released that list, which includes information about each individual, his assignment, work history and last known residence. Publishing this list was not meant to make victims re-live the past, but to validate victims, to encourage others to come forward, and to protect our communities.
We’re doing everything in our power to prevent future cases of abuse, and to properly handle allegations when they do come forward. But that doesn’t change heartbreaking events of the past.
We know cases were not always handled properly. Therefore, I’ve asked our Independent Review Board to formally assess Bishop Emeritus James Timlin’s handling of previous allegations of abuse during his time in leadership. We anticipate a recommendation by month’s end. In the meantime, Bishop Timlin will not be representing the Diocese of Scranton. This decision was not made lightly.
While much good work has been and continues to be done through the Church, I know this report is both disturbing and painful. I hope that your trust in the Church can one day be restored. I know that will take time and will only happen when you encounter behavior by all clergy and Church leaders that earns your trust.
I pray that we learn from the past and create a better future for the Diocese of Scranton. For my part, I will do all that I can to keep our children and youth safe.
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L. is bishop of the Scranton Diocese of the Catholic Church