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Letter from Bishop Raica regarding Pennsylvania Grand Jury report

08/15/2018

Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady

To the priests, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Gaylord,

Like many of you, I have been in a state of shock and dismay over the recent reports of abuse perpetrated by Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Similarly, the report of the Grand Jury in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, released on August 14, 2018, has revealed the sordid details of 300 priests over the past 70 years who had sexually abused the young and the vulnerable. I don’t know how many priests (religious, diocesan, extern) there were in the six dioceses over the 70 years or how many Catholic faithful there were during that period of time, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. Even one abuse is one too many. It is a betrayal of our vocation and discipleship with Christ. Indeed, it is a betrayal of the office of priesthood. Despite the valiant efforts made in promoting safe environments in our dioceses and institutions since 2002, these revelations shake us to the core that more must be done. What is becoming clear to me with the passing of each year is that no one in leadership or ministry in our church is excluded from the obligations we have freely accepted – especially those with special or honorific titles.

Over the past decade, I have had a number of occasions to listen personally to survivors of sexual abuse by clergy recount their abuse by a priest.  Each time, I returned home to weep at the hurt that occurred. I would beg the Lord to find a way forward that encompasses sorrow, contrition, and a pathway to begin the healing process and repair wounded faith. I prayed that they would not lose their faith in Christ, even though their trust in Church leadership had been wounded – even mortally wounded at times. At the same time, the survivors have taught me so much about their hopes and dreams as believers, and how those dreams can be dashed when clerics abuse their power by taking advantage of vulnerabilities in parishioners. The survivors are sons and daughters of God who deserve our understanding and accompaniment on their faith journey and a path forward toward healing.

I keep asking myself: “What more can we do as bishops?” At the same time, I must ask myself: “What more can I do here in the Diocese of Gaylord to ensure that our clergy are faithful witnesses of the Good News of Jesus Christ and provide appropriate safeguards to prevent occurrences like we have had in the past?” I am also mindful of the deep pain and hurt of survivors and their need to seek a pathway forward for personal healing which includes a desire and expectation that the offenders be removed from ministry. Pope St John Paul II said it well to the Cardinals in April, 2002: “There is no place in ministry in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young.” We must all live up to that reality if we expect a restored trust in our Church and an end to such grievous harm to our children.

While creating a safe environment for our young takes more time than I would like, nothing should be off the table.  Here is a list of what has been done here in our Diocese since my arrival here four years ago: 

  • All priests, deacons, lay ministers, and volunteers working with minors were required to repeat safe environment training using “Virtus” – the common program of raising awareness of abuse.
  • All clergy and seminarians, as well as employees and volunteers working with minors and vulnerable adults, undergo background checks completed by law enforcement agencies. Clergy fingerprint background checks were repeated last year. 
  • A letter was sent to the prosecutors of our 21 counties to reiterate our commitment that the Diocese of Gaylord would notify them of any letter or allegations of sexual abuse involving minors, regardless of when it occurred or whether or not it is a credible allegation or whether the alleged perpetrator is living or deceased. (Nearly 15 years ago the Diocese of Gaylord initially contacted the prosecutors informing them of any allegations which had been received in the Diocese of Gaylord since its establishment. It has been the diocese’s practice to report any and all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor to civil authorities since that time.)
  • We will also forward any allegations involving sexual abuse of adults to the authorities regardless of when it occurred or whether or not it is a credible allegation.
  • A Mass of Pardon and Reconciliation was celebrated last March in which I publicly apologized for the hurts and wounds that have been perpetrated by bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders. 
  • We participate in the annual audit of our adherence to the norms found in the Charter and Essential Norms for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse involving minors. We have been found compliant every year since the audits began in 2003.
  • I have spoken to the priests about creating and maintaining safe environments in the parishes and institutions at our annual convocations or other meetings. Other law enforcement officers and speakers have presented at many priest and employee conferences throughout the diocese.
  • Faith Magazine arrived at every Catholic home with information on the procedure for victims to follow to come forward with an allegation against a priest, deacon or employee in the Church. This information is published in the magazine annually.
  • Victim Assistance has been transferred out of the Diocesan Pastoral Center to Catholic Human Services where trained personnel can coordinate and assist a victim in making a complaint to the local authorities and Diocese, and walk with the person in their initial steps toward counseling and healing.
  • Diocesan personnel have worked with the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Legislature to strengthen laws to protect children in our state.

Each of these efforts is a small part of a comprehensive plan. Regrettably, they cannot totally prevent abuse from occurring. That is why we must not let down our guard. We must remain vigilant. For that, I ask everyone’s help in making and keeping our parishes, our schools, our institutions safe for our young and safe for all. At the same time, I ask our priests and deacons to be faithful to their calling; speak regularly with spiritual directors / confessors; and to seek help when necessary.  I beg our priests, deacons, personnel and volunteers not to become complacent in their own lives. I ask you to dedicate a holy hour weekly to those who are victims and survivors of abuse. During that time, I urge you to lift up survivors to the Lord and pray for the grace to be priestly witnesses after the heart of Christ.

For the faithful – I beg you: Sustain us with your prayers. Call us out when our behaviors or words do not correspond with the heart of Christ; and if you see suspicious activities by priests, religious, lay leaders or volunteers - report them to the competent law enforcement authorities.

Finally, while I was living in Rome back around 2005, I remember meeting a group of journalists one evening for an “off the record” social event. Several of them approached me privately saying: “Monsignor, we need you (priests) to be the people you say you are!” I always remembered that.  Our humanity must be mature to know the appropriate boundaries and limits of our relationships. We must be shepherds who protect and guard those entrusted to our care. Our task is to grow in the love of Christ and His Church by truly becoming missionary disciples who witness that love in ever new and attractive ways.

I pray that you will partner with me to help rid the church of this scourge once and for all. It has the Evil One at the base to divide the Body of Christ and sow seeds of doubt and despair. I am asking our priests, religious and staff to double down on their efforts to secure and maintain a safe environment for all as we go forward in faith.

With gratitude for your attention and with assurance of my prayers that we can go forward with the mission of Christ, and invoking the embrace of Our Lady of Mt Carmel, the patroness of our diocese, I am

 

                                                                                Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

                                                                                Most Reverend Steven J Raica

                                                                                Bishop of Gaylord

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