Addressing the Problem of Clergy Sexual Abuse
With attention fixed on truly terrible past events, the Church's mid-1990s policy changes to combat abuse may not be apparent.Catholic Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee for Sexual Abuse.
From the establishment of an Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse by the Catholic Bishops' conference in 1993 and for several years before, the Catholic bishops have been dealing with the terrible problem of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, educating ourselves about its many dimensions and developing policies in virtually every diocese which have enabled us to respond to it.
The problem of sexual abuse has always been difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, with regard to sexual crimes, the public tended to treat the victim as somehow also responsible, and so for a long time these matters were dealt with privately. This was true of the Church as well. However, that does not mean that the Church did not and does not now consider sexual abuse or exploitation of any kind, especially of a minor, to be anything other than a violation of the respect due to every human being.
In the early 1990s, some high-profile news stories involving people in various walks of life, including politicians and clergy, revealed the extent of these problems. People were more willing to talk about the subject, and many victims were at last able to come forward. In the last decade, the Church has faced a double duty. First, it has had to deal with numerous cases from the past 30 years, many of which were being reported for the first time, and some which had been reported but not adequately dealt with. Second, we have sought to develop policies which incorporate up-to-date information about sexual abuse to enable us to deal with current cases and help prevent abuse in the future.
During this time, many localities were strengthening their laws dealing with the abuse of minors, including reporting requirements. Dioceses have sought to keep abreast of these changes and to comply with the law. Basic to our diocesan policies is the principle of compliance with state and local reporting laws and cooperation with investigations. Other fundamental principles enunciated since 1992 are immediate investigation of allegations by diocesan officials; suspension of the perpetrator from ministry if the allegations prove well-founded; arranging for appropriate medical evaluation and intervention; and offering pastoral assistance to victims and their families. We fully understand that the experience of abuse may make it too painful for victims to accept assistance from the Church, but the offer is there.