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.
Perhaps one of the most important developments to emphasize is that bishops no longer see themselves and one or two staff members as the only ones who have to bear the burden of evaluating allegations. Diocesan teams or review boards, made up of professional experts in matters related to sexual abuse, including laity, clergy, and religious, both men and women, provide bishops with their recommendations. In addition, there are several treatment centers, offering diagnostic evaluation and treatment to advise bishops as well.
In terms of future prevention, more stringent evaluation of seminary candidates has also been put into place in dioceses. Continuing education is offered for church personnel, and even the larger Church community, whose purpose is to help recognize and prevent sexual misconduct involving children or others.
Having experienced the calamitous effects of abuse for many years now, the Church has striven to engage the problem, resolve it, and to take the steps to prevent it in the future. We can always increase the effectiveness of our response, and certainly we can never relax our vigilance. But our ability to address the problem has continued to grow substantially since 1992-93 which sometimes is not apparent when our attention is fixed on some of the truly terrible things that happened in the past.