Our Commitment to Healing and Protecting

December 04, 2010

The Washington Post is publishing an article the weekend of December 4-5, 2010 about what happened to local Catholic clergy accused of child sexual abuse in past years. This issue is deeply painful. Over the past 25 years, the Archdiocese of Washington has worked tirelessly to heal those who have been harmed and to help prevent this tragedy from ever happening again. Our children are our most precious resource and deserve always to be protected.

The clergy discussed in the article have been previously identified publicly. These names are not new. That doesn’t make the reality of what they did years ago any less painful now. Because of its commitment to ensure the well-being of children, the archdiocese became one of the first dioceses in the nation to have a written and comprehensive child protection policy 25 years ago.

• The protections we put in place over the past 25 years are among the toughest in the nation. Seminarians go through extensive background checks and evaluations before and during their training. Over the past seven years alone, 38,000 priests, employees and volunteers in the archdiocese have been fingerprinted and trained. This is because clergy, employees and volunteers who work with children are mandated to undergo criminal background checks and education about how to identify warning signs and what to do if they suspect abuse.

• Every year, nearly 40,000 children in our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs are taught that they have a right to be safe and what to do if someone tries to hurt them. Nationally last year, six million children in Catholic schools and parishes received this training.

• Allegations are reported to the civil authorities immediately so they may be investigated. The civil authorities are empowered to impose criminal penalties and monitoring requirements on those who abuse children, which private organizations cannot do. In addition, any clergy who has been credibly accused is permanently removed from ministry.

• Outreach and comprehensive support are offered to those who come forward. This response is coordinated by the Office of Child Protection Services, which is led by a licensed clinical social worker.

• Because accountability is so important, a Child Protection Advisory Board of lay experts in child welfare provides oversight and direction on child protection matters and best practices, regularly reviewing and updating the archdiocesan policy, monitoring compliance and publishing an annual public report. If an allegation is made against a priest or deacon in ministry, the Case Review Board is convened immediately to review the matter and determine the most appropriate course of action. The archdiocese also is audited annually to ensure full compliance with national standards.

Anyone who has been harmed by someone in ministry is asked to contact our director of child protection services for direct, personal support. For these individuals, we do our best to respond to their needs through an apology, counseling and other pastoral outreach regardless of when they come forward.

Sadly, child abuse affects all parts of society, from families to churches to schools. Over the years, we have learned how important the kinds of programs the archdiocese has put in place are and we urge all schools, churches and other organizations that care for children to put in place these same kinds of protections. We ask for all people of good will to keep in prayer those who have been affected by the tragedy of child abuse, wherever it has occurred and encourage parents and others with responsibility for children to learn more about keeping kids safe through the online parent guides.

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