In response to abuse crisis, Richmond bishop issues policy on naming church buildings

Bishop Barry C. Knestout of Richmond, Va., listens to a speaker during the spring general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore June 12, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) -- Richmond Bishop Barry C. Knestout announced a new policy, effective June 27, directing that all diocesan institutions, schools and parish buildings will no longer be named after a bishop, pastor, founder or another individual.

The policy says the diocese's structures and institutions are to identify themselves only with "the names of saints, the mysteries of the faith, the titles of Our Lord or of Our Lady, or the place where the ministry has been established."

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"Overcoming the tragedy of abuse is not just about holding accountable those who have committed abuses, it is also about seriously examining the role and complex legacies of individuals who should have done more to address the crisis in real time," Bishop Knestout said in announcing the new policy.

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"The continued honorific recognition of those individuals provides a barrier to healing for our survivors, and we want survivors to know that we welcome and support them in our diocese," he said.

The only school building, parish or diocesan location that requires a change because of this policy is Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School in Virginia Beach.

Bishop Walter F. Sullivan headed the Richmond Diocese from 1974 to 2003; he was an auxiliary bishop of the diocese for four years before that. After his death in 2012, claims surfaced that as the bishop, he had covered up abuse by some priests in the diocese.

The school returns to its former name of Catholic High School, which it was named in 1993 when it moved to its current location. Bishop Sullivan's name was added in 2003, the year he retired.

Fully implementing the name change will take place during the 2019-2020 school year, giving the school time to transition and complete all work associated with its name change to include logos, signs and uniforms.

"While the name of the school is changing, our mission remains the same, based firmly on Catholic teaching," said Kelly Lazarra, superintendent of the diocesan Office of Catholic Schools. "Catholic High School is dedicated to nurturing intellect, shaping character and forming Christian values."

The policy does not affect previously named rooms or wings in existing diocesan buildings, institutions, parishes or other schools within the diocese. The policy change also does not apply to plaques or signs recognizing donors or for historic figures who held an office within a diocesan institution.

"It is my hope and prayer that the policy change is another way to continue to assist survivors of abuse in their healing, especially those who have, in any way, experienced the failure of church leadership to adequately address their needs and concerns," said Bishop Knestout.

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