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Blase J. CupichMay 30, 2011

On May 18 the National Review Board released a report titled The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, prepared by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The mere mention of these two groups, the board and the school, working independently of the hierarchy to produce this report, is a ready admission that when it came to fully understanding and responding to the sexual abuse crisis in the U.S. Catholic Church, we bishops needed the help and assistance of others.

It is true that the report documents a very large drop in the number of cases of abuse in the mid-1980s, demonstrating that once we bishops realized what was happening, though tragically quite late, we could and did adopt strong and effective measures. Education about the problem and the establishment of safe environments to eliminate opportunities for abuse to occur have proven effective.

Yet just as the report reinforces what we have done and are doing right in facing the problem, it also calls for additional initiatives to address shortcomings so that the abuse of minors does not happen again in the Catholic Church.

While the bishops will have to give their attention over the next months and years to fully explore the implications of the report, there are several priorities that we cannot neglect. These include:

1. Keep potential abusers out of the priesthood. Rigorous screening of seminary candidates must continue. This means background checks and thorough psychological testing to uncover emotional deficiencies that could lead to abuse. Presently, the Program of Priestly Formation states that “any credible evidence in the candidate of a sexual attraction to children necessitates an immediate dismissal from the seminary.” But now should be given to updating it to require training in safe environment with an emphasis on defining and maintaining appropriate boundaries between members of the clergy and children. There can be no exceptions to the rule that anyone who has not undergone safe environment training will not be allowed to work with children and surely should not be ordained a priest.

2. Revise the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People as needed. The bishops have routinely reviewed the charter for needed updates. The task now will be to improve it further in light of this report. In revising the charter the bishops must look to any elements that need strengthening or clarification to guarantee that in every diocese any priest with an admitted or canonically proven allegation of abuse against him is no longer in ministry. Similarly, the charter's mandate that the diocesan review board is to advise the “ bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of a cleric's suitability for ministry” needs clarification, as does the significance of our “Statement of Episcopal Commitment,” so that there is uniformity in complying with the principles of the charter.

3. Require annual ongoing professional education of priests. The John Jay researchers found that there is no surefire way to predict who will be an abuser, but they did find that people who abused the young were under stress, often lonely and also frequently abused alcohol. Continuing education on how to implement safe environment programs effectively must be mandatory for priests, but so should ongoing professional development aimed at reducing, if not eliminating, the stressors. Particular attention needs to be given to the spiritual growth of our priests, since evidence shows that a sound prayer life is an important resource for dealing with stress in a healthy and mature way. Priests deserve this investment and the assistance they need to develop coping skills and outlets that do not include drugs, alcohol and sexual exploitation.

4. Educate parishioners. Right now, the charter requires background evaluations and safe environment training for anyone who has ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors. We need to expand the circle of those trained to maintain safe environments. All of our people should learn how to recognize and report abuse of minors. The simplest and most efficient way to educate churchgoing Catholics is through parish bulletins and Web sites. In addition to regularly publishing information about how to report abuse, parishes, with the help of our Secretariat for Child Protection, should routinely give updates on how best to maintain and improve their safe environment programs.

5. Emphasize the boundaries that should exist between an adult and a minor. In recent years we have seen reports to dioceses and civil authorities of boundary violations, like placing a hand on a child’s knee, wrestling with a child or sharing alcohol with a minor. Professionals recognize that such touching and interaction often are first steps in grooming, a process by which sexual abusers test how far they can go in breaking down natural barriers between an adult and a child. Today’s young people are appropriately trained to report any interactions that make them uncomfortable. Whether or not these actions are associated directly with or lead to sexual abuse of minors, such violations of their personal space disconcert them and are not harmless. Clear and specific codes of conduct about adult-minor interaction, banning such boundary violations, should be an integral part of the life and activity of every parish.

6. Recognize the extent of the problem of sexual abuse of children. The John Jay study points out that sexual abuse of minors occurs in virtually every organization where adults are in a mentoring relationship with children. Saying this should in no way divert attention from the problem of abuse in the church, as the church should be held to a higher standard. But the church should care about what happens in all schools, sports teams and youth organizations because they too are vulnerable to abusers in their ranks. The point is that in face of the overwhelming evidence that sexual abuse occurs in all groups serving youth, the entire adult population in this country must address the challenge of protecting children in a collaborative and unified way.

7. Monitor one another. It is tragic that so many abusers molested children over the years without others suspecting it. Perhaps members of the clergy and other adults who suspected that something was wrong decided to mind their own business. All who observe untoward behavior need to take their concerns to people in authority. This is not a matter of “ratting someone out” or getting someone in trouble; it is a matter of child safety.

8. Listen intently, respond forthrightly. Too often the first response of administrators when they hear of a problem is to hope it goes away. This approach cannot guide the handling of suspected sexual abuse of children. Reports of suspicions need to be addressed immediately and directly. Waiting for a few more reports or incidents to surface is like not dealing with a serious contagious illness until a whole classroom full of children comes down with it. Leaders also need to recognize that in many cases it takes a long time for a person to articulate anything about such a sensitive topic as sexual activity. Leaders need to listen not just to the words people speak but for the emotions behind the words and the body language that communicates what is not said. Church leaders need to send clear messages, especially to children, that they will listen sympathetically and act decisively when faced with sexual abuse of a child.

9. Place this crisis in perspective. Given that the existence of abuse of just one child is horrific, it is hard to feel that there has been progress in U.S. society in this matter. But there has been. John Jay statistics show a decline in sexual abuse of young people in recent decades, especially in the church. It is arguable that the church is doing better in this regard because of the intense emphasis on practical education through safe environment programs for both young people and adults. The media’s scrutiny of the church has probably kept leaders from regressing and yielding to “charter fatigue.” However one characterizes what we have accomplished, the fact remains that the church cannot stop taking precautions.

Perspective also is needed when priests are falsely accused and then exonerated. The charter calls for efforts to restore the reputation of priests falsely accused. Admittedly, the percentage of those falsely accused is small, but any false accusation is damning in the public eye. If a bishop and diocesan structures, like review boards and victim assistance offices, have been evenhanded in dealing with victim/survivors and the public, the bishop is more apt to be judged credible when he states that an accused cleric has been found not guilty and is worthy of an assignment in a diocese.

10. Watch for and correct distorted attitudes about the priesthood. Clericalism is a form of elitism, in which some are viewed as having special rights and privileges. It spawns an arrogance that results in some people receiving less respect than others; that lets some people be objectified and used and, soon, tragically abused. We Catholics have been in the forefront in defending the dignity of the human person. Clericalism is a direct violation of human dignity. In the case of child abuse, it is an attitude that has grown deaf to what the Scriptures tell us about the special place children have in God’s kingdom. They are called to the front of the line as Jesus did when he said, “Let the little children come to me” and warned that it would be better to have a millstone strung around one’s neck and be thrown into the sea than to be guilty of harming a child. When we realize how highly God holds children, it is hard to do anything but respect and cherish them and to abhor anything that uses and abuses them.

The release of the John Jay study is a marker. It is a jumping-off point from which the Catholic Church and especially its leadership must continue to take steps to show that it will be steadfast in addressing the sexual abuse of minors. This is not a time for the bishops to sit back and applaud themselves for getting a handle on a shameful moment in church history. If anything, the church“s leadership must now step forward and give new vitality to its promise to protect and its pledge to heal. This will require on the part of the bishops a great deal of humility, the kind required to admit that we needed the help provided by the National Review Board, John Jay College and so many others. It is also the kind of humility expressed in the confession of faults nearly a decade ago by Bishop Wilton Gregory, then president of the bishop’s conference:

Our God-given duty as shepherds of the Lord’s people holds us responsible and accountable to God and to the church for the spiritual and moral health of all of God’s children, especially those who are weak and most vulnerable. It is we who need to confess, and so we do.

We are the ones, whether through ignorance or lack of vigilance or, God forbid, with knowledge, who allowed priest abusers to remain in ministry and reassigned them to communities where they continued to abuse.

We are the ones who chose not to report the criminal actions of priests to the authorities, because the law did not require this. We are the ones who worried more about the possibility of scandal than bringing about the kind of openness that helps prevent abuse.

And we are the ones who, at times, responded to victims and their families as adversaries and not as suffering members of the church.

We should keep close to our hearts the humility and deep remorse expressed in these words nearly a decade ago. The children deserve no less.

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C Walter Mattingly
11 years 6 months ago
Thank you, Bishop Cupich. This is in my eyes the best overview of the situation I have seen.
John Legerski
11 years 6 months ago
Sounds wonderful, Bishop Cupich. but how will a vision such as this be implemented? How can we be reassured that the majority of bishops in the U.S. will go beyond the minimum that gets required as a legal mandate or as protection from future lawsuits? After all, the track record of the bishops in showing initiative or in dealing with their own culpability in this shameful chapter of our history isn't all that great...
May we all grow in the good will of the Spirit...
11 years 6 months ago
Bishop Cupich has well described the efforts made to protect children. But medications that heal can also have bad side effects. efforts to protect children can have bad side effects in removing innocent priests from ministry.  The primary concern, of course, is the protection of children. But protection of innocent priests can and must also be achieved. Cardinal Dulles, SJ in "The Rights of Priests" (AMERICA 6-21-2004) severely criticized the Charter for putting innocent priests at risk. Some bishops have removed innocent priests, especially externs, with little or no investigation. Priests are frequently heard saying, "If you get an allegation, you're dead".

As a canonist, I have been dealing with accused priests, some innocent, some not. One extern priest was removed in a context that defamed him because the bishop misread a letter from another diocese. I prepared an air-tight case against the bishop. But there is no avenue for appeal. Bishops enjoy a special immunity. Only the pope can judge them! My priest has suffered a grave injustice at the hands of a Church structure and a bishop.

I wrote to the USCCB president and the chairs of the proper committees in 2007, 2008, 2009 urging that the Charter be revisited to protect innocent priests. Each reply said "Revisit is scheduled for 2010!" Eight years after the flawed Charter; six years after Dulles' remonstrance. 2010 came and went. Nothing, nada, zip! The Charter is flawed; the USCCB procedures are flawed!
Kathy Berken
11 years 6 months ago
Something about this makes me nervous. It all looks great on paper, but I really think that what is missing from this picture is this. I think that priests who have been abusers who are willing to participate in this safety program ought to be consulted. Who better to know how to deal with this situation than one who has been there and has honestly come to grips with his illness and truly wants to help protect children from further abuse. This is not much different from hiring a former computer hacker to teach computer programmers how to write code to protect their computers from being invaded. 
Virginia Edman
11 years 6 months ago
This response to the new John Jay Report is disappointing and troubling.  In its tone it suggests a church put on lockdown.  Who would want to be a priest in this environment of "rigorous screening" and scrutiny?  It is like running a prison or penal colony.  Where will the community find warmth, friendship and love without fear?  Michael Higgins wrote a book called Suffer the Children Unto Me: An Open Enquiry into the Clerical Abuse Scandal.  In a related article in the Globe and Mail (Toronto),  he observes that it is not enough for the Church to just lament.   Reform is necessary and we must brace for it.  This reform is not achieved by posturing and legal gamesmanship, but by an examination of the culture of clericalism itself, with its secrecy and entitlement.  This reform involves addressing celibacy for parochial clergy, reconsidering the narrow rules that govern the selection of bishops, and applying the principles of collegiality and subsidiarity in all church governance.  The answer to these problems, in other words, is not a policy of policing but rather de-establishing the pathologies that make this abuse possible. 

Norman Costa
11 years 6 months ago

What Virginia said!!! 
Lisa Weber
11 years 6 months ago
Thank you, Bishop Cupich, for an update on the continuing efforts to resolve and heal this wound in the Church.  Sin and psychological pathology are realities that make ongoing policing necessary.  That the clergy needs support in learning to deal with stressors is one truth - that the clergy needs support of the laity is another.
Michael Barberi
11 years 6 months ago
A bishop can have almost unchallenged power to excommunicate someone (i.e., the sister in the Phoenx Case) and have special powers of immunity (only the pope can judge him)... but the powers of an entire Conference of Bishops are limited because any statement must be approved by the Vatican Curia.
Susan Matthews
11 years 6 months ago

Bishop Cupich offers a solutions-based response to the John Jay Report. Not all Bishops have proven themselves to be as interested in child protection. His commentary notes improvement and includes the call to refine those efforts. However, he doesn't address the very real issues still happening today in Philadelphia and around the world.

He also gives credence to the report's finding that isolation, drinking and stress can lead to child sex abuse. The study inexplicably used the victim age of 10 or under to determine whether or not abusive priests were pedophiles. The American Psychiatric Association uses the age of 13. If they had used the latter, the majority of abusive priests would have been pedophiles - a psychiatric disorder. I don't take issue with his solution, though. Priests do need more education on these matters and support in general.

Most important, is that a Bishop is speaking out on the subject. Please read more at www.Catholics4Change.com.
Ed Kardas
11 years 6 months ago
3. Require annual ongoing professional education of priests.

4. Educate parishioners.

5. Emphasize the boundaries that should exist between an adult and a minors.

7. Monitor one another

I'll address these four point in class tonight.  I'll train you right now.

Rule #1- never molest anyone!
Rule #2 - report a person who does molest anyone to the police, not the Church!

Any questions?

Test questions:  What are the two rules we discussed in class tonight?

Tuition Free

11 years 6 months ago
re the recently released John Jay College study on clergy sexual abuse:

I discovered that a long-time newsreporter at the New York Catholic newspaper was apparently in the Masters Program at John Jay during the time of this study and as a matter of fact, her thesis had the same title.  Interestingly, her monitor/supervisor for her these was the principal investigator for the USCCB's study, Dr. Karen Terry.  If you check out Dr. Terry's curriculum vitae on her own personal website, you will find this newsreporter's name.
11 years 6 months ago
re the recently released John Jay College study on clergy sexual abuse:

I discovered that a long-time newsreporter at the New York Catholic newspaper was in the Masters Program at John Jay during the time of this study and as a matter of fact, her thesis had the same focus as that of the USCCB sponsored study.  Interestingly, her monitor/supervisor for her these was the principal investigator for the USCCB's study, Dr. Karen Terry.  If you check out Dr. Terry's curriculum vitae on her own personal website, you will find this newsreporter's name.


And then this same news reporter has been covering the release of the USCCB report and the press conference in Washington, DC.  I would like to know if the NY archdiocese paid for her masters program at John Jay.

Given the relationship between the Archdiocese of New York through the news reporter at its Catholic newspaper and the fact that the archdiocesan's news reporter's master level research was being supervised by the principal investigator in the USCCB directed study, are there any concerns regarding the objectivity, fairness, and professionalism of the research conducted in this report? 
l mulligan
11 years 6 months ago
Bishop Cupich - I think you should acknowledge, up front, that your words are, at best, inspirational to your fellow bishops, but, unfortunately, carry no weight under church law, so that no one is mislead to think that what you are saying is anything other than your own thoughts & opinions.  Please correct me if that is incorrect.

2d point - at any milestone of this unfortunate failure of our church's leadership,  did it look to its own teachings for guidance?  I think, for example, of the USCCB's November, 2000 publication, Responsibility, Rehabilitation, and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice.  If not, which is what it appears to me to be the case, is it time to do so now?  What would that mean to you as to the way the church's leaders should change the way they have responded to those who, as children, were abused?

3d, & final, question - if you want to make the Dallas Charter effective, will you change the audit procedure so that it has some teeth?  Currently, it asks dioceses only if they have a policy to protect children.  Most do by now, & pass the audit.  What is not asked is if the policy in place is actually enforced, and it is the bishops who, from the information I have received from the Office of Child & Youth Protection, do not allow that question to be a part of the purported "audits".

Lacking a response, experience tells me to assume that the correct answer to these three sets of questions is, in each instance, "no, I have to acknowledge that no matter what I say, things will remain the same, even though I know that puts kids at risk". From my perspective, that has been the response since the mid-1980s, when the criminal sexual abuse of minors by priests was forcefully brought to the attention of the US bishops, and it seems to remain the response to this very day, to the shame of my church and to the horror of anyone who cares for our kids.
John Shuster
11 years 6 months ago
You've had 8 years to get things right, but the extent of your cover-up continues to be exposed.  Philadelphia showed your lack of true intention.  An Australian bishop recently said that some priests do not consider sex with a minor a moral lapse.  The corruption is too deep and pervasive.  The purchased John Jay report can't save you. It's too late.  More truth is on the way as the next wave of survivors begins to emerge and speak out.  Tell your parishioners to triple their donations.  It's getting more and more expensive to bail you out.
Charles Murphy
11 years 6 months ago

We have verbiage unending about this issue.

Bishops act as if they gladly embraced this path, but they were cornered, treed and coerced because they were unable to recognize a problem that both spanned a clear moral evil and a standing criminal action. I think lingering problems are attitudinal: no bishop is willing to have anyone, except the pope, tell his what to do.

Why can't they see sexual abuse first as a crime?

If each substantiated incident was dealt with criminally, set hallowed Canons aside, there would not have been a pipeline to God's pile of gold, diocesan finances.

Safe environment training in dioceses seems akin to TSA screening at airports: everyone is equally capable of heinous acts. The problem always, as I see it: flawed priests let loose in parishes and smartest-guys-in-the-room bishops.



Stephen Murray
11 years 6 months ago
Since you are the ones who did all this shit, why are you still in ministry?
david power
11 years 6 months ago
The question that is never really tackled is how this went on for many many decades ,perhaps centuries without being confronted?.
Bishops and the Church hierarchy will speak of the crimes but not the cover-up which indicates the root of the problem.If we as a church move on without a true analysis of why the good name of the Church was more important that the children what good is it?To speak of progress in this way is contrary to the Gospel .
For Priests to take on their role as spiritual guides they may have to relinquish the trappings that come with the role. I know many priests who could write tomes on moral theology but more or less dry up when they have to speak about Jesus.
If to be a priest meant definite expulsion to a seminary in siberia for 10 years you would be sure that no lightweights would enter. 
The Church is desperate for priests so that they don't have to let in married men or women and so they will unconsciously turn a blind eye to anything a little off. If the seminaries are filled with fruitcakes they will still be pointing to a chart and hailing the intercession of some saint.
I wish bishop Cupich all the best in his work but feel that anybody could have written this article and most would have been a lot more candid.It reads like a SEC filing.
In the end I can only agree with him on the importance of prayer and hope that it is a prayer of quality and naturalness.

Gerald Fitzgerald Ora Pro Nobis!    
david power
11 years 6 months ago
I would love to know what Bishop Cupich thinks about the Church beatifying a person who steadfastly protected pedophiles over  children?
A man  who counted Maciel and Groer among his friends and blocked investigations into their conduct is now held up as a model to the Church.A man who gave Bernard Law St Mary Major's could possibly have been suffering from "charter fatigue".
Would the Bishop come out and condemn it as rank clericalism?
Would he bite the hand that fed him?

"distorted attitudes about the priesthood" would the bishop agree that the previous Pope was guilty of the above?

I know that he will never answer but know that he will read them.It is enough for me when I think of the children who were  
  thrown to the side in the rush to embrace the new messiah.
david power
11 years 6 months ago
An example of clericalism  is in the fact the a bishop would never respond to a layman over a blog.
In the time of Tertullian, when to be a catholic meant something radical. it would have been possible.
But today when it is all smoke and mirrors you can be sure that the good bishop would feel that he was swimming with the riffraff if he were to respond. 
Part of them does not want to be reduced to our level of reasoning and part does not want to take part in our reality.
I see the gentrified air every day in Rome and know that judgement day will find them in the queue with the barboni who ask me for a little money.   

A cleric speaking ill of clericalism is akin to a banker speaking ill of interest rates or a human being speaking speaking  ill of oxygen.     
Dorothy Stein
11 years 6 months ago
Bishop Cupich makes excellent points about the new John Jay Report, but like most commentators on this topic, he failed to make any distinction at all between priests who actually abused and priests who are merely accused.  Since 2002, typical accusations and monetary demands are alleged to have occurred three to five decades ago.  Seventy percent of the claims settled by Church officials in the US since 2002 fall into the category of unsubstantiated claims that are so old they could not be corroborated barring an admission of guilt from the accused.  Some accused priests maintain their innocence, but are exiled nonetheless in a process that presumes their guilt in favor of settling the claims of accusers. One falsely accused priest has exposed this process in a series of articles entitled, "When Priests are Falsely Accused," a Special Report at www.TheseStoneWalls.com.  The bishops would do well to consider this series along with the John Jay Report.  
11 years 5 months ago
"We bishops needed the help and assistance of others."  Building on Cardinal Newman's hope that all the baptized "breathe together" in union with the Holy Spirit, I hope the Church can examine new structures by which all the baptized can communicate freely, openly, and with love.

The bishop also recognizes that abuse is not just a Catholic problem and that cooperating with other religions and all of good will would be valuable.

One caution that I seldom see expressed is that we do not acknowledge that children are abused in many ways.  Children are hungry, homeless, poorly educated, exposed to an unhealthy environment, exposed to violence in video games, TV, movies, a real-life war system, an exclusive global economy, etc. etc.  All is connected.  Until we work together for a world peace with justice children will continue to be abused in many ways.

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