Dear Friends in Christ:
When scandal hits in our Church, it hurts everyone. All of us have been deeply affected by the events that have surfaced in our Church over the past several months leading to the United States Catholic Bishop’s meeting in Dallas in June and their formulation of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
It is indeed regrettable that the Church in the United States is experiencing this enormous crisis, “a crisis without precedent in our times.”
The bishops have acknowledged openly and honestly the enormous pain, anger, and confusion caused by the sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which the bishops have addressed these crimes and sins. We bishops in this document “acknowledge our mistake and our role in that suffering; … we apologize and take responsibility for too often failing victims and our people in the past,” and we also “take responsibility for dealing with this problem strongly, consistently, and effectively in the future.”
This charter spells out clearly steps that will be taken in the future and draws the conclusion, after what was a lengthy debate among the bishops in Dallas, that “for even a single act of sexual abuse … of a minor — past, present or future — the offending priest or deacon will be permanently removed from ministry.”
All dioceses in the nation are undertaking “safe environment” programs to educate parents, employees, and others on sex abuse prevention and detection. Such is already underway in the Diocese of Charleston, and I am asking that all employees of the diocese attend one of these sessions held in various parts of the diocese.
The bishops of the Atlanta Province met July 9 and 10 to discuss ways of implementing this charter in our respective dioceses. While we acknowledged that the charter does not answer all questions and concerns, we were unanimously committed to supporting all the charter’s provisions and bringing our own diocesan sexual abuse policies in line with the Dallas charter and any provisions that may be given in directives from the Vatican.
I also met with the priests of the diocese on July 15 to listen to their concerns and ask for their help and close collaboration in addressing this major crisis among us.
The bishops of this country are, like all of the Catholic faithful, deeply grieved, sorely wounded, and terribly saddened by what has transpired in our midst and ask pardon for any harm done by our own failures.
At the same time we share our Holy Father’s perspective that “this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force” (Pope John Paul II, April 23, 2002). It is up to us to ensure, as our Holy Father states, that “where sin increased, grace will all the more abound (cf. Romans 5:20). So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, a holier Church.”
Please look for the time and setting for diocesan and parish days of healing and reconciliation that will be announced in the near future, so that we in the Diocese of Charleston can join our fellow Catholics throughout the United States in asking God’s forgiveness for past sins and healing for us in our future faithful service of the Lord and His people.
I wish you God’s continued blessings on your lives and ask your frequent prayers for me and all the priests, religious, and laity of our diocese.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert J. Baker
Bishop of Charleston