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CURRENT ISSUE:  March 21, 2005VOL. 43, NO. 6Oakland, CA

Pastoral letter
Status, procedures in clergy abuse

In my letter in The Voice to you, the members of the Church in the Oakland Diocese, just after the New Year, I shared the news that in the weeks ahead we would be dealing with the very difficult matter of trying to resolve the civil law suits that have arisen as a result of acts of clergy sexual abuse of children and young people.

Through the print and electronic media, all of you are very much aware that in these days the diocese is deeply involved in these efforts. There are intense conferences to reach settlements and in one case a trial is, in fact, underway.

Since these developments are so much in our thoughts, I want to share with you some points that I, as the chief pastor and spiritual father of our local Church, feel are important to keep in mind as events unfold.

Let me begin with the most practical side of things. I want to assure you that I am working, to the best of my ability, to see that we resolve these lawsuits in a way that is fair to the victim survivors and is in accord with the principles of good stewardship over the resources of the Church in Oakland.

There is no textbook formula for calculating this. Getting it right requires the common sense insights of lots of very wise people, arrived at after careful review of the facts and full deliberation about what they mean. That is why we have an extensive network of advisors who review developments on a daily basis in order to give me the guidance I need to make the decisions that are my responsibility.

In addition to the fine service the diocese is receiving from our legal counsel and our financial officers, there is the sage advice offered by the members of the Diocesan Finance Council and the College of Priest-Consulters. I am blessed to have at my disposal the remarkable talents of the members of these consultative bodies to see that whatever is decided will advance the common good: the good of the diocese and the good of the victim survivors.

In the midst of the immediate concerns about this litigation, I want to remind all of us that assuring the safety of children and young people in the Church is the most important goal. We can never, ever, let the preoccupations of working out settlements distract us from giving constant and focused attention to protecting minors from abuse. That’s the covenant made in the “Dallas Charter” of 2002 and that’s the commitment we will stand by.

Important elements in that commitment include: having programs in place to ensure that the environments within which young people participate in the life of the Church are safe, and a due process that works speedily and impartially to handle accusations of sexual abuse.

I am fully committed to supporting the good work we have already accomplished in these areas and in the other parts of implementing the “Dallas Charter.” I am especially grateful for the help in this that I have received from the Diocesan Review Board, a group of wise people in whom I place my full confidence.

In regard to a particular matter related to the handling of accusations, I want to give renewed assurance that anyone who brings forward an accusation of clergy sexual abuse will be treated with respect, and her or his story given a fair and unbiased hearing. The veracity of their charge will not be discounted simply because it involves a priest, no matter how well-known or well-liked.

In saying this, I am confirming the pledge that Bishop John Cummins made so forcefully in the Apology Service of March 25, 2000: “We will never again treat those who report abuse negatively. We will not take refuge in denial. We will take all accusations seriously, but in preeminent place the good of the person abused, and deal promptly and
appropriately with those who are abusers. We pledge ourselves to follow those processes and policies that are in place in order that the shameful treatment of victims of clergy abuse have received in the past may never be repeated.”

Not only does the justice we owe accusers require that we give a fair and unbiased hearing to these accusations, it is vitally important for the safety of children that we never simply dismiss an accusation out of hand. That sort of reaction is one of the factors abusers can rely upon in order to keep their secrets hidden and place children in danger.

Bishop Cummins’ remarks allude to past failures in the treatment of accusers. I take this occasion to apologize, once more, for all the times when, as he said, “Those who report[ed] abuse [were treated] negatively” – whether that happened decades ago or recently. This apology carries with it a promise to treat with respect those who bring forward an accusation. They deserve it and children will be the safer for iit.

Finally, I want to invite us to consider this time of difficulty within the context of the place we have come to in the liturgical year: We are in the solemn days of commemorating the life-giving suffering and death of Jesus Christ. He set his face firmly on the road to Golgotha in the conviction that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (Jn 12:24).

It is the loving decrees of God’s Providence that guide the affairs of the Church and of our world. In his inscrutable plan we are asked to bear this trial, all the difficulties that are the aftermath of the acts of sexual abuse perpetrated by some of our priests.

If we unite our sufferings and pain to those of Christ crucified, he will bring good fruit out of our oblation. From the dying we endure with trust in God’s protection, we will be led to new and more abundant life. Our sacrifices, as St. Paul says, “complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

Like you, I do not find it easy to shoulder my share of this cross. Let us pray for one another that we will move forward to Easter in the confidence that comes from a sure conviction in the power of Christ’s resurrection.

Bishop Vigneron apologizes at a service for the abused. An upcoming service will be held April 18, at 7:30 p.m. at Corpus Christi Church, Fremont.




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