Posts Tagged ‘Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’

Justice for Cardinal Egan

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

There has been some controversy regarding comments attributed to Cardinal Egan in an interview published in a Connecticut magazine.  These comments have been interpreted by some in the worst possible light, and His Eminence has come in for some rough criticism.

In fairness to His Eminence, perhaps people should first take a look at the statement he released about this matter, explaining things in his own words, and not through the filter of a reporter.

I also have to add something more as a matter of justice, so that people understand the full story.

I worked closely and personally with the Cardinal for over five years on the child protection programs of the Archdiocese of New York. You could not have had a more supportive, committed bishop. He was absolutely dedicated to the full and vigorous implementation of the Bishops’ Charter, and to the protection of children. I was not directly involved in clergy cases, but from what I saw, his handling of them in the Archdiocese was exemplary. I know from first-hand experience that his handling of cases with non-clergy offenders was absolutely appropriate.

In fact, just about the only complaints that I heard during that time about the Cardinal was that he was too rigorous — an assessment with which I utterly disagree. He was a real leader in our Archdiocese in the protection of children — we couldn’t have asked for a bishop to handle it better than he did.

Without a doubt, this issue brings up strong feelings. But in public comments on the actions and character of a Bishop of our Church, may I suggest that people take a look at Catechism 2478 and think about it before commenting? That section says:

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: ‘Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.’ [quoting St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises]

Cardinal Egan was instrumental in implementing a very successful safe environment program here in the Archdiocese.  He is rightly proud of that, and he certainly has nothing to apologize for what he did as our bishop for the protection of our children.

Deeper Causes and Responses

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Previously, I posted about the new John Jay College report on the causes and context of the Church’s clerical sex abuse crisis.  I noted some of the important and valuable lessons from the report, which we here in the Archdiocese have already been acting upon.  On the whole, I believe that this report is a positive step forward for child protection in the Church and beyond.

However, I have to confess that I’m a bit dissatisfied about what this report — and, in fact, virtually every other report I’ve seen on the crisis — has failed to talk about.  These kinds of studies are conducted by social scientists, and they naturally tend to look at the problem of child sexual abuse as if it’s a pragmatic issue that can be solved by practical measures like more education, safe environment programs, talk about boundaries, etc.  All of those things are crucial, and go a long way to preventing further abuses.

The report seems to be based on an assumption that prevention is the best deterrent to crime.  That’s certainly true, up to a point, but in the final analysis it isn’t sufficient in this situation.  Prevention efforts and proper responses are necessary — largely because they were inadequate in the past, and that contributed to the problem (and in many cases caused further harm to victims).

But we’re missing a crucial point if we fail to understand that the fundamental challenge is spiritual — a struggle against the inclination to sin that rests in the human heart.  In the final analysis, it’s not prevention, but conversion that is the best deterrent to sin — the way to avoid sin is to turn to God to be liberated from the sin in our hearts.

A point of decision is reached in every single case of sexual abuse — a moment at which the abuser chooses to sin, and thereby to do grievous harm to another in order to satisfy their own disordered desires.  We as a Church have a special expertise and an obligation to talk about that decision and what led up to it in spiritual terms — speaking openly of sin, virtue, and spiritual battle, and not just using secular psychological/social science concepts and language.

Back in 2004, the National Review Board, established by the Bishops to oversee the implementation of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued a report on the crisis.  In a very insightful part of that report, the Panel stated that “the over-riding paradigm that characterizes the crisis is one of sinfulness”.  They went on to say,

The only way to combat sinfulness is with holiness. This is not a public relations battle for the approval of the press or the loyalty of the laity. It is, fundamentally, the age-old issue of good and evil. The Church must be holy; her ministers must be holy; her people must be holy. The foundation of holiness is a strong spiritual life, a life of prayer and simplicity. Priests who were truly holy would not have abused young people; nor would they have allowed others to do so.

No prevention strategy can succeed unless we stress this point.  Our seminary formation program, and all our education programs for laity, must be dedicated to helping people develop the essential virtues — chastity, temperance, fortitude, and prudence.  We must devote our energies tirelessly to fostering holiness.  Ultimately, only in the union of virtue and vigilance can we expect to provide a truly safe environment for the children entrusted to our care.

That is what we are irrevocably committed to.

Causes, Context and Prevention

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

One of the most valuable responses to the sex abuse crisis that embroiled the Church in the United States has been a series of scholarly studies, conducted by John Jay College  of the City University of New York.  The most recent report, issued today, contains conclusions about the “Causes and Context” of sex abuse by clergy.  As a person who is in the work of preventing that crisis from ever recurring, I took a keen interest in what this report had to say.

There are many important insights here, which have already shaped the prevention efforts here in the Archdiocese and elsewhere.  The conclusions are valuable because they apply not just to incidents involving clergy (which, of course, are a tiny minority of cases of sexual abuse), but can help us to prevent any such incidents from happening in the future.

The following are some of the conclusions about the abusers.  The report’s conclusions are in plain text, my comments are in parentheses and in italics.

  • Individual characteristics do not predict that a priest will commit sexual abuse of a minor. No single psychological, developmental, or behavioral characteristic differentiated priests who abused minors from those who did not.  (In essence, “profiling” does not work — you can’t find the single magic characteristic that will identify a potential abuser, and screen your staff to eliminate those people.)
  • Some factors, however, increase the risk that a person will become an abuser.  (We’re not at a loss here.  There are some factors that we can look for in potential abusers, in order to stop them before they have a chance to offend.)
  • In particular, men who were sexually abused themselves when they were minors were significantly more likely to commit acts of abuse than those who were not abused.  (This highlights one of the most insidious effects of child sexual abuse, which I have seen in those victims and survivors I have dealt with — child sexual abuse gravely damages people, and it leaves a legacy that in many ways is life-long and difficult to cure.  Of course, we also have to remember that history is not destiny — just because someone has been abused doesn’t mean that they will become an abuser.)
  • Other vulnerabilities, in combination with situational stresses and opportunities, raise the risk of abuse: isolation, loneliness, insecurity, poor social skills, lack of identity, confusion over sexual identity, psychological immaturity, poor relationships with their parents when they were youths, and alcohol abuse.  (It’s important to note that ad hoc factors — stresses and opportunities — are a significant factor.  That is very useful in identifying effective prevention strategies.)
  • Other conclusions relate to the situations in which abuse occurred, and give insight into how to prevent it:

  • Child sexual abuse is often a crime of opportunity, and the abusers typically took advantage of situational opportunities to groom their victims over a long period of time so that they could build trust and create opportunities for abuse to take place.  (Limiting a potential abuser’s opportunities to groom a child is a critical prevention step — that’s the main purpose of codes of conduct, policies, etc.)
  • The best way to protect children from abuse is to create safe environments where appropriate boundaries between and adults and children are maintained, particularly by preventing situations and locations where children and adults are alone together.  (It is impossible to over-stress the importance of maintaining proper boundaries, not just physical boundaries, but relationship boundaries — the signals and expectations that define the nature of a healthy and proper relationship.)
  • Seminary formation, particularly in areas of human formation and how to live a life of celibate chastity, are essential to prevention. (This is absolutely crucial, and not just for clergy, but for everyone who works with children.  Virtue must go hand and hand with vigilance.)
  • Prevention policies should focus on three factors: education, situational prevention models, and oversight and accountability. (The most effective safe environment and prevention programs have redundancy and overlap — multiple levels of child protection that serve to back each other up, so that if one fails another will compensate.)
  • Many of these lessons, and the best way to respond to them, are already being implemented here in the Archdiocese and in other dioceses around the nation.  The testament to that, I believe, is the extraordinarily low number of recent incidents of abuse in Church programs.  For more information about our child protection efforts, check out our website.

    I have some additional thoughts about the report, but I’ll save them for a second blog post to give them the emphasis they merit.

    New Norms, Renewed Commitment

    Thursday, July 15th, 2010

    Today, the Holy See issued revised rules, approved by Pope Benedict himself, that will govern how the most serious offenses under the Canon Law will be handled.  Since the most prominent of these crimes is the sexual exploitation of children, I fully expect that the secular press will fail to understand these norms and present a distorted or incomplete view of them, permit me to propose a few observations.

    This new legislation reflects a great deal of knowledge that has been learned from hard experience during the “Long Lent” of the past decade, and specifically our American experience under the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

    One such lesson is that the process of dealing with sexual abuse cases needed to be standardized across the Church.  The Canon Law already contained rules that, if used prudently, would have been sufficient in many cases in addressing these offenses.  But in many cases these rules were either not being used at all, or were being applied inconsistently from diocese to diocese.  These new norms do what good law should do — make the rules and procedures clear, and make it easier to come to a fair and final determination of guilt or innocence.

    Another positive factor is the broadening of the kinds of sexual exploitation that will be treated as grave crimes.  The new norms include possession of child pornography and the exploitation of developmentally disabled adults among the most grave offenses that will be disciplined.  These crimes were not clearly included in the definition before, so it will be helpful to investigators and judges in the future to have this clarification.

    It will also be helpful that the process has been streamlined, including easing the process of laicization, the relaxation of rules that permitted only priests to serve as canonical judges, and the ability to resolve clear cases without a trial.  While it always has been true that diocesan bishops had the authority to remove offenders from active ministry at any time, the complex and cumbersome canonical process has at times impeded efforts to bring some cases to a definitive conclusion.

    What does all this mean in the big picture?  I think it shows that the Catholic Church, to the highest level, has renewed her commitment to protecting children and vulnerable adults from the wicked sin of sexual exploitation.  For those of us who work for the Church, it is yet another reminder that one of our most solemn obligations, during this time in which the the Bride of Christ has been entrusted to our care, is to ensure that we preserve Her “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27).

    Sunlight is the Best Disinfecant

    Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

    The Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, writing about the need for transparency in government as a way of ensuring responsibility and accountability, famously said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant”.  Our Church has painfully learned this lesson in dealing with the problem of child sexual abuse.

    The recent news articles over the past few weeks about particular cases, both here and in Europe, have fostered wide confusion about how the Church handles sex abuse cases, and about the causes of the crisis.  I’d like to offer a few reflections to shed a little sunlight on each of these topics.

    The Church, like any organization, operates according to certain rules and regulations.  These can be found in the Code of Canon Law, various papal and curial documents, and in the ordinary course of doing business in chanceries and departments of the Holy See.   The failure of Church officials to govern and discipline according to the Canon Law was one of the major problems in dealing with sex abuse cases in the years before 2002.  In those days, overlapping jurisdiction, painfully slow deliberations, communication difficulties between Rome and other nations, inconsistencies between dioceses, failure of some high-ranking officials to grasp the big picture, irresponsibility and buck-passing all created significant problems and left children at risk.  These problems exploded in 2002, and damage has not yet been healed.

    The Church has learned many hard lessons from this experience.  But dwelling on the failures of the past do not really help us much in moving into the future, nor does it help heal the wounds caused by evil acts and negligent leadership.

    Since the American scandal broke in 2002, things have changed significantly.  The process for removing offenders from active ministry and for resolving their cases has been regularized and streamlined, due to the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict.  The Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the new canonical rules that go along with it, are a model for Church governance and for child protection.  Victims are not treated as threats and adversaries, but we are doing much more to reach out to them and help them heal.  And herculean efforts are being made to prevent sexual abuse in our institutions.

    For those who are interested in knowing how cases are now actually handled (and who rightly do not trust the American press to describe it accurately), the Vatican has posted a short primer on their website, along with information about the response of the Church around the world.  For more information about how the Church in America has responded to the crisis, and has instituted significant reforms, you should visit the website of the U.S. Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.

    Another major source of heat and smoke, but very little light, has been the question of the cause of child sexual abuse in the Church, particularly by clergy.

    Some people have ignorantly blamed celibacy, as if living a single life necessarily disposes a person to child abuse.  Others have cited “homosexuality” as the primary cause, reasonably noting that about 80% of the victims of sexual abuse by clergy were teenaged boys.

    In this inflammatory situation, we need to be very careful with our terminology. In my opinion, the problem is not “homosexuality”, as that term is ordinarily understood.

    The Catechism defines “homosexuality” as “relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.” (2357)  Note the emphasis on “relations” — that is, on conduct, and not on the disordered sexual attraction alone. In the popular understanding of the word “homosexuality”, it also means that the person has accepted these feelings and actions as “normal” for them, and has organized their affectional and sexual life around them.

    The real problem in the sex abuse crisis is not “homosexuality”, understood in that way.  The root of it is in the disordered sexual feelings — particularly feelings of same-sex attraction — that are experienced by men who are not well-formed in their psychological and sexual development.  On top of this is the inability or unwillingness of some men to conform their conduct to the virtue of chastity.

    Merely saying “it’s a homosexual problem” finds a handy scape-goat, but doesn’t get at the real problem or the real solution — helping men who are preparing for the priesthood and who are already ordained to achieve a normal sexual and psychological development, helping them to reject any sexual feelings towards young people — again, particularly same-sex attraction — for the distortions and lies that they are, and training them spiritually to live lives of chastity and continence.

    If anyone is interested in further information about homosexuality, and how it can be addressed by the Church and by mental health professionals, the best document is “Homosexuality and Hope” by the Catholic Medical Association.  The U.S. Bishops’ statement on Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination is also an excellent resource.

    In the end, sunlight — the truth — is the indispensable tool if the Church, and society as a whole, is ever going to understand the causes of child sexual abuse, heal the victims, and prevent further problems.

    What We’ve Learned

    Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

    In addition to the work I do with the Respect Life Office, I am also the Director of the Safe Environment Program here at the Archdiocese.  That means that I’m responsible for overseeing the implementation of some of the key provisions of the Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, particularly the sections that are aimed at preventing child sexual abuse in our institutions, and in responding appropriately to any incidents that do occur.

    It’s a terrible task, because you have to talk to people about the unspeakable, and you have to prepare for the worst.  And, you have to face the fact that no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, or how diligently we work, no system of child protection is 100% effective.

    But it has taught me some things that I think are relevant to the current media frenzy about child sexual abuse in the Church.  Much ink has been spilled, and many electronic pixels have been created, in the last few weeks about this dreadful issue.  Much heat, but really very, very little light.

    Let me offer a few ideas about what we have learned in the actual work of dealing with, and preventing, child sexual abuse:

    • The media is incompetent and biased against the Church.  Well, we knew that already, but this latest flare-up reminded us of how poorly journalists understand (or care to) the way the Church is structured and how it works in reality.  It’s funny that political reporters love to write “inside baseball” stories about how campaigns and legislatures work, but never seem interested in learning how the Church actually operates.  Of course, the media is not the ultimate problem, and we have to get over that.
    • The vast majority of our priests and bishops are good, holy men.  Well, we knew that already, too, but it can’t be emphasized enough.  The “bad apples” amounted to a tiny percentage of our clergy.  It is grossly unjust and iniquitous that all priests and bishops have been lumped into the same category as the offenders.  We need to be very careful about how we speak about our clergy, especially to make sure that they know how much we love and respect them.  We also need to be sure to understand that our priests are an essential part of the solution to this issue — their leadership and example is indispensable.
    • The problem is not limited to the Church.  Yes, the vast majority of sexual abuse takes place not in Church institutions, but in other places — particularly in schools and in homes.  But, in the end, that doesn’t matter.  We can’t get hung up on pointing fingers at others.  We have to look in the mirror at ourselves, and make sure that we’re doing whatever we can to make our institutions safe.
    • The problem is not celibacy.  Just to clarify our terms, in the Roman Catholic Church, priests undertake two obligations — celibacy and continence.  Celibacy means that they will remain unmarried, continence means that they will not engage in any kind of sexual activity.  To suggest that marriage is a cure-all for sexual abuse, or that being single and continent is a cause of sexual abuse, is absurd.
    • The victims are not the enemy.  One of the worst things that the Church — and law enforcement officials — did in the past was to treat the victims of sexual abuse in an adversarial way.  Too often, they were ignored, disbelieved, and treated as potential litigants to be kept at arms’ length.  You will recall the disgusting comment by former-Archbishop Weakland that “Not all adolescent victims are so innocent.  Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise.”  If we’ve learned anything, it’s that victims are to be healed, not blamed.
    • The problem is not  “homosexuality” or “gay” priests.  These terms are thrown around very loosely, and we have to be careful about what we’re saying.  As used in ordinary speech, the term “homosexuality” refers to a settled affectional and sexual preference for members of the same sex, which one accepts as an organizing principle of one’s life.  The word “gay”, which is primarily a political term that means not just accepting “homosexuality” but celebrating it as the equal of heterosexuality, is not helpful to the discussion.  It is unfair and unjust to allege or imply that child sexual abuse can be blamed exclusively or primarily on homosexual persons.
    • Nevertheless, we would be deluding ourselves if we didn’t admit that same-sex attraction has been a factor here.  All we have to do is look at the profile of victims of priestly sexual abuse (about 80% have been adolescent males), and we see that reality.  This is not true of sexual abuse in society as a whole, but we can’t address the problem in our Church unless we acknowledge it.
    • The sexual abuse of children is primarily the result of disordered psycho-sexual development.  If there’s one thing that everyone should agree upon, it’s that a normal adult should not be sexually attracted to children or adolescents, and that such feelings are a symptom of a problem in the person’s psycho-sexual development.  Good sexual development has to be an essential part of the formation of priests.  But we lay people have to recognize that we bear a considerable burden here too.  We cannot expect our priests to have good sexual development if we aren’t doing our share to create a culture of virtue in our Church.
    • The problem can’t be dealt with by therapy alone.  In many, many cases, our bishops, acting in good faith, trusted the word of therapists who assured them that offending priests could be returned to ministry because they were in treatment, or had completed a course of therapy.  This proved to be a disastrous mistake.  Therapy can certainly help those with problems in their psycho-sexual development.  But some people just cannot be allowed to be around young people, and strong steps have to be taken to ensure that they are not.
    • A key answer to the problem involves life-long training in sexual virtue — in chastity.  All persons — married, single, clergy — are called to live a life of  chastity (see the Catechism, no. 2348).  This means that we must integrate our feelings into a healthy adult sexuality, and live according to our state in life.   We all experience difficulties in this, as the result of original sin, the temptations of the Evil One, and the sex-saturated culture that we swim in.  We are sinners, and we sin.  But chastity is possible, even if it is difficult, with the help of God.  Everybody, including those with seriously disordered sexual feelings, and those who experience same-sex attraction, can still live chaste lives.  Good spiritual development, and the formation of healthy chaste relationships, are essential in this task.  This is where the Theology of the Body can be a powerful tool — it is a wonderful way to foster sexual virtue, no matter what one’s state in life.

    Much of what we’ve learned from the problem of child sexual abuse in the Church comes down to two words — virtue and vigilance.  We have to be vigilant in screening all those who deal with children, training them as to the proper ways to behave with minors and in how to recognize potential dangers, supervising them, and responding properly to any incident.

    But we must also foster a culture of virtue — especially chastity and prudence.  That’s the most important lesson we’ve learned.