By Bishop Alberto Rojas
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our local Church continues to confront the issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors. We have done much over the past two decades to address this terrible sin, putting strong structures and policies in place to prevent it. We continue to acknowledge our past failures to protect children and we work toward healing and reconciliation of victims of abuse in our Diocese.
Yet, we also must deal with the pain of new revelations in the news detailing allegations of abuse and misconduct by trusted leaders in the Church. This is a reminder that we are still facing this evil and, thus, the need for us to be vigilant in our efforts to protect children and to continue to educate all ministers of our Church about this issue. The work of protecting our children belongs to the entire Body of Christ!
This year I have begun my Episcopacy as the Third Bishop of San Bernardino. Let me be very clear with you that I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the sexual abuse and/or harassment of a man, woman or child in every case. It goes against everything that God intended when he created every human person with an inherent dignity. As children of God, we are called to treat our all our brothers and sisters with the same love and respect with which we would be treated. (CCC, no. 1964). To sexually assault or harass another person is to diminish their human dignity and worth.
When I arrived in the Diocese of San Bernardino, I was so heartened to see all that is being done in this local Church to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse of minors. We have established an entire ministry, the Office of Child and Youth Protection, to oversee education and enforcement of our Safe Environment policies, and we have a Victims’ Assistance Coordinator who provides pastoral and emotional support to victims of abuse in the name of the Church. Because of these things, and the ongoing commitment of our clergy and lay ministers, our parishes and Catholic schools are some of the safest places for children and youth that you will find.
We’ve also taken some very important steps in recent years to acknowledge publicly past incidents of abuse in our Diocese and work toward reconciliation with victims of abuse. In 2018, the Diocese published a list of all priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor over our 40-year history. We continue to update that list on the diocesan website when we become aware of any new credible allegations. In 2019, we were one of six dioceses in California to participate in the Independent Compensation Program (ICP) for Victim-Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests, an independent, voluntary program that has allowed victims to receive financial compensation as a reparation for the abuse they experienced.
I extend my blessings and my deep appreciation to all who have shared in the work of our commitment to protect children. We are becoming light in a place that once covered us in darkness.
Part of our responsibility in this ministry is to create an atmosphere of encouragement for those who have been abused to come forward and report it. As the leader of this local Church, I want to strongly encourage anyone who has experienced the trauma of sexual abuse or harassment to please report it to the proper authorities. Child abuse or harassment must be immediately reported. Child abuse must be reported to police or county child protective services. Harassment must be reported to your employer or pastor – depending on the nature and setting. You may visit the Office of Child and Youth Protection website at www.docyp.org to get more detailed information on how to report abuse.
I know that this remains a painful issue for many, bringing feelings of shame, anger and denial. Please know that as your Bishop, I continue to hold you in prayer and our Church walks with you in your pain and doubt. We have been humbled by this experience and we will use this humility to guide us on the path of reconciliation that God lays before us. We are imperfect but we carry forth in hope. We allow God to renew in us the holiness that we seek but cannot find on our own.
Let us all continue to pray for the healing of all victims of abuse and let us support each other in our steadfast commitment to protect our precious young ones from harm through the Ministry of Child and Youth Protection.