TIME OF CRISIS Bishop Barnes convened a group of diocesan clergy, religious and lay leaders in August 2018 to discuss potential responses to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. The Diocese was among the first few dozen in the country to publicly release a list of the names of all priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor during the 40 year history of the Diocese.
At the dawn of the 21st century the Diocese of San Bernardino faced challenges of growth, finances, social inequities and mounting secular influence.
But the issue that came to most occupy Bishop Gerald Barnes’ time and attention was the national clergy sexual abuse crisis that erupted in 2002 following revelations of widespread abuse and cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston. San Bernardino had a direct connection to the scandal in Paul Shanley, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, who had relocated to Palm Springs and committed abuse there.
“To come to that kind of awareness of how people had been hurt and victimized by the Church was extremely painful – and rightly so. It took a lot of energy and time on the part of many people to understand and address this,” Bishop Barnes recalled of the crisis during a 2017 interview.
A Diocesan Review Board of lay and clergy representatives had already been formed in the 1990s to review and provide recommendations to the Bishop on the credibility of abuse allegations that were reported. Shortly after the crisis began, Bishop Barnes assembled a team of advisors that would meet weekly to discuss needed responses to the scandal from the standpoint of public communication, diocesan policy, education and legal requirements.
Out of this group came a 10-Point Plan in response to the abuse crisis that dealt with disclosure of past abuse allegations, outreach to victims, background checks of all diocesan ministers and intensive training in how to ensure a safe environment in all diocesan settings. A Victim’s Assistance Coordinator position was created to provide pastoral care to victims as they came forward to the Diocese to report their abuse.
The local plan came as the Bishops of the United States were drafting and implementing the national Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Soon a permanent diocesan ministry of Charter Initiatives was created to make sure the diocese was following local and national policies to prevent abuse.
“Bishop Barnes realized that immediate, open and honest communications with the people of the Diocese and with the media was the best approach no matter how difficult it was,” recalled Deacon Mike Jelley, who was part of Bishop Barnes’ advisory group and later became the first director of the Office of Charter Initiatives. “In every meeting he never wavered in his determination to serve the needs of survivors, to immediately remove from ministry those for whom a credible accusation was received and to implement training and policies to keep children and young people safe.”
In 2003, Bishop Barnes made the difficult decision for the Diocese to take legal action against the Archdiocese of Boston over its failure to disclose Shanley’s history of sexual abuse of minors before he came to the Diocese. The Diocese had been named in a lawsuit by one of Shanley’s victims and sought to have its settlement costs covered by the Archdiocese of Boston.
Further elevating the importance of keeping the local Church’s commitment to preventing abuse, Bishop Barnes established the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection in 2008. The Office has since overseen the Diocese’s comprehensive fingerprinting process, Virtus Safe Environment training, “Restoring Me” Retreat program for victims of abuse and audits for compliance with the national charter.
In 2004, the Diocese of San Bernardino was ranked seventh out of 191 dioceses and archdioceses, nationally, in terms of implementing the Charter requirements.
“We’ve been in compliance with every audit since 2003,” says Elder Samaniego, current Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. “It reflects Bishop Barnes’ response to the crisis.
“It wasn’t a payoff, it was his care and personal interest in doing the right thing.”
In 2008, the Diocese entered into a global settlement agreement, along with the Diocese of San Diego and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, paying $18.2 million to 19 different victims of abuse.
As the Diocese continued to carry out its ministry of child and youth protection, the abuse scandal hit a second wave in 2018 with the release of a staggering Pennsylvania Grand Jury report of past clergy sexual abuse in the state, and the revelation of multiple allegations of past sexual abuse of minors and adults by high-ranking Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.
In August of that year Bishop Barnes convened a meeting of the priests and deacons of the diocese, the Council of Religious Sisters, members of the Diocesan Review Board, seminarians and lay directors of diocesan offices. They discussed potential local responses to the crisis. One was releasing publicly the names of all priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors in the history of the Diocese.
In October 2018 the Diocese became one of the first few dozen in the U.S. to publish its list of credibly accused priests.
“In this difficult time, I want to be open, honest and accountable to the Catholic faithful and all people of goodwill,” Bishop Barnes said in a video message announcing the release of the list. “I again offer my apologies and my deepest regrets to those who were victimized by the men on this list and to all the faithful of the Diocese who have been scandalized by this shameful chapter in our Church’s history.”
The following year Bishop Barnes led the Diocese to participate in the statewide Independent Compensation Program (ICP) for Victims of Sexual Abuse by Diocesan Priests. The program, which involved six dioceses in California, offered any victim/survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a diocesan priest the opportunity to seek a non-adversarial resolution, regardless of when the abuse had occurred. Third-party mediators administered the ICP, which was meant to give victims an alternative to litigation. When the ICP program closed in August 2021, the Diocese had paid 15 claims totaling $2.2 million.
The painful abuse scandal remains present in the life of the local Church but so, too, the vigilance of the Diocese to protect children and prevent future abuses. “It is an article of our faith that out of great pain and trial can eventually come God’s blessings. Que no hay mal que por bien no venga,” Bishop Barnes said in 2018 when he bestowed his Amar Es Entregarse Award on the Office of Child and Youth Protection. “This is the story of our Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection.”