By Bishop Gerald Barnes
In these summer months we have been faced with several reports in the national and international news of misconduct by Church leaders in the area of sexual abuse.
The revelations of misconduct and negligence in protecting both youth and adults from harm point to serious moral failures in the institutional Church.
I want to express my deepest sorrow and my apologies to the victims of these reported abuses and harassments. While we have come a long way in our understanding and response to the issue of sexual abuse, this shows us that there is more work to be done in the cleansing and healing of our Mother Church.
I want to state in the clearest terms that the sexual abuse and/or harassment of a man, woman or child is unacceptable in every case and violates completely our belief in the dignity of every human person. Our Church teaches that we are to have a respect for the other on the level of “another self” (CCC, no 1964). When we sexually assault or harass another person, we diminish their dignity and worth to the point that they are simply an object, there to fulfill our desires at that moment.
For many of us, these reports have the effect of opening a wound that was not entirely healed to begin with. What is the response of the faithful? Some become embittered toward their faith, others greet the news with indifference, and still others may simply refuse to believe the truth of the reports. While understandable, these are not the responses to which God calls us. Instead, a more difficult road lies before us; one of humility, healing and hope.
These scandals remind us of the capacity of human beings to sin, even those in positions of high esteem and trust. Part of our response then is to humble ourselves before God and admit that we can do nothing without His grace and His mercy. Our Lord came to call sinners, so we must follow his lead and redouble our commitment to be agents of healing and reconciliation to those who have been abused, and also to those who have committed abuse. Along with this, we continue to foster an atmosphere of transparency and openness in our communities of faith about the issue of abuse, as it relates to both children and adults.
If you have experienced the trauma of sexual abuse or harassment I urge you to come forward and report it to the proper authorities. Depending on the nature and setting of the offense, this could mean notifying police, your employer, your pastor or a trusted member of your family.
Finally, let us not forget that we are a people of hope. The light of our hope in Christ, though perhaps dimmed for the moment by these trials, will always guide our way forward. In His Death and Resurrection, the Lord Jesus has already claimed victory for us. He asks only that be the face of His love and mercy as we minister to each other in the building of the Kingdom.
We cannot do this unless will keep hope alive in our hearts.