My Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
I am told that the Thanksgiving weekend is a ‘blockbuster’ weekend for new movies. One release, planned for that weekend, is the movie, Spotlight. According to its description, it will portray “the story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core.” This scandal was revealed in 2002; almost thirteen years ago.
A movie on this topic may create an hysteria among the faithful about the transparency of the Church and conversation may evolve into discussions about the sinfulness of its leaders, their betrayal of God, and the need for reform. It will recall our own pain as we learned of these breaches of trust within our Church.
It will most certainly leave bare, once again, the wounds of those men and women who have been so gravely affected by their experience of abuse by a priest or religious woman. Indeed, the abuse of a child stands in complete contradiction to everything our Savior teaches us and everything His Church is called to be. My heart truly mourns the losses of these men and women. I ask their forgiveness of us, individually and communally, that our Church could not protect them from harm. I pray for them, that the mercy of the Father will bring them comfort and that their wounds will no longer fester but become like new skin.
We are called to give an enduring, professed witness to the reality of God, the presence and redemptive work of Christ, and the dignity and worth of man. I write to tell you how we are responding to this call as we honor our children and vulnerable adults by offering a safe environment for them in the Diocese of Orlando. We began our efforts more than twenty years ago. This is not to laud our successes; but to let you know that creating a safe haven within the Church is very important to my predecessors and me. I, along with our clergy, religious, lay leadership and volunteers, are vigilant in bringing this forth.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and the strength of our own policy in this Diocese, are a first step in keeping our Church a safe haven. But assurances in words also require action. It is everyone’s responsibility to safeguard those around us. I am counting on each one of you, as I know you are counting on me and other Church leaders, to work together toward this end.
Each year, the Diocese of Orlando participates in the Office of Child Protection Independence Compliance Audit to affirm that we are truly acting upon the Charter for the Protection of Youth and Young Adults and safeguarding vulnerable populations. Since we began participating in this Audit, the Diocese of Orlando has passed and we have again passed the Audit for 2014-15.
Our Diocesan Review Board was established in 1995. It is comprised of a law enforcement representative, a mental health counselor with experience in child sexual abuse, a parent of a victim, a priest, a religious sister and other professionals. The Diocesan Review Board is consulted when an allegation of child sexual abuse by a member of the clergy, religious, employee or volunteer is made known to us. In addition, the Diocesan Review Board considers the safe environment policy and processes of the Diocese and makes recommendations to strengthen them.
Many of you have participated in the Diocesan Safe Environment Program which requires safe environment training and criminal background checks of clergy, religious, employees, and volunteers who participate with vulnerable populations or who serve in fiscal roles within the Church before they can work, volunteer or minister in the Diocese. This on-going program began in 1997 and includes a five year re-check cycle.
The Diocesan Policy of Safe Environment complies with Florida law. As we ask our employees, priests, religious, and lay leaders, we also ask you to be watchful and to abide by the reporting laws of our state, should you experience or witness a situation of abuse.
We offer abuse prevention programs and brochures to our children and vulnerable adults. We have a special section on our Diocesan website with information regarding our policy, code of conduct, and other material. We initiated Learning About Life for our students and parents in Faith Formation so that they might learn first-hand about protection and reporting.
Pope Francis said, “The thing that the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and warm hearts . . . heal the wounds, heal the wounds . . . and you have to start from the ground up!” A victim assistance coordinator meets with victims of abuse cases to help them in their healing. They are always offered spiritual nourishment through counseling and the Sacraments. We encourage their reporting and assist them in this process.
As you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and then, as we begin our new liturgical year with the First Sunday of Advent on November 29, please join me in prayer for victims of abuse, for our priests and religious, the vast majority serving the Lord with fidelity and integrity, and for each other that we may belong to the truth and listen to His voice.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend John Noonan
Bishop of Orlando