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ORANGE COUNTY COMMENTARY

Atonement for the Violence

June 09, 2002|TOD BROWN | Bishop Tod Brown is head of the Diocese of Orange.

Bishops from throughout the United States will meet in Dallas on Thursday through Saturday to officially come to grips with one of the most tragic and daunting crises ever to occur in the Roman Catholic Church in America. It will be our job to formulate a comprehensive policy for dealing with priests who are guilty of sexual misconduct with minors.

As we prepare to convene, we are filled with great individual sadness and collective contrition for the violence done to so many young lives and the innocence lost as a result of the actions of men under our supervision. We are determined to do all we can in our capacity as shepherds to make sure the church is, always and everywhere, a safe place.

I believe the draft charter on sexual misconduct that was released last week is a good first step toward establishing a strong national policy. I am hoping that in our discussions, the policy will be strengthened.

I would like the national policy to be similar to the policy we have adopted in Orange County, and I hope to see a strict auditing component to ensure compliance and consequences for noncompliance.

Nevertheless, I am confident that the bishops of the United States will come away from their meeting with an official policy that is just, fair, workable and unambiguous. We owe America's Catholics--indeed, all Americans--nothing less.

Beyond that, I want to assure the people of the Diocese of Orange, and all citizens of Orange County, that the strict policy the diocese currently has in place for dealing with cases of sexual misconduct with minors will remain in force--no matter what provisions are offered at the Dallas meeting.

The policy of the diocese is this: no priest, or any employee of the diocese, who is guilty of sexual misconduct with minors will be allowed to remain in active ministry or church employment.

This policy already has resulted in the removal of some priests in this diocese.

This same policy has been adopted by many dioceses in the United States and has come to be known as zero tolerance. However, it represents much more than a punitive measure. It is the first step in what can be true healing for our distraught and angry people, and a true rebirth for the Catholic church in America. But much more must be done. We must listen and acknowledge.

The church is not only cardinals, bishops and priests, but the entire people of God. And many of these people have been violated, either through direct action or through the resulting blow to their trust. Their pain has to be taken on as our pain, their outrage our outrage.

We must be willing to hear, and act on, the hard, unflinching, uncomfortable truth. Above all, we must continue to seek the forgiveness of the victims of abuse and do everything in our power to help them heal. It will not be easy. But it must be done.

As a local church, we have promised to be an institution that is transparent, ever aware that trust is not built by harboring secrets, by withholding pertinent information or by attempting to deflect criticism.

The church is, or should be, all about loving pastoral care, about becoming a true imitation of Christ. Only by being forthcoming can the church truly open its arms to all victims of abuse and to the alienated.

The church's framework is to be one of fairness. When claims of abuse are made, they will be thoroughly examined. It is our responsibility to strive to be the servants of truth, for while we must be swift and decisive in dealing with all legitimate charges, we also must acknowledge that to accuse is not necessarily to condemn. We exist under the rule of both church and civil law.

The Catholic church is at a critical crossroads. I have no doubt that the church will weather the crisis, but the faithful cannot help but wonder in these grim days what the church will look like when it finally emerges on the other side.

It is quite clear to me, and to many of my brother bishops, that a return to the pre-scandal status quo is simply unacceptable. We--all Catholics--have a priceless opportunity, even in the midst of this sad period in our history, to take the stinging lessons that we have learned and to make the church what it was always meant to be: a place of truth, love, trust and holiness.

By becoming a more open, receptive, vigilant, collegial and pastoral church, we will once again reaffirm the spirit and promise of Vatican II and the legacy of Pope John XXIII, who made it his aim to throw open the windows of the church and fill it with the fresh air of open discourse, broad cooperation, pastoral responsiveness and a strong and active faith.

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