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Commentary

Healing the Victims and Healing the Church

Let us go forward together to repair what is broken.

June 24, 2002|ROGER MAHONY and RICHARD KIRBY | Cardinal Roger Mahony is archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Richard Kirby is a victim-survivor of sexual abuse by a priest. He spoke to a meeting of cardinals during the bishops' conference in Dallas.

As victim-survivors in Dallas spoke from the heart to the bishops assembled there this month, they were again able to pull back the dark veil that had too long obscured the truth. Bishops listened and were astounded at what they heard. All were moved by the enduring pain and suffering caused by the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and by the policy of denial by some church leaders.

Those honest but grim stories helped shape a "Charter and Norms" for the Catholic Church across the country. What is now the policy of the church in the U.S. has been endorsed by virtually all the bishops and is now the agenda for the coming months and years. It is up to everyone--victims groups, parishioners and church leaders--to demand change within the church, leading to tangible results that will help establish accountability and restore the trust that has been so damaged in this scandal.

One of the special aspects of the charter is the call for a new and collaborative relationship between the bishops and victim-survivors and the groups to which they belong. In the past, too much time was spent in shouting matches. After Dallas, there is a new openness--not just to talk but to take real action together.

It is not only imperative that every possible step be taken to prevent even one case of child abuse by a clergyman; there must also be a new partnership for healing, reconciliation and needed change.

Change means action. Without actions that have measurable results, words become forgotten and promises are broken, thus victimizing the survivor of abuse again and again.

The charter from the bishops' conference called for a new process, but we are only at the beginning of a long path. We have agreed that all victims can continue therapy with the church's support regardless of whether they take legal action.

We look to the charter mandate to reach out to victims groups as a doorway through which victims, children and parents can receive information and help, with the support and understanding of the church at the parish level.

Further, the charter calls for a "communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness." The policies regarding all major aspects of the church will be made public, reviewed and updated as needed.

A new time has come, and we are ready for change. Both of us--a cardinal and a victim-survivor of sexual abuse by a priest--pledge ourselves to accept the grace of the moment and to begin to forge relationships to help all victim-survivors be more fully healed.

This relationship will be open and accountable when it comes to major issues involving priests, survivors and parishioners. These issues include not just victims and their healing but also establishing processes for prevention, education, training, awareness and understanding in each parish.

Separately, we cannot achieve our mutual goals; together, with openness and cooperation to take meaningful steps with measurable results, we can help make the church and society safe for all, but especially for children and young people.

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