Press Conference, September 21, 2005
Sept 23, 2005
Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for your presence this afternoon. This has been an intensive process and a painful one. Reading the grand jury report is indeed very distressing.
I acknowledge the pain and suffering of the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and to them I repeat my heartfelt and sincere apologies and deep regrets. The grand jury report details cases and numbers but I know that there is a real person behind every story and pain carried in every heart. I have met with victims and heard firsthand of their suffering and humiliation. They had their youth violated and their vulnerability exploited. The Church repeats its deep regrets and sorrow with the assurance of prayers and continued efforts for healing and new life.
My brother priests share this pain and sorrow. It is important for me to speak directly to the overwhelming majority of priests who faithfully serve the Church. To them I would say, I am grateful for your priestly service and regret that this tragedy diverted attention from all of the splendid work that you do. Thank you for your dedication to the faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
As difficult a moment as this is, I want it to be known that the Archdiocese has cooperated fully with the grand jury. We produced more than 45,000 documents. Representatives of the Archdiocese willingly testified on numerous occasions. Knowledgeable legal experts tell me that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been more responsive than is the case in other places where there were significantly more victims and perpetrators. In the end, the grand jury affirms the actions already taken by the Archdiocese to report any instances of abuse to the proper legal authorities and to safeguard young people. We have taken extraordinary steps in this regard. In the time since the grand jury was convened to examine the past, the Archdiocese has established programs and procedures to protect young people in the future. Much of what we have done was recommended by our own blue ribbon panel, chaired by Ms. Helen Alvaré, a respected attorney. The Alvaré Commission worked for ten months during 2002 to evaluate Archdiocesan policies and procedures related to clerical misconduct.
Some of our efforts include:
• Safe environment training for almost 40,000 adults. This training is for those involved in Archdiocesan ministry and service to young people and is ongoing.
• We have also instituted safe environment training for young people: almost 110,000 young people received grade-appropriate lessons concerning personal boundaries and healthy relationships.
• I continue to offer to meet with any victim just as my predecessor Cardinal Bevilacqua did.
• We established a Victims Assistance Coordinators Program. Our coordinators are licensed professionals who respond with appropriate care to those victimized by sexual abuse. In fact, I ask you, the media, to publish once again the number for anyone who might not have heard it or read it previously. It is 215-587-3880. And just as we have done on many occasions, I would urge anyone to call that number who wishes to report sexual abuse of a minor.
• We also have established an Archdiocesan Review Board made up of Catholics and non-Catholics, all of whom have expertise in this area. The Review Board serves as a consultative body and advises me in cases of allegations of abuse. They also review Archdiocesan policies and procedures.
• As we implemented Standards of Ministerial Behavior to provide a blueprint for boundaries of behavior with young people, and we have implemented this.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is committed to the letter and spirit of the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted in June 2002. But it is important to note that even prior to the adoption of the Charter, the Archdiocese had acted on every single allegation involving sexual misconduct with a minor.
The Church has always viewed sexual abuse of a young person as a grave moral evil. In order to evaluate these situations we relied upon the medical expertise of that time. Today, science better understands abusive behavior. We continue to practice zero tolerance: no priest who has sexually abused a minor will serve in any ministry in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Our reporting policies have also been revised. We immediately report all accusations to civil authorities. We recognize that we cannot be the only investigators. But it is still important to note that the Archdiocese complied at all times with Pennsylvania law. The Archdiocese is not aware of any circumstances where a report was not made in accordance with the reporting obligations of the Child Protective Services Law.
And as we go forward, I assure you that I remain committed to creating a safe environment for all of the children in the care of the Archdiocese. I pledge that we will do whatever is humanly possible so that no child ever comes to harm again.
And actually I made this pledge the day of my installation a little less than two years ago when I mentioned that it is the commitment of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. It renews its resolve and its efforts for the protection of children against whatever would harm them, abuse them, or violate their sacred dignity.