In recent weeks, the press has focused attention on the issue of child sexual abuse by priests of the Catholic Church.
This has been fueled, in part, by a high-profile case in the Archdiocese of Boston, which has now gained national attention. While some in the media have used these terrible allegations as an opportunity to attack the Church, and others have attempted to inflate the matter into crisis proportions, we cannot blame the situation on the media, overzealous attorneys, or those who would seek somehow to undermine the Church. It must be made unmistakably clear that sexual abuse by clergy is a grave wrong and can never be tolerated.
Even one case of abuse is too many. Such abuse, when it involves a minor, is not only repugnant and morally reprehensible, it is also criminal and must be reported, investigated and responded to so that victims are protected and the accused are removed from active ministry. For its part, the Diocese of Camden treats every allegation seriously and responds promptly to all credible allegations.
Since 1971 when it became a New Jersey state requirement, the diocese has notified law enforcement authorities of allegations against any priest when, at the time, the victim was a minor.
In 1993 the diocese implemented comprehensive policies and procedures to further ensure that:
- allegations are promptly addressed with first concern for the alleged victim, while ensuring the rights of the accused;
- the accused is immediately removed from active assignment pending the outcome of the investigation;
- victims and their families are offered pastoral care and professional counseling. The policies that were implemented nearly a decade ago have governed our response since.
As a result, to our knowledge, there is now no priest in the diocese in any type of ministry who has been credibly accused of child sexual abuse. –more The diocese will continue to support and cooperate with the reporting statutes in New Jersey which exist to protect minors, including reporting child sexual abuse to the Division of Youth and Family Services and to police and/or prosecutors. We also will continue support the disclosure policy of the New Jersey State Legislature commonly known as Megan’s Law, which releases the names of those accused of child sexual abuse who have been tried, convicted, imprisoned and meet its procedural requirements.
In addition, we will continue to pursue measures to prevent new cases from arising. For example, new seminarians are carefully screened through background checks and psychological evaluations to ensure that they have the spiritual, social, and psycho-sexual maturity to take on the demands of the noble calling of the priesthood. The Diocese also requires Catholic schools to conduct criminal background checks on newly hired employees. We also are in the process of implementing a policy of conducting background checks on new employees and volunteers who work with minors. In conjunction with the diocesan policies governing sexual abuse, these efforts reaffirm our commitment to and concern for our children as we instruct them in the faith.
In the next several months, you may hear of legal proceedings in Atlantic County which involve accusations against priests of the Diocese of Camden. Filed nearly a decade ago, this case is not new news, but given the heightened interest generated by cases in other areas of the country, we can expect these proceedings to generate attention. While it is not appropriate to comment on the particulars of a case which is currently being litigated, you should know that, at the time it was filed, most of the claims were already between ten and thirty-three years old, several of the defendants named in the case are now deceased, and most of the claims in the initial complaint have already been dismissed. We know that sexual abusers are not confined to one group or profession. They come from all walks of life, all religious traditions.
Still, when they involve those in our own Church, who are entrusted with the care of souls, the accusations are especially painful and cry out for a swift, uncompromising response. This commitment is made not merely to earn your trust, but to ensure the care of our children. While we must be sure that no priest with a credible allegation of child sexual abuse against him will ever be assigned to any type of ministry in the Church, we must not indiscriminately brand the vast majority of the 40,000 priests serving in this country today and the hundreds serving in our own diocese who are dedicated and faithful to their ministry and who deplore the actions of a few.
As the Church in this country confronts this difficult problem, I reiterate in the name of the Church of Camden the apology and plea for forgiveness I made during the Jubilee Year. With profound sorrow, I apologize for our own past faults and sins as a diocese, as well as individual Catholics who have consciously or unconsciously hurt and sinned against God and others during the lifetime of the diocese.
Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D.