Reflections following USCCB Conference
Having returned last week from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) plenary assembly in Baltimore with the sexual abuse crisis dominating the agenda, I thought I would share a few personal reflections with you. It is my hope that these thoughts will assist the many who are rightly troubled, as I am, by the events and revelations of the past four months.
I went to this year’s meeting having heard the pain, the anger, and the anguish of the people and priests I serve, including some victims of clergy sexual abuse, but also the hope and expectation that we bishops would be able to begin to right this terrible wrong and to work to restore the trust that has been broken, some by their actions and others by their inactions, both sinful and some criminal. Like you, I was deeply disheartened to learn on the first day of our meetings that the Holy See had asked us not to take a formal vote on the action proposals to address this crisis, notably on the Code of Conduct for Bishops, the Third Party reporting mechanism and the Special Lay Commission to judge allegations of misconduct made against bishops. After the news was communicated, the mood in the room was dreadful and ominous. It felt like we would be unable to do what we had come there to do: to deliver an important and concrete action plan for moving forward. To say the least, it was most frustrating and demoralizing.
The agenda nonetheless progressed; the first day was a day of prayer with listening to powerful accounts from victims and others about their experiences and the pain that members of the clergy have caused in their lives. We heard resoundingly and with crystal clarity that we bishops must be more resolved to shepherd the flock entrusted to us, to believe in and care for the victims, to protect the vulnerable, and to be better pastors and spiritual fathers to all God’s children, including the priests and religious. While the subsequent discussion was painstakingly undertaken, I believe the Holy Spirit was at work among us. I certainly felt his presence in my own heart giving me greater courage to live a life more worthy of the call I have received, and to continue to do all I can to heal wounds and to protect the vulnerable of our diocese.
I want to again draw your attention to the Safe Environment section on our diocesan website to learn how we address these concerns. Please be assured that I will continue to address each allegation that is presented according to the protocol set in place utilizing our largely lay composed review board. We will continue our vigilance in Safe Environment training and background checks. Our Safe Environment policies are continually reviewed and updated as needed. We will continue to participate in the Annual Audit of our Safe Environment program and will focus now more on Parish Audits, ensuring that all our parishes are increasing in compliance. As always, I would be open to any further suggestions or comments as to how we can even better provide the safest environment possible for our children and youth.
Since all of this came to light this past summer, I have received numerous letters and emails sharing experiences, expressing anger and outrage and offering suggestions. Some point to the lack of purity on the part of bishops and priests as the root cause, violations against their promises of celibate chastity especially that which corresponds to same sex attraction. Some call for optional celibacy as a possible remedy. All want their priests and bishops to be men of integrity. Thankfully many of our people in this diocese are exceptionally supportive of our priests. I do understand that some are not. I want to encourage further dialogue with me and our priests. We bishops heard of the importance of listening to our people, especially those who are hurting. I would ask our priests to join me in offering that opportunity to listen without judgment, and with patience and gentleness to anyone in our diocese who approaches us to share their story and their concerns.
To anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse and especially those who have been harmed by a bishop, priest, or religious, please know of my prayers and support. I would welcome meeting with you and hearing of your experience, should you find that helpful in your healing. We heard from victims that those who have been harmed often need to tell their story. I want to be a listening and humble bishop for those who have been harmed.
In regard to the Archbishop McCarrick matter, I fully support a fair and complete investigation into his alleged misdeeds and crimes. It is my understanding that investigations have begun in the dioceses where he served. Within the confines of civil and canon law, I support the release of documents from the Holy See, pertaining to his admission into the episcopacy and the cardinalate. I expect and request that the testimony of Archbishop Vigano be thoroughly examined. His testimony deserves an appropriate response from the Holy See. These matters must be revealed and put behind us if we are to restore the trust of our people. I know that the leadership of the conference will be bringing our proposals to the worldwide meeting of leaders of episcopal conferences in February with Pope Francis. It is important that we address this crisis as a global church. It is my hope that all that we discussed can be a significant contribution to the efforts of the Holy See to eradicate this evil from our Church. Let us pray for such a result.
As a Christian community, I want to invite you to pray for the victims of Archbishop McCarrick. They deserve our special prayerful support. I would also humbly ask that we pray for him so that he will sufficiently repent of his sins and receive at last the mercy of Christ. If we do this, then we are truly a Christ centered community.
In your charity, please pray for me and all the bishops, that we will be resolved and vigilant in governing our dioceses, as the shepherds and spiritual fathers we are called to be, so that the mission of the Church to heal the wounds and protect the sheep of Christ’s flock will be our greatest desire and commitment. Thank you and God bless you.
Bishop Carl Kemme