20-year anniversary of the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’

Do you think the Catholic Church in the United States can rebuild confidence and trust in the people of God after learning of or experiencing the abuse crisis? If so, how?

As of June, it is 20 years since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops gathered in Dallas to discuss and act upon the public revelation of Catholic priests abusing children and the bishops who responded in detrimental ways. 

What came out of that meeting was a document called the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” often referred to as the Charter. The focus and commitment of the Charter is to help heal the people who suffered from abuse, as well as their families and friends. The second focus is to have efforts in place to prevent any future harm. 

Many, especially those sexually abused by someone representing the Church, may feel the Church has not said or done enough about it. Some may feel that not enough responsibility is being taken, or that there isn’t enough justice and transparency.

For others, talking about the Charter, its policies, and its procedures sounds like a broken record. But if you are not aware of the Charter’s efforts, which have been in place since June 2002, then the message and actions of the Church, especially our local archdiocese, need to be clearer and more effective.

For the universal Church, Pope Francis reiterates that “abuse in any form is unacceptable.” 

“The sexual abuse of children is particularly grave, as an offense against a life that is just beginning to flower,” he said. “Instead of flourishing, one who is abused is deeply injured, at times permanently.”

 In April of this year, Pope Francis instructed his sexual abuse advisory commission, which he created in 2013, to help bishops’ conferences around the world create systems where victims could find healing and justice. He called for the commission to prepare an annual report of the Church’s initiatives, for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, to better determine what is being done and what needs to change. The pope said the report “will be a factor of transparency and accountability and — I hope — will provide a clear audit of our progress in this effort.” He reiterated to his commission that  “it is your responsibility to expand the scope of this mission in such a way that the protection and care of those who have experienced abuse may become normative in every sector of the church’s life.”

Pope Francis warned that “without that progress, the faithful will continue to lose trust in their pastors, and preaching and witnessing to the Gospel will become increasingly difficult.”  

Twenty years after the creation of the Charter, the Church grew a greater understanding of the dynamics of abuse and abuse of power. We as the Church continue working to restore the trust, health, confidence, and credibility that was damaged. This is not the end of our story: our efforts as individuals and as an institution bring about greater understanding and help improve our efforts. 

Whether you feel the Church does not place enough emphasis, or too much emphasis, on addressing prevention and response efforts of abuse, I hope you will take the time to read and learn what efforts have been made and continue to be made in support of further efforts.   

If anyone has been harmed by someone representing the Catholic Church, we encourage you to report what has happened to you to law enforcement, no matter when it happened. We also hope you will contact the archdiocese to report your experience so that the church better understands the impact and your needs.  


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