Taking steps towards accountability in clergy abuse

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I have been asked more than once, why I serve in the role as Victim Assistance Coordinator for the archdiocese. My response is that I hope to show light in a time of pain and darkness for someone who is searching for the hope of healing and that they know they do not walk alone. For similar reasons, I expect many Catholic bishops and religious superiors across the country have been compelled to publish lists of credibly accused representatives of their local churches and communities.

It is also the hope that by publicly naming those representatives of the Church who have been determined to have credible allegations against them, victims/survivors will be encouraged to consider coming forward and reporting their abuse to law enforcement and the church. Some share the view that it is difficult to focus on a future of the church if we have not recognized and acknowledged the pain of our past.

You may recall, in October of 2018, Archbishop Paul Etienne established an Independent Commission to review all personnel files of the archdiocese. As part of the review process, the Independent Commission was to recommend for the publication of names of any church representatives who had credible evidence of sexual misconduct involving minors or vulnerable adults. The Diocese of Juneau and Fairbanks have also taken similar action.

This significant step towards accountability and transparency has most likely created mixed feelings for parishioners. For victims/survivors of abuse and their families, this step may have provided validation that they are believed.

In the letter to Catholics from Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M., during the weekend masses of January 18th and 19th, he recognized that “the report is painful to read, especially for those who have been victimized, and for those who know any of the persons named.” He also expressed his hope for publishing the list is if there are others who have experienced abuse, they will feel encouraged to come forward.

There are some important facts about the Independent Commission and the publication of names that should be re-stated. When Archbishop Etienne convened the Commission, he wanted to ensure that it was independent and consisted of respected individuals who had the objectivity and expertise to conduct this file review. Besides providing information, the archdiocese was not involved in the review. When the Independent Commission began its work in November 2018, they were provided all personnel files in the known possession of the archdiocese. They reviewed approximately 450 files of ministers who worked at the archdiocese for over 53 years, since its inception in 1966. Even though Archbishop Etienne became the Archbishop of Seattle, Bishop Bellisario wanted not only to continue but complete what was started for the sake of the people of the archdiocese. The Commission’s recommended list of names included those whose files showed credible evidence of sexual misconduct involving a minor or vulnerable adult. The standards and definitions used are explained in the published list.

The list of names, places they served, and the date and general nature of the allegations are only included because protecting the privacy and confidentiality of victims needs to be the priority. As children of God and members of this faith community, we can work through these difficult times together and hold those suffering close to our hearts and in prayer.

Archbishop Etienne started this process with the intention to show transparency and provide accountability of the Church. Ultimately the people of God will determine if this step began to repair the trust that was so severely put into question over the past years.

Bishop Bellisario reiterated in his letter that “if you have been sexually abused by clergy or other representatives of the Church and have not yet reported the abuse, please consider disclosing what happened to you.” He encourages reports to be made to local law enforcement agencies. Someone can also contact the Archdiocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, at (907) 297-7786 or jmichaelson@caa-ak.org. We will do our best to help you and assist with reporting to law enforcement.

'Taking steps towards accountability in clergy abuse'
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