As we celebrate Easter this month, I am reminded of one of my favorite Resurrection accounts from the Gospel of John. Jesus appears to the disciples at dawn along the Sea of Galilee, after they had been fishing all night, but they do not realize who he is. With his instructions, they make another miraculous catch of fish, and at the same time recognize the Risen Jesus. After preparing breakfast for them, Jesus has a fascinating conversation with Peter.
Three times, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter answers, “Yes.” After each response, Jesus tells Peter to take care of his lambs — God’s people.
Scripture scholars say this threefold exchange is Jesus’ way of helping Peter find healing for the three times he denied Jesus during his passion. Peter needs to reaffirm his love for Jesus in order to take up his new responsibility as the leader of the Church.
Easter is a time for healing, particularly the healing found in the Risen Jesus.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and I want to speak to all of you about the ongoing effort of the Catholic Church to help those who as minors were so deeply wounded by the crime of sexual abuse to find healing, as well as the ongoing efforts of the Church to provide a safe environment for our children — indeed, for every member of the faith.
I wish to acknowledge the pain and suffering experienced by the many minors who suffered abuse at the hands of clerics, or anyone representing the Church. I know from visiting with victim survivors the deep wounds left by such unconscionable, criminal behavior. While apologies are insufficient, it is still important to express our sorrow, apology and resolve to prevent these situations in the future and ensure that no offenses will ever be covered up.
Victim survivors often share with me how they felt “unnoticed,” and how that continues to be their experience even today. Part of the healing process, for all of us, must be to provide these individuals “permission” to share their experiences with us — whether in a personal conversation with a person of their choosing, or perhaps in a more formal setting with a group gathered for the purpose of sharing their stories and receiving support and acceptance.
I know many of the faithful would prefer we put this sad chapter of our history behind us, but perhaps we have tried to do so too quickly. As Pope Francis recognized in a 2018 letter to the bishops of Chile, we have often treated this wound with medicine rather than trying to heal it, and the effect has perhaps been to make it deeper and more painful. I encourage all parishes to continue to find ways to accompany those who were harmed as minors, assuring them of their rightful place in our family of faith. Creating such warm environments in our parish families will encourage others who still need to share their story to come forward.
While we still have work to do, much has already been done. Pope Francis called Church leaders to Rome in February 2019 to discuss the Church’s response to the abuse of minors. From that meeting, new norms were issued giving clear, universal guidance for responding to allegations of abuse of minors by clergy. New norms were also promulgated for accusations of abuse of minors by bishops and for reporting bishops who responded improperly to accusations of abuse.
Nationally and locally, we strive to respond effectively to all reports of abuse, including reporting to law enforcement. We have trained personnel for receiving reports and a victim assistance coordinator who communicates with victims and their families. We also have a well-qualified, independent lay review board that reviews all allegations and makes recommendations to me.
We have a robust education program for all children and those who have access to or work with children, training them in how to identify and prevent abuse. Background checks are required for adults who work within our parishes, schools and programs. These efforts are making the Catholic Church one of the safest institutions in the country.
Similar to St. Peter’s denials of Jesus during his passion, I acknowledge the failures of Church leaders over a long period to acknowledge and protect the victims of abuse. I also recognize the need for me to take personal responsibility for these failures of the past, in order to bring healing to the victims and to the entire family of faith today. I am working with our Safe Environment director to plan moments of prayer and opportunities for our people to find healing.
Jesus’ conversation with Peter clearly indicates his desire that the Church be a home for all his family, and that particular care be given to caring for the lambs, the little ones. Please join me in renewing our promise to protect and our pledge to heal.
Please join us for a Holy Hour April 21 at 7:00pm at St. James Cathedral in Seattle to pray for those who have been harmed by sexual abuse.0