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Bishop William Murphy's Report to the Diocese 2009 Print E-mail

Regarding The Protection of Children and Young People

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bishop_coat_sm.jpgDear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Every year since 2003, I have reported to you about how the Diocese has been handling the allegations of sex abuse against children and young people and what measures we have been following to protect them.  We all want every Catholic place, Church, school or other institution of the Diocese, truly to be “a safe zone” where parents and all our people may be confident that children and young people are being protected against the horrific tragedy of sex abuse that sadly was a source of such scandal within and beyond the Church in our time.

First may I assure you that the annual audit of our Diocese by the Gavin Group has found we are in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People the U.S. bishops adopted at Dallas in June 2002.  Last year when we volunteered to have our parishes audited, one parish visited was found not to have completed the background checks and Virtus training called for by the Charter.  Our pastors worked very hard with the Director of our office, Ms. Eileen Puglisi.  This year we, along with only 18 other dioceses, again volunteered to open the books of our parishes and the auditors found us in complete compliance.  Given the numbers of staff and volunteers in our parishes, this is no small accomplishment.  I want to thank our pastors and all those who worked with them to guarantee this important aspect of our diligence in protecting our children.

In fact since 2003, ca. 60,000 staff and volunteers have received Virtus training, 225 Virtus facilitators have been trained to do this work and 1,960 sessions have been held throughout the Diocese since its inception.  The newsletter, Because We Care, that is  published by Ms. Puglisi’s Office, had a circulation of 80,000 copies distributed to parents and volunteers in 2008.

Permit me to list the various initiatives that we have begun and which are ongoing.  They illustrate the commitment we have made to be vigilant and not decrease that vigilance because we know it must be an integral part of how we live from now on.  Our Spiritual Care Team continues to offer spiritual help and direction to victims of sexual abuse.  The Victims Support Group meets monthly.  We provided an Orientation Program for all new employees of the Diocese at the Pastoral Center to acquaint them with our commitment and with their responsibility.  Every member of my Diocesan Cabinet must give me an annual report on compliance and improvement initiatives for the past year.  Partners in Protection, an interfaith collaboration with other religious communities, continues to help share best practices across Long Island.  Every pastor submits to the Diocese an annual report on compliance that is put on record and open to check by the Gavin group auditors. All our seminarians receive training through seminars at the Diocesan Seminary in Huntington.  The responsibilities of pastors is presented every year at the Seminars organized for the training of new pastors who will accept their first assignment as pastor during that year.  Telecare  devotes shows to the issues surrounding the protection of children and young our commitment and with their responsibility.    Ms. Puglisi is in regular contact with the National Office of the Bishops and with other diocesan offices always seeking to improve and make ever more effective our initiatives in this crucial area of our life as a Church.  We will continue these efforts and, with openness to any suggestions for improvements, not cease in our vigilance because even one child abused is one too many.

Here in this Diocese I can assure you that no priest who has had a credible accusation made against him remains in pastoral ministry.  Currently, there are three priests against whom allegations have been made and who have been removed from ministry while internal review processes are proceeding. These processes can be lengthy and we await the final outcomes of the review proceedings in these cases before any permanent determinations are reached.

As respects a fourth matter, Newsday recently gave great publicity to a former priest of our Diocese who was removed from pastoral ministry by Bishop McGann. I confirmed that with a personal precept which included possible ecclesial penalties.  Some months ago, this man was charged with possession of child pornography.  Immediately I began the process of requesting the Holy See to return him to the lay state. If convicted, he will likely go to prison.

A few years ago, John Jay College accepted a contract from the U.S. bishops to conduct an in depth study on the causes and context of the incidence of sex abuse in the Catholic Church from 1950 to 2002.  We bishops have received the interim Report.  This tells us, with unquestionable authority, that the incidence of priest abusers peaked in the 1960s and 70s, decreased in the 1980s and continued to decrease from 1985 until today.  The experts tell us that the very low incidence of the past few years is expected to stay at a comparatively low number and not increase in the foreseeable future.  None of the three different analyses used in the John Jay study indicate anything but that.  Still, as I said above, even one act of abuse is one too many.  I am committed with all of you to doing all we reasonably can to prevent any act of sexual abuse against a child or young person in Christ’s Church. No other institution in our society has subjected itself to such public scrutiny and committed itself to such stringent procedures to protect children and minors. We together must be firm in this commitment so that our Diocese and all its entities continue to be a “safe haven” for all our children.

Recently a new challenge has come to the Church in the form of legislation proposed in Albany.  There are two bills before the legislature to extend the statute of limitations for reporting violations of sexual abuse of children and minors.  The Church in New York State supports the Lopez/Kruger bill which extends the statute and includes both public and private institutions.  We strongly oppose the Markey/ Duane bill which is seriously flawed.  It adds a “look back” provision that will allow anyone to present a grievance no matter how old or how poor the evidence, thus undermining sound legal practice.  It does not correct the built in protection of public institutions that discriminates against children in public schools being able to bring their grievances to the fore.  The Markey/Duane bill would set back all the good work the Church has been doing in this decade and offer no help or protection for children.  Please tell your representatives in the Senate and the Assembly not to vote for Markey/Duane and to vote for Lopez/Kruger.

In conclusion, I want to assure you of my daily prayer for all those who have been harmed by sexual predators in our Church.  With a great sense of remorse for the mistakes of the past but with a determination to do all we can now and in the future, I ask you to join me in prayer for all who have suffered from this tragedy, prayers that strengthen our resolve do our best to protect our most precious asset, the children and young people of our Diocese.

+William Murphy
Bishop of Rockville Centre
March 25, 2009