Open letter from Cardinal Law to the Boston archdiocese
January 26, 2002
The following is the text of an open letter to members of the Archdiocese of Boston from Cardinal Bernard F. Law on the issue of sexual abuse of children by priests. Law read the letter during Sunday Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.
Jan. 26, 2002
Dearly Beloved in Christ,
I write to you on what has become a major issue of public attention: the manner in which the Archdiocese, and I in particular, have handled allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests.
In the terrible instances of sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of Boston has failed to protect one of our most precious gifts, our children. As Archbishop, it was and is my responsibility to ensure that our parishes be safe havens for our children, places where they can experience all that the Church is called to be.
In retrospect, I acknowledge that, albeit unintentionally I have failed in that responsibility. The judgments which I made, while made in good faith, were tragically wrong. Because of this, some have called for my resignation. I do not believe that submitting my resignation to the Holy Father is the answer to the terrible scourge of sexual abuse of children by priests. Rather, I intend to implement a comprehensive and aggressive child protection program in order to better uncover and prevent the sexual abuse of children. This program will focus on our children. In going forward and responding to this horrible reality, the number one priority of the Archdiocese and me personally will be to ensure the safety of our children and to make every conceivable effort to see that no more of our young people become the victims of such abuse. I am committed to do all in my power to implement a policy of zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children by priests or any agent of the Archdiocese.
Some of these tragedies occurred on my watch, and I cannot and will not avoid my responsibility to ensure the prevention of such tragedies in the future. As was announced on Thursday, the deans of the Medical Schools at Boston University, Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts, as well as the dean of the Boston College School of Social Work have agreed to work with me. Together we will plan our program (and) identify experts in a broad range of disciplines who are nationally recognized in dealing with the issue of the sexual abuse of children, and who are willing to serve as members of a blue ribbon committee. I will ask the members to review and critique the manner in which the Archdiocese, on all levels, deals with the problem of sexual abuse of children. I will ask them to conduct their study as quickly and as effectively as possible and then to make recommendations for a comprehensive and aggressive child protection program to uncover and prevent any further abuse of children.
It is my firm expectation that the sexual abuse prevention program to be developed will contain written policies and procedures which will address, among other things, the following:
Reporting Sexual Abuse: All priests, deacons, as well as all Archdiocesan employees and volunteers, shall be obligated to report to me all complaints of sexual abuse of children (learned in any forum other than in the Sacrament of Penance), including allegations against any priest, former priest, or priest who is no longer in active service, and I, in turn, shall forward those reports to appropriate public authorities. Moreover, the names of any priest perpetrators of such abuse which are in the records of the Archdiocese and which have never been turned over to public authorities will immediately be conveyed to such authorities.
Detection and Deterrence of Sexual Abuse: With the help of experts, I will review the present program of mandatory screening of applicants to the seminary with a view to improving that process. All Archdiocesan personnel, including priests, deacons, religious, seminarians, and lay staff will receive appropriate training about sexual abuse, including early detection of conduct characteristic of both victims and perpetrators of such abuse.
Education Regarding Sexual Abuse: The Archdiocese will create and implement an educational program for parishes regarding sexual abuse and offer resources for victims of sexual abuse by priests or any agents of the Archdiocese. I have asked the Director of our Catholic Schools Office, Sister Kathleen Carr, CSJ, to gather educational experts of diverse backgrounds who will develop a curriculum which will be a practical and effective resource for students, parents, teachers, and staff in our parochial schools and religious education programs.
Continuing Pastoral Care for Victims and Their Families: The victims of sexual abuse, and their families, are the ones who have been most directly and severely affected. The Archdiocese and I personally want and need to offer our apology, consolation, and support. I will make myself available to meet privately with those victims and their families who desire to do so. Dr. Joseph Doolin, Secretary for Social Services, will assist me in gathering experts to suggest ways to enhance our provision of psychiatric counseling and psychotherapy to all victims and their families, as well as ways to offer enhanced counseling outreach to parishes and schools directly impacted, and to all those who may have been affected. The Archdiocesan Office of Spiritual Development will assist me in providing an appropriate program of spiritual counseling for victims and their families.
The Legal Process for Victims of Sexual Abuse: The Archdiocese will strive to eliminate the need for victims of sexual abuse to endure protracted and painful litigation. We are committed to resolving cases expeditiously, fairly, and equitably. At the same time, I can assure you that no monies from parish collections, the Cardinal's Appeal, the Promise for Tomorrow Capital Campaign, or any other donated funds, unless specifically designated for this purpose, have been or will be used to resolve such cases.
The terrible tragedy of sexual abuse of children by priests has caused deep pain and profound suffering. Most traumatically and severely impacted have been the victims and their families. The failure of the Archdiocese to protect one of God's greatest gifts to us, our children, has been devastating. Trust in the Church has been shattered in many cases. With God's help we must strive to restore that trust.
In a profound manner, although it pales in comparison to what has been endured by victims and their families, all of the faithful have suffered. Faith has been shaken and relationships of affection and trust between the faithful and clergy have been frayed in some cases. Considerable effort must and will be expended to repair the breakdown in trust and confidence which the faithful properly expect to have in the Church and her ministers.
Considerable damage has also been done to the hundreds of priests of this Archdiocese who, on a daily basis, offer humble, generous, faithful, and loving service to their people. These good and holy priests have been deeply wounded by the reprehensible actions of some of their number who sexually abused children, as well as by an Archdiocesan response to such tragic incidents which, in retrospect, was flawed and deficient. The relationship between a bishop and his diocese, in our case between me and this Archdiocese, is a sacred and serious one. It seeks to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church in much the same way as the Sacrament of Matrimony does. The Bishop's ring, like the wedding ring, symbolizes the commitment and love of the bishop to the faithful of his diocese.
My acknowledgment, in retrospect, that the response of the Archdiocese and me personally to the grave evil of the sexual abuse of children by priests was flawed and inadequate has contributed to this profoundly difficult moment in the life of this Archdiocese, and has affected the relationship between us.
With humble sorrow and hopeful faith, I turn to our loving God and to you, the faithful of this Archdiocese, and seek your forgiveness and support. With all my heart, with every fiber of my being, I pledge to you that I am committed to protect our children and restore the relationship of trust on which the faith life of this Archdiocese is founded. I humbly beg your prayers and support as together, with God's help, we try to work through this difficult and challenging situation.
I wish to underscore, once again, my commitment to do all in my power to implement and ensure a policy of zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of children by priests or any agents of the Archdiocese.
May our resolve help to console and reassure victims and their families, and may God's blessing be with them. May God grant His peace to all of us who struggle with this issue. May God bless our efforts as we move forward.
Devotedly yours in Christ,