“ . . . The child’s sob curses deeper in the silence than the strong man in his wrath.”
This quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “The Cry of the Children,” could be a modern-day reference to the horrific stories of clergy sex abuse and cover up that seem to be so often in the news.
In response to the clergy sex abuse scandal that came to light in Boston in 2002, the American bishops wrote and promulgated, “Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal,” commonly called “The Bishops’ Charter,” which articulates the protocols that must be implemented in every diocese in America to reach out to victims of abuse and to prevent further abuse. Each year, every diocese must submit data to the national office proving it is complying with these directives. Every three years, each diocese has an on-site audit by a third-party auditing firm that determines whether it is in compliance with the Charter.
Still, these responses and even the success of our own diocese in this area do not inure us from the shocking and despicable historical stories that continue to emerge of the evil and harm perpetrated on children and youth by members of the clergy. The most recent horror stories are emerging from Pennsylvania, where historical documents are showing that predator priests were returned to ministry, even after bishops became aware that they were sexually abusing children and youth. There is no defense for this collaboration with evil, no mitigating the depth of harm minors suffered at the hands of those who were called to lead them in the faith and guide them on their individual path of holiness.
The Diocese of Colorado Springs has been blessed in this area, however. First, as a small diocese, the bishop is able to get to know his priests better than bishops in much larger dioceses. Secondly, our diocese is young, having been promulgated in 1984, and Bishop Emeritus Richard Hanifen had a social work degree and extensive knowledge of human behavior. This training helped him to get to know his priests very well and effectively oversee their ministry.
Bishop Michael Sheridan, who was named to our diocese just as the scandal in Boston broke, is determined to carry out the specific dictates of the Charter through his priests’ and laity’s cooperation with the Office of Child and Youth Protection. It is one of his top priorities.
Recently, a pastor mentioned that some of his parishioners, who are currently not among the volunteers working with children and youth in his parish, asked how they could become an active part of this effort to protect minors from those who would do them harm. We discussed the possibility of offering the foundational safe environment training to them. This training, which is required of all clergy as well as all employees and volunteers working with children and youth, would equip them with the knowledge of how predators behave and educate them on what to look for and how to respond should they see anyone manifesting these behaviors. In effect, they would join a growing team of “eyes and ears” in the parish dedicated to protecting our children and youth.
If you are of the same mind and heart, among those laity who want to actively participate in keeping our children safe, please consult with your local Parish Safe Environment Coordinator to learn when the next Safe Environment Training will be offered — and join us in our effort against this active evil.
(Ed Gaffney is director of the Diocese of Colorado Springs’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.)