(These questions and answers will be updated as needed.)
What do the archdiocesan sexual abuse policies include?
The archdiocesan sexual abuse policies contain the following major components related to the sexual abuse of a minor by clergy or other representatives of the Church:
- Mandated and prompt reporting to civil authorities and support for victims in pursuing criminal prosecution.
- A qualified Victim Assistance Coordinator, who takes complaints of sexual abuse of minors involving Church priests, deacons, employees, or volunteers and assists victims.
- Prompt investigation and permanent removal from ministry of offenders for substantiated accusations of sexual abuse of a minor.
- Safe environment programs for all employees and those volunteers that have regular contact with children or youth. To date more than 48,700 clergy, employees, and volunteers have been trained, and the Archdiocese has invested more than $1 million in these efforts. In addition, a safe environment curriculum is provided to children in all Catholic elementary and secondary schools, and resources are provided to parishes.
- National and state criminal background checks (clergy, employees, and volunteers who have substantial contact with children).
- A “Code of Conduct” to which clergy, employees, and volunteers who work with children are held accountable.
- The existence of a Sexual Abuse Review Board, which includes lay experts (including a victim survivor) whose members advise and monitor compliance and advise the Archbishop regarding allegations of sexual abuse of a minor against priests or deacons in ministry.
What must be reported?
According to the Archdiocese of Louisville Sexual Abuse Policies and the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, any suspected child abuse, neglect, or assault must be reported immediately to civil authorities and to archdiocesan officials if the abuse involves a member of the clergy or Church employee or volunteer. In cases when adults come forward about sexual abuse they suffered during their childhood by a representative of the Church, the authorities expect the reports to come directly from the adults who were abused as children. However, it is the policy of the Archdiocese to inform the police of these reports if person being accused is still living and also to encourage and assist victim survivors to make their own reports to the authorities. If requested, the Victim Assistance Coordinator (Ms. Martine Siegel) will assist victim survivors in making a report to civil authorities. See reporting information at www.archlou.org/report.
Are any priests in ministry against whom there is a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor?
No priest against whom there is a credible allegation may be in ministry. He may not work or volunteer for the Archdiocese or its parishes, schools, or other facilities or programs. He may not celebrate Mass publicly, administer the sacraments, wear clerical garb, or present himself publicly as a priest.
What should I do if I have not reported abuse I suffered?
Those who have experienced abuse involving a representative of the Church are encouraged to report this abuse, first to the police if the offender is still living, and then to the archdiocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator. Please see www.archlou.org/report for a complete list of civil reporting contacts. Martine Siegel, the victim assistance coordinator, can be reached at 502-636-1044 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I received a sacrament (e.g., baptism, marriage) from a priest who has since been credibly accused of sexual abuse and removed from ministry. Is the sacrament I received still valid?
The sacrament remains valid. The grace of the sacraments is given to us by God, working through His ministers. The holiness or sinfulness of the priest or deacon administering the sacrament has no effect on the validity of the sacrament. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
“Since it is ultimately Christ who acts and effects salvation through the ordained minister, the unworthiness of the latter does not prevent Christ from acting.” (CCC 1584)
As a parent, I am the best protector of my children. Why do I have to attend safe environment training sessions when all of this is happening because of abuse by Catholic clergy?
There are several reasons why the safe environment training has been so valuable for our Catholic community.
- This training emerged from the reforms of 2002 contained in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which sought to address the terrible reports of priests and other Church leaders who abused children. No child should ever be abused, especially by someone whose task it is to nurture that child’s faith. In addition to many other reforms, the Charter very wisely called all U.S. dioceses to provide education and training on the issue of childhood sexual abuse for persons of all ages.
- Sexual abuse happens in all segments of society, and 80% of all abused children were abused by parents or other family members.
- The Church is a very large youth-serving organization. We know that one out of four girls and one out of six boys will be abused by the time they reach adulthood. Even if a priest never abused any children, we should be doing this training anyway.
- Because we do live training in the Archdiocese, we are able to interact with thousands of individuals (more than 48,000 since the training started in 2003). After the training, we have people lining up to tell their stories. Just this month, we were told of the arrest of a father who had been abusing his children because one of his adult children attended a safe environment training and felt empowered to report. Others talk to us about their abuse as children. They tell us how the class helped them to recognize that they need help, and we are able to refer them to the assistance they need. Many attendees who come in with skeptical expressions and crossed arms leave with heartfelt thanks for all they learned.
- This training also helps adults who may not have experienced abuse in their own lives recognize the signs of abuse in children they may encounter, whether that abuse happens in the context of the Church, a sports program, or a neighborhood. Many adults are not fully aware of their responsibility to report. In this training, they learn of the mandated reporting laws for all adults in Kentucky to report child abuse, and they learn how to do it.
- The education and empowerment that results from this kind of training, as well as the education provided to children and youth, is one way that we can help to bring about systemic change to combat sexual abuse in our community.
What happens to priests, deacons, or other Church representatives against whom there are credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor?
When an accusation is received, a priest, deacon, lay employee or volunteer is removed from ministry pending investigation. If the allegation is deemed credible, the offender is permanently removed. All allegations are reported to the authorities. The archdiocesan Sexual Abuse Review Board, a group of lay experts, priests, and lay staff, prepares a final recommendation for Archbishop Kurtz about the substantiation of any claim against a living priest or deacon.
Are all priests laicized who have a substantiated accusation of sexual abuse of a minor removed from the clerical state? If not, why not?
Any priest or deacon against whom there is a credible allegation of sexual abuse of minors is removed from ministry. Many are laicized, which is an extra step beyond removal from ministry. Through laicization, the Holy See formally removes a priest or deacon from the clerical state.
In some situations, the Holy See may direct a priest to lead a life of prayer and penance. This most often happens when the priest is at retirement age and/or in poor health, and the Church can place him in a monitored or supervised environment.
What does it mean for a priest who has a substantiated accusation of sexual abuse of a minor to be on “prayer and penance?
For priests who have a substantiated accusation of the sexual abuse of a minor, the Holy See applies one of two penalties: dismissal from the clerical state or prayer and penance. The penalty of prayer and penance is applied when the priest is retirement age or beyond and/or suffers from a serious illness. Priests directed to lead a life of prayer and penance may not celebrate Mass publicly or administer the sacraments. They may not wear clerical dress or present themselves publicly as priests. They are not to have any unsupervised contact with minors. At this time, the Archdiocese has two priests who are living under this penalty.
These priests have an assigned supervisor and are not permitted to live alone. Of the two priests on prayer and penance, one lives with a religious community, and the other resides with a family member.
Are priests with a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor paid by the Archdiocese?
Once an investigation is complete, and an accusation is substantiated, the priest no longer receives a salary. If the priest has not yet reached retirement age, he may receive some limited support for living expenses. After the priest reaches the retirement age of 70, the only compensation he may receive is the pension earned for years of service, which includes a Medicare supplement plan. This pension belongs to the priest or former priest, and he is legally entitled to claim it.
Does the Archdiocese engage in confidentiality agreement with victims?
Since 2002, the Archdiocese has not required any victim survivor to sign a confidentiality agreement.
How are victims supported?
Over the years, the Archdiocese has offered a variety of support opportunities based upon the stated needs of victim survivors. The primary means of support is counseling services for the victim and/or members of his or her family. The Archdiocese offers all victims this assistance along with a meeting with Archbishop Kurtz if they desire to meet with him.
How does the Church handle accusations against a bishop regarding sexual abuse of a minor, sexual misconduct or harassment of adults, or negligence in handling abuse in his diocese?
This month, Pope Francis initiated an investigation into how accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment involving Archbishop McCarrick were handled by the Holy See. He also announced that a Synod of Bishops will be held in February of 2019 to deal with the sexual abuse of minors.
In September, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced that the following steps have been taken by the U.S. Bishops:
- Approved the establishment of a third-party reporting system that will receive confidentially, by phone and online, complaints of sexual abuse of minors by a bishop and sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with adults by a bishop and will direct those complaints to the appropriate ecclesiastical authority and, as required by applicable law, to civil authorities.2. Instructed the USCCB Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance to develop proposals for policies addressing restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests.
- Initiated the process of developing a Code of Conduct for bishops regarding the sexual abuse of a minor; sexual harassment of or sexual misconduct with an adult; or negligence in the exercise of his office related to such cases.
- Supported a full investigation into the situation surrounding Archbishop McCarrick, including his alleged assaults on minors, priests, and seminarians, as well any responses made to those allegations. Such an investigation should rely upon lay experts in relevant fields, such as law enforcement and social services.
Cardinal DiNardo reported that ongoing consultation with lay experts, parents, clergy, and religious is ongoing and will likely result in further actions.
How are potential priests screened?
Every candidate for seminary goes through a battery of screening requirements including criminal background checks, a psychological examination, a credit history report, a health examination, and numerous reviews of references, transcripts and sacramental records, as well as multiple interviews. If accepted, the candidate must then apply to the seminary, where a screening committee reviews all the same material.
These are standard screening procedures nationwide. In addition, United States seminaries require that a man complete an average of six years of study, during which he is constantly evaluated to ensure fitness for ministry before ordination.
Are sacraments received from disgraced or defrocked priests or bishops valid? Were sins forgiven in the sacrament of penance? Is my marriage valid? Did the act of consecration take place for the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ? (This answer is provided by Father Kenneth Doyle of Catholic News Service)
I friend of mine who was married years ago by a Catholic cleric later removed from ministry likes to tell me — jokingly — that his wedding “did not count” and that he is free now to marry someone else! That, of course, is not true.
The question you raise was answered in the church nearly 1,700 years ago in what was known as the Donatist controversy and ratified later in the teaching of St. Augustine. Since it is really Christ who is acting in the sacraments, the personal unworthiness of the minister would not prevent Jesus from acting.
Later, medieval church theologians would explain it in more formal terms by saying that the sacraments operate “ex opere operato” (“from the work having been done”) and not “ex opere operantis” (“from the work of the worker”).
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states it today, “From the moment that a sacrament is celebrated in accordance with the intention of the church, the power of Christ and his Spirit acts in and through it, independently of the personal holiness of the minister” (No. 1128).
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.