It has been an extraordinarily traumatic time for the Church in the United States and for the Diocese of Bridgeport. The public scrutiny of Church leadership and of priests over the specter of the sexual abuse of minors has been intense and unrelenting. It has been particularly difficult for the 285 priests who faithfully serve the Church and the parishioners, day in and day out and it has been personally painful for me. Good priests who serve the Church with fidelity, joy and generosity, have seen their reputations tarnished by the horrifically scandalous misdeeds of a small number of their confreres. Those offences are like drops of ink in clear water - they have seemingly tinted every bishop and priest with the dye of scandal.
We should make no mistake: the sexual abuse of minors is a crime. While found in every segment of society, it is particularly troubling when its perpetrators are members of the clergy and others in a special position of trust. Sexual abuse is utterly contrary to the identity and mission of the ordained. It has no place among the employees and volunteers who serve in the various ministries of the Diocese. Sexual abuse does untold damage in the lives of victims and their families. It shakes people's faith and has caused many individuals to be alienated from the Church. The vast majority of the Catholic faithful recognizes the goodness of their priests and refuses to allow such behavior to deter them from following Christ Jesus as members of the Church. I hope and pray that you, my readers, are among them. But I shall not presume on your faith and good will. You deserve to know how I, as your bishop, am responding not just to the present crisis but also to the need for a long-term solution.
It is not enough for me to say that both Church and society have learned a lot about this tragic behavior in the last twenty or thirty years. No doubt we have. But we have also been slow to learn and to respond. I speak for no one other than myself. I vividly recall how excruciatingly difficult it was for me, as Vicar General and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Washington, to confront brother priests who had engaged in sexual abuse, to reach out to the victims, and to face civil authorities and the press. Thankfully, I had the unfailing guidance and rock-solid support of Cardinal Hickey who, as Archbishop of Washington, had the vision and courage to confront this problem. But I also know how easy it might have been for me, in a new diocese, with new challenges, to lay aside the painful lessons of the past. I cannot. I shall not.
My already publicly stated commitment is that I shall vigorously implement the excellent diocesan sexual misconduct policy that Cardinal Egan established here in 1991. In the time ahead, with the help of experts, I shall strengthen that policy with new preventative measures and a more ready outreach to victims. I am pledged to resolute compliance with the reporting requirements of the laws of Connecticut and to openness with all of you when an allegation of the sexual abuse of minors makes it necessary for me to remove a priest, deacon, employee or volunteer from his or her position.
But sound policies and good laws, while critically important, are not enough. The painful specter of these past weeks has been an unholy call to holiness, especially for me and for my brother priests. It is not a time for us to retreat from celibacy nor from any other aspect of the Church's discipline regarding the priesthood. Rather it is a time for us to embrace all that the Church asks of us with a sustaining life of prayer and penance.
As you know I have just written and published a letter on priestly vocations. Bad timing? I don't think so. So confident am I in the goodness of the priesthood and of priests that I have no hesitation to invite eligible prospects to consider the possibility of priestly service.
Good Friday came early. But Good Friday is not a day of despair. It is a day when we learn, again and again, of the depth of God's love for us. He sent His only Son to become one of us. His Son died to save us from our sins. In death, He triumphed over sin and death and rose to the new life we share in the Mass and the Sacraments. Repentant and joyful, I wish each of you and all your loved ones a most blessed Easter!
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