DALLAS, Texas, JUNE 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The president of the U.S. bishops´ conference admitted that the crisis involving clerical sex abuse is “not about a lack of faith in God” but a profound loss of trust in bishops.
Bishop Wilton Gregory admitted the prelates´ role in creating the scandal and he promised to take action to restore parishioners´ badly shaken faith in the Church hierarchy.
“The crisis, in truth, is about a profound loss of confidence by the faithful in our leadership as shepherds,” he told the hundreds of bishops gathered today in a Dallas hotel. He cited “our failures in addressing the crime of the sexual abuse of children and young people by priests and church personnel.”
The leader of the bishops´ conference continued: “What we are facing is not a breakdown in belief, but a rupture in our relationship as bishops with the faithful. And this breakdown is understandable. We did not go far enough to ensure that every child and minor was safe from sexual abuse. Rightfully, the faithful are questioning why we failed to take the necessary steps.”
On hand at the extraordinary meeting were victims who told of their deep pain.
“This crime has left deep scars on my soul,” Paula Gonzales Rohrbacher of Juneau, Alaska, told the bishops, according to the Associated Press. She said she was molested by a seminarian her family had befriended.
Another victim, Craig Martin of St. Cloud, Minnesota, cried as he recounted his story about how he was molested by a priest on fishing trips. He said he blocked out the experience for years, suffered from alcoholism and depression and directed his anger at his parents.
Bishop Gregory, in his addressed, apologized to all the victims of abuse, and their families.
“It is we who need to confess; and so we do,” he said. “We are the ones, whether through ignorance or lack of vigilance, or — God forbid — with knowledge, who allowed priest abusers to remain in ministry and reassigned them to communities where they continued to abuse.”
“We are the ones who chose not to report the criminal actions of priests to the authorities, because the law did not require this,” he added. “We are the ones who worried more about the possibility of scandal than in bringing about the kind of openness that helps prevent abuse. And we are the ones who, at times, responded to victims and their families as adversaries and not as suffering members of the Church.”
In closed-door sessions, the bishops were expected to take up proposals to reform the way the Church handles molestation claims, including “zero tolerance.” Public debate and action is expected Friday.
Since January, when the crisis began with the case of a pedophile priest in Boston, at least 250 of the nation´s 46,000 priests have resigned or been suspended over sexual misconduct claims. Four bishops also have quit, but none have left their post because they mishandled abusive clergy.