THE PASTORíS DESK
By Fr. Terry Kerner
This summer the Church
finds itself dealing with the crimes and scandals of
sexual abuse by clergy. We cannot look away at these
terrible acts. It is important that Catholics-especially
those in the Archdiocese of Detroit-know how these issues
are dealt with and how the safety of all in our care is
being ensured. Judge Michael Talbot, recently retired at
chief judge of the Michigan Court of Appeals, chairs the
Detroit Archdiocese Board of Review, the body responsible
for dealing with clergy abuse. I share with you his letter
explaining their efforts.
Dear Brothers and
Sisters in Christ,
Recent reporting on the
scourge of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church provides a
timely catalyst to review the practices and policies in
the Archdiocese of Detroit. Questions and answers such as:
What happens here? How are complaints of the sexual abuse
of minors by clergy processed in the Detroit archdiocese?
And by whom? As chairman of the Archdiocesan Review Board,
which considers all such complaints and then advises
Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron, I would like to
share with you how we have handled cases here for many
years. I also will describe our outreach efforts to the
victims of clergy sexual abuse and our extensive and
ongoing efforts to promote safe environments.
Prior to the June 2002,
meeting of the U.S. Bishops in Dallas, when the Charter
for the Protection of Children and Young People was
adopted, the Detroit archdiocese reconstituted its review
board. (An earlier version of the review board was
established in 1988, when the archdiocese became one of
the first dioceses to implement a policy on the sexual
abuse of minors by clergy.) I accepted the role of
chairman of the independent board formed in 2002, and
continue in that same role today. My current fellow
members include a retired prosecutor, a psychologist, a
health care executive, a former superintendent of Catholic
schools and an archdiocesan pastor.
In the spring of 2002,
the archdiocese also signed voluntary agreements with the
prosecutors from all six counties within its boundaries to
share case files of priests accused of sexual misconduct
in previous years. In some cases, those files involved
complaints of abuse that occurred in the 1940ís and 1950ís.
Four criminal prosecutions resulted from the archdiocese
sharing its files. Importantly, this agreement with
prosecutors continues to this day. Since 2002, every
complaint that comes in, regardless of its source or the
date of the alleged activity, is reported to civil
authorities. No complaints are held back, pre-screened or
disregarded. The archdiocese fully cooperates with law
are considered by the review Board. That process usually
includes an independent investigator whose findings are
forwarded to the Review Board. We currently work with two
investigators: a retired police detective and a retired
prosecutor. If the Review Board finds a complaint
credible, it sends notice to the archbishop, who will
forward the case to the Vaticanís Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which reviews all cases
involving the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults
by clergy. The archdiocese considers a complaint to be
credible if it has a ďsemblance of truth,Ē meaning it
appears to be or could possibly be true.
No priest or deacon
with a credible complaint against him is allowed to
continue in active ministry during the time his case is
under review by the Church or civil authorities. Those
priests who are restricted and/or removed from ministry
are monitored by a retired parole office to ensure
compliance with the strict limitations on their public
If an allegation
against a priest or deacon is found to be credible, his
name is posted on the archdiocesan website at protect.aod.org.
He may also receive a permanent penalty of living a life
of prayer and penance or dismissal from the clerical
state, also called laicization. In either case, he may no
longer represent himself as a priest or deacon, can no
longer wear clerical attire and may not exercise any form
of church ministry.
The archdiocese has
publicly posted the names of restricted and/or removed
priests and deacons for more than 15 years. Current
practice also includes notifying the parishes in which the
clergy in question served, as well as local media.
Complaints come to the
Detroit archdiocese by verbal report via the 24/7
toll-free victim assistance line, 866-343-8055, or in
writing to firstname.lastname@example.org
There are no deadlines or time limits on those who wish to
make a complaint: it does not matter if the abuse occurred
5, 15 or more than 50 years ago. Every effort is made by
the Victim Assistance Coordinator-a credentialed social
worker-to assist with healing and counseling for those who
have been abused. If requested and helpful, the archbishop
or his priest-delegate will meet with the victim.
We recognize that the
best approach to addressing abuse is to prevent it from
occurring in the first place. Since 2002, the archdiocese
has implemented a number of safe environment programs, all
designed to identify situations that could leave a child
vulnerable to the methods of sexual offenders and to
emphasize the critical steps that must be taken to prevent
and report the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable
The program for adults,
called Protecting Godís Children, is mandatory
for all clergy, church representatives, employees, and
volunteers-all those who work with children and vulnerable
adults. There are also similar, age appropriate, personal
safety programs for grade school, middle school, high
school and religious education students. They go by such
names as Circle of Grace, Called to Serve, Called to
Protect and Think First and Stay Safe.
Since 2002, more than
101,000 adults have been trained through these programs.
In addition, each year we provide training for 29,000
students in our Catholic K-12 schools and the 39,000 in
The archdiocese also
regularly educated church and school personnel about
mandatory reporting. In Michigan, professionals required
to report their suspicions of child abuse or neglect to
state authorities include clergy, school teachers,
counselors, and social workers.
Our highest priority is
those who have suffered from clergy abuse. We recognize
the deep trauma from their experiences, and we understand
it may take a long time before an individual is ready to
come forward. No matter how long it has been, we are here
to listen and try to be of assistance.
Each meeting of the
Review Board begins with a prayer first used in 2011 by
the Archbishop of Dublin. I would like to conclude by
sharing that prayer withyou:
We are so sorry
For what some of
us did to your children:
Treated them so
their hour of need.
We have left them
with a lifelong suffering.
This was not your
plan for them or us.
Please help us to
Guide us, Lord.
The Honorable Michael J. Talbot,
Chair, Archdiocesan Review Board.
COMING NEXT WEEK
Father John P. Fischer
of Cross Catholic Outreach will be visiting our parish
next weekend to speak at all the Masses on behalf of the
poor in developing countries. This ministry was founded to
create a meaningful link between parishes in America and
the priests and nuns working in the Church overseas in the
Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Central and South America.
Fr. John, ordained as a
member of the Comboni Missionaries on July 17, 1976, has
worked in Comboni and Diocesan Missions in Kenya East
As a Priest of the
Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Fr. Fischer has served as
Hospital Chaplain, Mission Director, Tribunal Judge and
Pastor between 1989 and 2011.
In a wider ministry he
has served as president of the U.S. Catholic Mission
Association and on the National and International Catholic
Committee of Scouting.