While child abuse prevention is a focus of the secular community during April, child protection is an ongoing commitment in our diocese and our parishes. We continue to take seriously the matter of protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults in all of our Church environments.
The scourge of child sexual abuse by clergy is a painful, indelible mark on the Church. While we cannot erase it, we must continue to heal from it, learn from it and do all we can to prevent it from ever happening again. Healing and prevention are at the heart of our efforts.
In our diocese, the healing occurs through outreach to victim survivors of those who, as children, were sexually abused by clergy. Our Victim Assistance Program and last year’s Independent Reconciliation Program that paid $6.3 million to 51 victim survivors are indicative of the scope of that outreach, of our belief that victim survivors and our Church are always in the process of healing.
In order to heal, we must be transparent in all we say and do. As St. John writes in his first letter, we are called to love “in deed and truth” (18). In 2018, we published the names of clergy against whom a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse has been confirmed. We publicize when an allegation has been made and is under review, and when a decision has been made. If the substantiated allegation involves a person who is in active ministry, that person is removed pending the outcome of the investigation.
Prayer is integral to what we undertake in fostering healing and protecting our children. We have celebrated Masses of Atonement to further that healing. On Wednesday, April 14, 7 p.m., we will again pray the Rosary for the Protection of Children and Families — an essential part of our observance of Child Abuse Prevention Month. I invite you to pray with me that evening at www.richmonddiocese.org/livestream.
We have become more vigilant in making certain that all of our Church environments in which adults interact with children are the safest they can be. We do thorough background checks on all who have contact with children, and we provide employees and volunteers with ongoing VIRTUS training so that they are equipped to recognize signs of potential child abuse.
Child protection is a priority for us, something that underlies and permeates the heart and soul of who we are as Church and what we do. It is evident in the context of our entire mission of teaching the faith, celebrating the sacraments, calling people to holiness and deepening their relationship with Christ, and reaching out in charity.
Day after day, we carry out that mission in ways that are appropriate, sensitive and pastoral. Our care and love for those we serve includes a firm, permanent commitment to protecting children and all who are vulnerable. In short, child protection cannot be — and is not — an afterthought for our diocese and parishes.
During this Easter season, we are reminded of the new life God has given to us. Through the death and resurrection of his Son, we have overcome sin, opening the path to eternal life for us. On that path we are called to live a life of virtue, a life that reflects the Gospel to all whom we seek and encounter.
May that reflection extend to all we do in protecting our children from abuse.