success stories

Posted February 21, 2004

A Portrait of Pain

Wilton Gregory
The Wall Street Journal

On Feb. 27, the National Review Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will release the results of a study it commissioned on the extent of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the U.S. from 1950 to 2002. The study about which there has been some speculation in the media already is unprecedented; and while its focus is not on individuals, it will contain a portrait in aggregate of the pain and the suffering, the crimes and the sins, encompassed in this outrageous misconduct. More than one concerned Catholic has asked me why the bishops requested this study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York. Won't it be just another wound? It will indeed be painful, but the Church in the U.S. needs to shine a light on the past to gather as much information as possible about how this dreadful chapter in our history came about. We cannot change history; but greater and more accurate knowledge will help assure that it is not repeated. Thus, we look not only at our past but also to our future. When one's past is encumbered by sin, Catholics believe that to overcome it we must acknowledge sin, repent, and go forth and sin no more. The John Jay Study marks another step along the path we started to travel at our bishops' 2002 general assembly in Dallas. There we adopted our "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" to incorporate into the life of our Church more effective means to prevent abuse, to heal victims, and to be accountable for staying on this path in our dioceses, parishes and all church institutions.

The audit of Catholic dioceses and eparchies (dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Churches) released last month showed all dioceses in compliance with most of the "Charter" and fully 90% in complete compliance. However, we do not intend to take for granted our progress in dealing with abuse. On Feb. 27, the National Review Board will also make public a report presenting the results of the Board's interviews with numerous knowledgeable people relating to the "how and why" of this crisis. This second report obviously will not be "scientific" as the John Jay study is, but will provide an important perspective of a group of dedicated Catholic laity who share the bishops' commitment to a safe future for all children.

Pope John Paul II in his 2004 Lenten message expresses hope that this Lent may "be a time of ever greater concern for the needs of children." The Holy Father reminds us that "there are young people who have been profoundly hurt by the violence of adults," including sexual abuse. The reports that will become public so soon after Lent begins will cause us not only to grieve over the past but also to keep alert to present and future challenges to defend the young and innocent.

While apprehensive about the forthcoming difficult news, I feel the confidence that comes with facing a situation clearly and fully. I believe that God can bring new life out of suffering. I have seen Catholic dioceses bringing about reconciliation, including the Archdiocese of Boston under Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

These reports about the past will be part of our path into the future as we walk in the light of more certain knowledge and in complete commitment to the protection of children and young people. I pray as well that what we are doing will be of benefit not only to the Church but to the whole of society.

Bishop Gregory is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.