Sexual misconduct policy and codes of conduct are in place

The sexual abuse crisis in the Church has been made far more horrendous by some bishops, who by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole. The abuse of their power and authority to manipulate and sexually abuse others has caused devastating harm. The fear of scandal replaced honest concern and care for those who have been victimized by abusers. Again, we seek forgiveness from both the Lord Jesus and those who have been harmed in any way by these actions.

As a beginning step, the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the aftermath of this scandal has undertaken some important initiatives to address the situation and its root causes. We must all continue to pray for healing in our Church, in particular for those who have been personally victimized. Be assured of my continued prayers for healing.

Over the course of the past few weeks, parishioners from across the diocese have questioned me regarding the extent of this issue in this diocese — if clergy sexual abuse is still happening in the Church, and what happens when an allegation becomes known. I thought that I would address some of these questions and share the good news of what the Diocese of Rapid City has been doing to protect our children and young people.

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice completed a comprehensive research investigation focusing on the causes and context of clergy sexual abuse in the American Roman Catholic Church between 1950 and 2010. Released in 2011, this was the  second of two studies done, and it reported that the vast majority of abuse cases occurred from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Ninety-four percent of all cases occurred before 1990 and seventy percent of clergy offenders were ordained as priests before 1970. They concluded that these numbers, as well as the style and type of abuse, were fairly consistent with other large organizations (i.e., public schools, boy scouts, etc.) with men who had unsupervised and unlimited access to minors during the last half century and most especially during the 1960s and 1970s.

I share this, not to denigrate the gravity of this issue in the Church, but to put it into a historical context. One could get the sense from the media’s reporting about the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report that wide-spread clergy sexual abuse is still happening across this country. This is simply not the case, even though we are deeply saddened by a recent allegation in our own diocese. The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, was established by the USCCB in June 2002. This Charter includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing and accountability, as well as supporting survivors and the prevention of further acts of abuse in the American Catholic Church.

Since the implementation of the Charter, the Catholic Church in America has done more in seeking to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults than any other institution, public or private. In fact, beginning in the 1990s, the bishops of the Diocese of Rapid City have implemented zero tolerance policies toward any instance of sexual abuse of children and young people.

The Diocese of Rapid City adheres to the following procedures regarding the handling of any reports of allegations of sexual misconduct.

Any allegation involving a minor or vulnerable adult is taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. Allegations are referred to civil authorities.

The diocese has a policy dealing with sexual misconduct, as well as codes of conduct, for priests, deacons, lay employees, volunteers and youth activity participants.

The diocese has an independent review board made up of one priest and several lay people who make recommendations to the bishop regarding the credibility of allegations. They review every allegation that is made.

All clergy, seminarians, diocesan employees and volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults undergo background checks every five years.

All clergy, seminarians, diocesan employees and all volunteers working for the Church are required to participate in safe environment training and recurrent training every five years. Over the past years, 2817 clergy, seminarians, diocesan employees and volunteers have participated in the safe environment training.

All children involved in our Catholic schools and all children involved in parish religious formation programs are taught to recognize, resist and report abuse of any kind. This training takes place yearly. On average, over the past five years 3836 children have gone through the safe environment training each year.

The diocese is audited annually by an independent company to ensure proper training and safeguards are in place and followed. We have been in compliance since the audits began.

I will ensure that the diocese remains vigilant and transparent in fulfilling its policies and procedures regarding reported sexual misconduct. In all of this, we must also never lose sight of those victim-survivors who have suffered because people in positions in power and authority have failed to act as the Gospel demands.

For survivors of sexual abuse, these days in the Church may re-open deep wounds. Support is available from the Church and within our communities. Anyone who has been a victim of sexual misconduct by a bishop, priest, deacon or lay person working for or volunteering for the Church is invited to contact the Victim Assistance Coordinator by calling 605-209-3418 for assistance and compassionate care.

To anyone who has been abused, if you don’t feel comfortable for any reason with the Church providing help, never hesitate to also contact local law enforcement.

With compassion and without judgement, the bishops of the United States pledge to heal and protect with all of the strength God provides us.

West River Catholic September 2018

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