Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James star in a scene from the movie "Spotlight." The Catholic News Service classification is A-III — adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Open Road Films/cns
Diocese remains vigilant in fight against abuse
Michael C. Barber, SJ
A movie called "Spotlight" has opened recently in the Bay Area. It is a story about the Boston Globe reporters investigating the sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002. This was a painful time for the Church in the USA. It was even more painful for the children and families of those abused by priests. The film will be painful to watch for the survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
I join Pope Francis in unequivocally condemning sexual abuse of children. I was present in Philadelphia in September when the Holy Father addressed the U.S. bishops. He said:
"I hold the stories and the suffering and the sorrow of children who were sexually abused by priests deep in my heart. I remain overwhelmed with shame that men entrusted with the tender care of children violated these little ones and caused grievous harm. I am profoundly sorry. God weeps.
"The crimes and sins of the sexual abuse of children must no longer be held in secret. I pledge the zealous vigilance of the Church to protect children and the promise of accountability for all."
The Pope's words are my own. This is an evil that will not be tolerated by the Catholic Church, by the Diocese of Oakland, or by me, your bishop.
Back to the film. What the movie fails to show are the actions the Church is taking for ongoing attention and vigilance. Here is what the Diocese of Oakland is doing:
• A "zero tolerance" policy. No one with a credible allegation of child abuse may function in any ministry in the Diocese of Oakland.
• Background checks and fingerprinting: Anyone working with children and youth in the diocese has to be fingerprinted and receives a background check. This includes all clergy, religious, staff members and volunteers. More than 43,000 staff and volunteers have received a criminal background check.
• Safe Environment Programs. Students in Catholic schools annually participate in a safe environment program to help promote awareness and teach them about safe adults, safe contact and who to turn for help when needed. More than 39,000 students received training last year.
• Shield the Vulnerable. In addition to fingerprinting, all diocesan staff members and volunteers who work with children are required to receive training every three years on how to identify and protect children from abuse as well as how to fulfill their responsibilities as mandated reporters required to inform authorities about suspected child abuse. More than 43,000 persons have trained in the Shield the Vulnerable program.
• An annual compliance audit to insure that diocesan policies and practices meet or exceed the standards established in the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its accompanying Essential Norms. The diocese has passed all audits, which are conducted by an outside, independent auditing agency. We are in compliance with all elements of the charter.
• An independent review board to evaluate complaints and advise the bishop on an accused person's fitness for ministry.
• The diocese provides ongoing support and psychological counseling for victims of clerical sexual abuse.
Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church to continue on earth His mission of love, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and eternal salvation. Sexual abuse by priests does so much harm to the victim . . . even to destroying their ability to love, and experience the love of Jesus. It destroys trust in Christ and His Church. It is a betrayal of the highest order.
But just as Judas' betrayal did not destroy the Church — so it is with this issue. Look at the hundreds and thousands of good, faithful, dedicated priests. As we see through the recent visit of Pope Francis to our country, Christ's mission of love and mercy continues to flow through the Church to this world, our country, and our diocese.
Christ assured us: "I am with you all days, even to the end of the ages." But He also said "Go and sin no more."
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