FAIRFIELD—The sexual abuse crisis has led to a call to reform and purify the Church, and meaningful change is already underway in many dioceses across the country, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said at the first Listening Session held at Notre Dame High School.
The Bishop told that gathering that in addition to innovating its own response, the diocese has sought out best practices models to respond to the crisis and reach out to victims and survivors of abuse.
“This is a crisis that has not only shattered the lives of victims but wounded the whole Church,” said the Bishop.
“The very fact that we’re here talking about this saddens my heart. It should never have happened in the life of the Church. No one is the same. Trust has been damaged,” he said, adding that the Church can only move forward if it fully confronts the crisis.
In a candid and at times poignant discussion the Bishop said that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report issued last summer was a turning point in the life of the Church as people came to terms with the prevalence of abuse and the failure of leadership to stop it.
He said that the faithful have asked for complete “transparency and accountability” in response to the crisis, and the assurance that child protection programs are working. They also want justice for the victims.
The Bishop said that he asked retired Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg to address the accountability issues in his upcoming report including how the crisis was handled by diocesan leaders in the past until the present day. The judge’s independent investigation and report is expected to be issued at the end of June.
The Bishop said he has met with many victims and survivors over the past few years who have “lived with indescribable pain and who share courageous stories of trying to put their lives back together.”
He told the men and women present that diocese has reached out to victims through Erin Neil, Victim Assistance Coordinator, a Healing Mass, a survivor’s group, and other activities to bring healing and improve child protection policies.
He is hopeful that as a result of Safe Environments program and Virtus Training, people throughout the diocese are much more attuned to boundary issues and aware of or any signs of abuse.
When asked if the crisis has had an impact on the way the diocese prepares seminarians for the priesthood, the Bishop said that they undergo psychiatric and peer evaluations and participate in human formation programs.
In a one-hour question and answer session the Bishop responded to a wide range of questions and concerns including the cost and source of funds for legal settlements, the financial support given to priests who were credibly accused of abuse, and the impact of the crisis on the Church.
Some who attended the listening session spoke personally about the impact of abuse in their own lives, while others discussed the impact of the crisis on family members who no longer attend Mass because they’ve lost faith in the Church.
“There are many people who may never come back, but our Lord hasn’t abandoned us and he will accompany us on our way. We’re going to have to rebuild trust one person at a time,” he said.
The Bishop has also scheduled listening sessions on April 9, 7:30 pm at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull and on May 1, 7:00 pm at Saint Joseph Church in Brookfield. All are welcome to attend.
A full accounting of the diocesan response to the abuse crisis including a financial accountability report and a full list of resources can be found on the “Pledge to Protect” page of the diocesan website. Visit: https://www.bridgeportdiocese.org/pledge/welcome/