Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

Bishop Caggiano’s Letter Regarding the Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Report

October 1, 2019

Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I write today to inform you that retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg has released the Clerical Sexual Abuse Accountability Report for our Diocese, which I commissioned on October 3, 2018.

The report, nearly a year in the making, was compiled by the Judge and his investigative team who had unfettered access to diocesan files, reviewing over 250,000 records, hundreds of thousands of individual documents, inspection of parish offices, files, and computers and interviews with key participants. It provides an independent and comprehensive accounting of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy along with the response of diocesan leadership since the inception of the diocese in 1953. It is available in its entirety on the diocesan website, (www.bridgeportdiocese.org) and includes an executive summary for the reader.

While this is a difficult day in the life of our Church, I hope and pray that it is also an historic step toward closure and reconciliation for all those affected by the crisis, particularly the victims and their families who have suffered so much. The report explores a deep wound in the life of our Church, one that has profoundly changed and challenged all of us. Yet there is reason for hope because so much work has already been done to create awareness, to protect our children and prevent future abuse.

I believe the publication of the report is a crucial step forward, among many other pastoral and administrative measures that the Diocese has taken over the last eighteen years, to ensure complete accountability and transparency in the handling of abuse and also to maintain the strongest Safe Environment policies to protect our children and young people.

Together with the Financial Accountability Report which was originally published in October 2018, this report continues our commitment to full and ongoing transparency in these matters. Furthermore, the first annual update of the Financial Accountability Report, expected to be released before December 31, 2019, will include a full accounting of the costs associated with the Judge’s Report.

I wish again to offer my profound and heartfelt apology to all who have suffered abuse at the hands of any cleric in our Diocese. I also apologize to all those who have lost a sense of trust or feel betrayed by Church leadership. My personal commitment is to do whatever is humanly possible to eradicate this evil from our midst. I also pledge to swiftly implement the recommendations included in Judge Holzberg’s Report in the months ahead.

As we move forward, I wish to thank those survivors and family members who have joined our efforts to prevent this crime from ever happening again. Likewise, to our good and faithful priests, who represent the vast majority of those in ministry, I recognize the pain and challenges you face in this time of challenge and remain grateful for your support.

Finally, I wish to thank Judge Holzberg, who served as lead investigator and his team for their exhaustive work on this effort and their professionalism throughout the process.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that with the release of this historic report, we can come to terms with the sins of the past, move towards deeper reconciliation, continue to walk with our survivors on their journey of healing, and work together for the spiritual renewal of the diocese.

I ask for your prayers and support as we work together to renew our Diocesan Church.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Frank J. Caggiano,
Bishop of Bridgeport

Safe Environments Summit discusses moving forward

BRIDGEPORT—“There is tremendous hope in a difficult climate,” said diocesan director of Safe Environments Erin Neil, at the Safe Environments Leadership Summit held this morning in Queen of Saints Hall at the Catholic Center.

“Christ is our true healer and he will help guide us through this time as he has in all times,” said Neil who gave a brief overview of the Dallas Charter and also introduced survivors of clerical sexual abuse who now lead the diocesan Committee for Hope and Healing.

Neil said revisions that began on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2013 have already been in place in our diocese since 2003. These revisions include extending the charter to include all individuals working with young people and to include vulnerable adults. These revisions were passed and are to be put in place in other dioceses in June of 2018.

Survivor group members Peter Philipp, Peggy Fry and Joseph Cann shared difficult and heartbreaking stories of their own experiences with abuse and answered questions from the more than 60 religious educators in attendance.

They expressed the joy they felt upon getting to experience the Mass of Reparation, which took place at St. Augustine Cathedral on Saturday, September 15.

Philipp told the gathered that he turned to Fry during the Mass and said, “I am so sad that we had to have this,” to which she responded, “but aren’t you glad we did?”

Survivors discussed how abuse changes lives and how important it is to look for and notice signs. “If you think it might be [abuse]…report it,” said Philipp.

The survivors each explained their difficult yet crucial journey toward healing.

“We are going to work at healing our Church…you are our beginning,” expressed Fry.

Philipp explained, “We [in our diocese] are very lucky to have Bishop Caggiano as our leader.”

Survivors expressed how grateful they were that Bishop Caggiano held a “listening session” for survivors when he first arrived in the diocese.

“I thought no one wanted to hear my story…but bishop listened,” said Fry. “He said ‘tell me what you want me to know about you’ and listened to 15 of us tell our stories.”

Fry expressed how the Church will not be able to heal until ‘we get to the bottom of it,’ “You may not have been affected yourself but you have been affected because you are the Church and this has happened to the Church.”

In response to the discussion, an attendee voiced her hope for the Church, saying, “I still believe, more than ever, in this diocese, in Bishop Caggiano, in the Safe Environments program.”

“With an emphasis on moving forward,” Peter Philipp expressed, “the new Church is going to be a stronger Church.”

Those attending the summit also learned about resources for survivors, procedures on maintaining Safe Environments in the diocese, and an overview of Safe Environments training programs for children and parents.

Presenting at the summit were Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environments for the Diocese of Bridgeport, Rose Talbot-Babey, Coordinator of Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Bridgeport ,Patrick Donovon, Director of the Leadership Institute for the Diocese of Bridgeport, and Deacon John DiTaranto, Safe Environment Program Assistant, and Astrid Alvarez, VIRTUS Training & Development Specialist for the Diocese of Bridgeport. Survivors included Peter Philip, Peggy Fry, and Joseph Cann, father of an abuse survivor.

The Safe Environment program in the Diocese of Bridgeport has a full-time director, Ms. Erin Neil, L.C.S.W. Safe Environment programs oversee the implementation of Charter mandates including victim assistance, criminal background checks, written Codes of Conduct, and child sexual abuse awareness and prevention training for Priests, Deacons, Lay Employees, Volunteers, Children, and Youth. For questions or concerns relating to Safe Environments, Background Checks, VIRTUS Awareness Training, Resources for Victims of Abuse or Mandated Reporting, please contact: Erin Neil L.C.S.W., Director of Safe Environments by phone: (203) 416-1406; (203) 650-3265 or email: ENeil@diobpt.org.

Bishop at Mass of Reparation: Healing Comes Only After Cleansing

BRIDGEPORT— “The leadership of the Church has failed in many ways, it has been tarnished… Healing will take a long time,” Bishop Frank J. Caggiano said at the Clergy Mass of Reparation on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows this morning in response to the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.

More than 800 priests, deacons, religious and laity filled St. Augustine Cathedral for the Mass, which the Bishop announced earlier this month as a major spiritual step toward atonement and moving the diocese forward.

>> View schedule of other Reparation Masses throughout the Diocese

The Mass began in a somber and penitential way when the bishop removed his crosier and miter–the symbols of his authority– and prostrated himself before the altar as he led the congregation in the Confiteor and the singing of the Kyrie.

The first reading from the Book of Samuel, “in the sight of the LORD what David had done was evil…” was read by Peter Philipp, a member of the Healing Committee of the diocese and a survivor of clerical sexual abuse.

In his homily, the bishop said Church leaders failed victims and the faithful by “holding their tongues” and compounding the evil of abuse.

“Survivors of this evil, this sin, this crime deserve our love, support, and accompaniment They are a sign of courage in our midst, a sign of hope,” the bishop said, noting that he has become friends with members of the diocesan healing committee and is grateful for their witness.

The bishop began his homily by recalling an accident he sustained as an 8-year old boy that brought him to Coney Island Hospital with a gash on his forehead that left a scar.

He said he learned that day that healing can only begin “after cleansing, and that will not be achieved by a program, but by a heart that stays vacant for the Lord.”

“Those who were abused were deeply hurt by the crime of abuse. The scars that our sisters and brothers have endured may never go away,” he said.

“Let us not be afraid of our wounds. Let them become the cracks through which the grace of Christ gets in and one day will set us free.”

Photos by Lisa DeTullio Russell

The bishop said the Church can only move forward from this present crisis through reparation in the form of “works of mercy and acts of charity,” and by being transparent in all things.

“As AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) reminds us, we are only as sick as our own secrets, and we must end the culture of secrecy in the Church.”

The bishop said that priests who abused were “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” who betrayed the trust of the innocent in a way that burdened them for life.

The audience broke into applause twice during the solemn liturgy, first after the bishop’s homily, and at the end of Mass when the bishop called on the faithful to support the priests.

“The good and faithful priests need our support and prayers,” he said.

Before leading the prayer to St. Michael, the Archangel, which the bishop has mandated to be said in every parish after Mass, the bishop urged those in attendance to assist any victims of abuse who are still suffering.

“Encourage them to come forward. We need to accompany them. We will do this together one person at a time.”

The morning began with a Holy Hour that included the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament where the Rosary was said in five different languages.

Fr. Joseph Marcello, Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Trumbull, served as Master of Ceremonies for the Mass. Music was provided by Dr. Samuel A. Schmitt, Director of Sacred Music and organist of The Cathedral Parish.

Kathryn Aaron was the Cantor. The Communion Meditation was guided by The Sacred Beauty Schola including Valerie Tarantino, Paul Chu, Josephine Landback, and Alexis Hoadley.

Bishop Instructs Parishes to Recite St. Michael Prayer

The Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel will be recited at the end of every Mass in the Diocese, beginning on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15, as instructed by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano earlier this month.

Michael the Archangel appears multiple times in the Bible as protector and defender. In the book of Daniel, Michael the Archangel appears in Daniel’s vision as “the great prince” who defends Israel against its enemies. In the Book of Revelation, he leads God’s armies to final victory over the forces of evil. Devotion to Michael the Archangel is the oldest angelic devotion, rising in the East in the fourth century. The Church in the West began to observe a feast honoring Michael and the angels in the fifth century. Today, St. Michael is invoked for protection from evil and from enemies.

“Christ has conquered sin and death, but we are still in the midst of a spiritual battle. For that reason, I would like the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel recited at the end of every Mass in the Diocese,” said the bishop. “I believe that the Church is facing a moment of crisis that demands honesty and repentance from the bishops and decisive action to ensure that these failures will never happen again.”

Bishop Frank also asks that the faithful of the Diocese pray the St. Michael Prayer personally as well.

 

PRAYER TO SAINT MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Download the prayer card

Mass of Reparation Set for Saturday

BRIDGEPORT— In response to national priest sexual abuse, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will lead a Holy Hour with Rosary and a Mass of Reparation and Purification on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Saturday, September 15th, at the Cathedral of St. Augustine, 399 Washington Avenue in Bridgeport.

The day will begin with a Holy Hour at 9:30 am followed by Mass celebrated by Bishop Caggiano and diocesan priests at 10:30 am.  The bishop has asked all priests throughout the diocese to attend, and the Mass is open to the public.

>> View schedule of other Reparation Masses throughout the Diocese

“During this time of trial, we must come together as a family of faith and beg the Lord for forgiveness and to offer reparation for the sins committed by priests, bishops and any member of the Church, especially the depraved sins against children and the vulnerable. It is also a time to ask God to heal those who have been wounded by sin, to turn our hearts away from anything that is evil and to renew our commitment to holiness,” said the bishop in a letter to priests.

The bishop said he hopes that the Mass is “the first tangible step towards renewing confidence and trust in the Church for many of our faithful.  I invite all faithful to join me and accompany one another during this time of sadness and anger, and to strengthen one another in our Catholic faith.”

The bishop has issued the first in a series of letters that over the next few months will outline real, concrete, administrative, spiritual and pastoral actions designed to achieve the highest level of transparency and accountability.

The letters will address the ongoing needs both of survivors of sexual abuse and the good priests who remain faithful to their vocation.

The bishop said that it is his sincere hope that these measures will help foster a spirit of reparation and conversion in the lives of all clerics and throughout the diocesan Church.

“Further recognizing that all of us in the community of the faithful will have unique healing needs in these difficult times, there will be additional spiritual initiatives,” he said. “With these measures we will begin to restore confidence in Church leadership on all levels and to bring healing and reconciliation to our Church.”

In his letter to priests, the bishop also instructed them to recite the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel at the end of each and every Mass celebrated in the diocese, beginning on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The prayer will be said immediately before the recessional hymn is sung.

“Christ has conquered sin and death, but we are still in the midst of a spiritual battle.  For that reason, I would like the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel recited,” said the bishop. “I believe that the Church is facing a moment of crisis that demands honesty and repentance from the bishops and decisive action to ensure that these failures will never happen again.”

He has asked pastors to celebrate a local Mass of Reparation in their parishes no later than October 31, 2018. In the coming weeks, the bishop will announce additional spiritual initiatives and administrative measures to address the sexual abuse scandal in a spirit of transparency and accountability. A complete list is being published on the diocesan website as masses are scheduled. Click here to learn more.

Bishop Meets with St. Charles Parish Leaders

BRIDGEPORT—Bishop Caggiano met with the leaders of St. Charles Parish this afternoon to discuss circumstances surrounding the resignation of their former pastor, Fr. Frank Gomez, and ways the parish might move forward in the future.

In a candid and informal exchange that lasted an hour and a half, the bishop fielded questions from 20 parish leaders who gathered in the conference room of the Urban Retreat Center on parish grounds.

Parishioners thanked the bishop for meeting with them, shared their concerns and sadness over the loss of their pastor and their hopes going forward.

The diocese announced the resignation of Fr. Gomez from the priesthood on August 24 after he made the decision to discontinue evaluation and treatment at the healthcare center he had entered at the bishop’s request.

At the end of July the bishop asked Fr. Gomez to step aside from ministry and seek help when a few parents came forward to express concerns about his violation of diocesan Safe Environments policies relating to minors.

The bishop emphasized that there have been no allegations of child abuse and that the parents who shared their concerns also respected and cared for Fr. Gomez.

“The people who came forward deserve our thanks. They did not come forward to hurt him,” the bishop said.

Diocesan Safe Environment policies encourage people to report any potential concerns or warning signs of inappropriate behavior or possible abuse.

In a detailed letter issued to the diocese on August 24, the bishop explained that Fr. Gomez had texted and given gifts to minors without parental permission.

Erin Neil, Diocese Director of Safe Environments, told parishioners that the diocese has a “rule of two” related to online texting and meeting with minors. Two adults must always be present when meeting in person and parents should be copied on any texts or emails to minors.

She said that the Safe Environment handbook and regulations are posted on the diocesan website (www.bridgeportdiocese.org)

Parishioners said they were grateful to their former pastor for the work he did to revive the parish and for his personal ministry to them.

“People are angry. I understand that,” the bishop said. “The loss of a pastor this way is a wound to the parish and to the Church.”

When asked about the diocesan plans moving forward, the bishop said, “We have to talk about it together and work on a vision for the parish. The rebirth doesn’t have to end. This should not be a moment of discouragement. We are the People of God, and we will move forward.”

The bishop said he would return to the parish at the end of October to meet with young people and their parents.

Msgr. Christopher Walsh, who is serving as temporary administrator of the parish, is fluent in Spanish, said the closing prayer at the meeting.

St. Charles Parish, located on East Main Street, is the largest parish in Bridgeport with more than 3,000 registered parishioners. It offers Masses in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Creole to serve its diverse community.

Pope Asked to Convene Synod to Discuss Abuse

DALLAS (CNS) — Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns has asked Pope Francis for an extraordinary synod to address issues in the latest Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis, including “abuse of power, clericalism, accountability and the understanding of transparency in the church.”

The letter, posted to the Diocese of Dallas’ website Aug. 30, was signed by the bishop and priests who serve in leadership roles in various consultative bodies in the diocese. It had been sent earlier in the day to Archbishop Christophe Pierre, the U.S. papal nuncio, so that it could be forwarded to the pope as soon as possible.

“The current crisis of sexual abuse by clergy, the cover-up by leaders in the church and the lack of fidelity of some have caused great harm,” the letter said. It suggests that this synod should include topics such as “the care and the safeguard of children and the vulnerable, outreach to victims, the identity and lifestyle of the clergy, the importance of healthy human formation within the presbyterate/religious community, etc.”

“We are working diligently at the local level to deal with these issues but increasing accountability at all levels of the church is of utmost importance,” Bishop Burns said in a statement. He also noted that the priests who signed the letter “believe a real solution must be found to the heinous issue of clergy abuse of minors.”

One of the signers was Father Rudy Garcia, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Frisco, who serves on the diocesan presbyteral council.

“It’s important to come together at this time of crisis in community of faith and respond to it through the lens of faith and with a firm resolve to create a safe environment for our young and vulnerable adults,” he said, adding that priests must go through the same Safe Environment training that lay individuals who work or volunteer in parishes and schools are required to do annually.

“I think the bishop does an excellent job in drawing the community together and addressing this difficult issue at this difficult time and marshalling us around a solid plan of spirituality and of guaranteeing the safety of our environment now and in the future,” he said.

In a news conference Aug. 30, Bishop Burns told reporters that he did not know whether the letter would move the pope to call a synod, but he said that numerous priests encouraged him to send it anyway.

The bishop’s call for the special synod follows a similar one from the bishop of Portsmouth, England, on Aug. 22 and comes after weeks of news of clergy abuse, not only across the United States and abroad, but also within the Diocese of Dallas.

On Aug. 19, Bishop Burns told parishioners at St. Cecilia Catholic Church that their former pastor, Father Edmundo Paredes, had not only stolen church funds, but had also been accused of sexual misconduct by three individuals, later revealed to be three now-adult males, who said the abuse happened more than a decade ago. The bishop said that those allegations were found to be credible.

“If we are ever going to restore trust or credibility in the church, it’s only going to come after we consistently do what is right,” Bishop Burns said Aug. 26 at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church in Plano.

“My friends, let me say to you that if this church of ours has to go through a purification, so be it,” he said to applause. “And let us pray for the fire of the Holy Spirit, so as to purify us, in what we need to do, in being the church that we say we are. I’m not going to cover my ears or cover my eyes or cover my mouth and we are going to look at this head-on.”

In the case of Father Paredes, Dallas diocesan officials have said that the former pastor is accused of theft of approximately $80,000 and that a settlement had been reached with the victims, who wished to remain anonymous.

Bishop Burns has said that in the future the diocese would:

  • Hold a Ceremony of Sorrow at St. Cecilia Catholic Church
  • Schedule four town hall meetings, beginning with a liturgy, across the diocese to allow Catholics to ask questions
  • Expand Safe Environment protocols with wider participation from parishioners
  • Survey parents, grandparents and parishioners as to the effectiveness of the Safe Environment Program within their parishes
  • Contract a researcher to look at Pennsylvania grand jury report about the inefficiencies of safeguards in the six dioceses there and to compare those inefficiencies to the Diocese of Dallas
  • Ask priests across the diocese to pray the rosary prior to each Mass in October, whenever possible.

Diocesan officials have not said when the ceremony at St. Cecilia would occur or when or where the town hall meetings would be schedule
– – –

By David Sedeno | Catholic News Service

Sedeno is executive editor of The Texas Catholic and Revista Catolica, the English- and Spanish-language newspapers of the Dallas Diocese.

Bishop announces plans for Mass of Reparation

BRIDGEPORT—In response to national priest sexual abuse, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano will lead a Holy Hour with Rosary and a Mass of Reparation and Purification on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Saturday, September 15th, at the Cathedral of St. Augustine, 399 Washington Avenue in Bridgeport.

The day will begin with a Holy Hour at 9:30 am followed by Mass celebrated by Bishop Caggiano and diocesan priests at 10:30 am. The Bishop has asked all priests throughout the diocese to attend, and the Mass is open to the public.

“During this time of trial, we must come together as a family of faith and beg the Lord for forgiveness and to offer reparation for the sins committed by priests, bishops and any member of the Church, especially the depraved sins against children and the vulnerable. It is also a time to ask God to heal those who have been wounded by sin, to turn our hearts away from anything that is evil and to renew our commitment to holiness,” said the Bishop in a letter to priests.

The Bishop said he hopes that the Mass is “the first tangible step towards renewing confidence and trust in the Church for many of our faithful. I invite all faithful to join me and accompany one another during this time of sadness and anger, and to strengthen one another in our Catholic faith.”

In his letter to priests, the Bishop also instructed them to recite the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel at the end of each and every Mass celebrated in the Diocese, beginning on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. The prayer will be said immediately before the recessional hymn is sung.

“Christ has conquered sin and death, but we are still in the midst of a spiritual battle. For that reason, I would like the Prayer to Saint Michael the Archangel recited,” said the Bishop. “I believe that the Church is facing a moment of crisis that demands honesty and repentance from the bishops and decisive action to ensure that these failures will never happen again.”

 

PRAYER TO SAINT MICHAEL THE ARCHANGEL
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Survivors Share Their Stories of Hope and Healing

TRUMBULL—“Most of us think that these things happen somewhere else…but it happened to my family, and it can happen to anyone,” a survivor shared her story of her experience with abuse at a young age.

The Office of Safe Environments held a VIRTUS training session on Thursday, August 23rd for about 40 school employees who are new to the diocese and other volunteers from 2-5 pm at St. Catherine of Siena in Trumbull.

Three abuse survivors each gave a testimony about their experience with abuse and were available to answer questions.

“What we have in place is so important…especially because of what is going on now…” said Erin Neil, the Director of Safe Environments for the Diocese of Bridgeport.

In light of recent events, the testimonies of these survivors stood as a powerful message for all.

One survivor spoke of the unexpected and long-term effects his experience with abuse had on him. “I would ask myself why this was happening,” he said. “It had an effect on my relationships and caused problems with communication and intimacy.”

“I am so glad that you are here,” the survivor addressed the group, “when this happened to me, there wasn’t such thing as VIRTUS.”

“What you are going to see is very necessary because your environment is only as safe as you and I make it,” the survivor said that it is training sessions like this that will make sure that what happened to him is minimized as much as humanly possible.

Another survivor shared, “My vulnerability was my abusers’ access key…” She explained that she wondered who was going to believe her if she ever came forward to tell her story.

“God was and still is the center of my life,” she assured, “God did everything He could to keep me in the palm of His hand.”

She encouraged the group to watch for warning signs and clues of abuse. “Allow yourself to be the eyes, ears, and mouthpiece for these children…they may not have the courage to speak up themselves.”

“You are the person that a child is going to trust and come to in a situation like this,” the survivor let the group know of the importance of awareness.

“When a child has the courage to tell us something that is going on, our only reaction should be ‘I believe you and it’s not your fault’,” said Deacon John DiTaranto, Safe Environment Program Assistant and presenter of the session, encouraging the group of the importance of listening to the victims and being their advocates.

When asked what a helpful thing one can say when a victim comes forward to report abuse, one survivor told the group of the importance of encouraging the affected that they are personally there to help them and that there is hope for them in a seemingly hopeless situation.

DiTaranto explained the purpose of training sessions such as this one, saying, “Our program is called Safe Environments because our focus is to be aware that a child should never be allowed to be in this vulnerable position…because if a predator does not have access to a child, they can’t abuse a child.”

A mother of a survivor shared her heartfelt testimony, describing the warning signs her son displayed, which at the time were attributed to his diagnosis of ADHD. She noticed he was withdrawn and angry, had personality and attitude changes, problems with relationships, and wasn’t the same fun-loving boy she once knew.

As an adult, her son eventually died of an accidental overdose about two years after sharing about the abuse he experienced as a child.

“Maybe we could have helped him if we had the VIRTUS program at the time…” she said, “maybe if this was shown to students and teachers, this would not have happened. Sexual abuse can happen to anyone…it is important to be aware and to know the warning signs. ”

When given the opportunity to share some thoughts, attendees of the training session made the point that one needs to be mindful of what they are saying to kids, and marveled at the courage that it takes for victims to come forward.

DiTaranto commented that the Diocese of Bridgeport has a Bishop who is very focused on healing… “We have the programs to go forward,” he stated.

He also explained that the Office of Safe Environments goes to all of the Diocesan schools every year and conducts a “Think First and Stay Safe” program, which gives guidelines for personal safety, respectful behavior and tells children what they should do if they are in a situation in which they are uncomfortable.

There are three aspects of the Safe Environments program: participating in a training session, being aware that there are policies and procedures in place, what these are and the zero tolerance there is for any breach of procedure, and the need to submit to a background check.

VIRTUS training sessions are conducted by the Office of Safe Environments and are mandatory for anyone working or volunteering in the Diocese of Bridgeport. For questions or concerns relating to Safe Environments, Background Checks, VIRTUS Awareness Training, Resources for Victims of Abuse or Mandated Reporting, please contact Erin Neil, L.C.S.W., Director of Safe Environments at 203.416.1406 or eneil@diobpt.org.

Sexual abuse victims share their stories

BRIDGEPORT—One of the major challenges for victims of sexual abuse who have come forward in the past has been getting people to listen to them, to believe their stories and to respect the suffering and pain they’ve experienced.

A recent Catholic News Service story reported that sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests, but by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference.

CNS also reported that survivors also faced a stigma caused by sexual assault. The victims were molested at an age when they did not know about sex. Confused, they realized what happened when they grew up. Feeling disgust, anger and shame, they feared hostile reactions from their traditional communities.

Click here for Healing (long Version)

In September 2017, as part of it own efforts toward healing and reconciliation, the Diocese of Bridgeport invited members of its Committee for Healing to share their stories in a video project. Two videos were produced at Sacred Heart University in association with the Safe Environments Office of the Diocese.

Appearing in the videos are Peter Philipp, Peggy Fry, Barbara Oleynick, James DiVasto, who experienced clerical sexual abuse in our diocese as children and teens.

The longer video, “A conversation on abuse,” explores the full range of feelings, challenges and hopes of those who have suffered from sexual abuse.

The short video, “Looking forward in hope,” offers a positive look at the reconciliation now under way in the diocese.

As Catholics throughout the United States seek to understand the abuse crisis and work toward reform, we are pleased to re-issue the videos authorized by Bishop Frank J. Caggiano as a major step forward in honoring the truth and testimony of survivors and moving forward in the healing process.

The moving and authentic testimony of the speakers gives an insight into their lifelong struggles with abuse, their personal courage, and their willingness to step forward and help others.

At last year’s Mass of Hope, Healing and Reconciliation held at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield, Bishop Caggiano said “No healing can occur unless we stand in the truth,” said the bishop, who condemned sexual abuse and its lifelong impact on victims.

“There are many with their hearts shattered because of the evil of predator clerics” he said. “The survivors have endured great suffering in the deepest part of their hearts.” The bishop said the evil of child sexual abuse robbed the innocence of victims and represented a betrayal of good priests, who also seek healing from the damage done by the crisis.

The Bishop praised victims for their strength and courage, and for the depth of their faith that has led to work with the Church in the process of reconciliation.

(For information about the Survivor’s Group or for victim assistance, call Erin Neil, LCSW: 203.650.3265 or eneil@diobpt.org; or Michael Trintrup, LCSW: at 203.241.0987, or mtintrup@ccfc-ct.org.)

Laity will join abuse investigation

WASHINGTON—Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has issued the following statement after a series of meetings with members of the USCCB’s Executive Committee and other bishops. The following statement includes three goals and three principles, along with initial steps of a plan that will involve laity, experts, and the Vatican. A more developed plan will be presented to the full body of bishops at their general assembly meeting in Baltimore in November.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full statement follows:

“Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Two weeks ago, I shared with you my sadness, anger, and shame over the recent revelations concerning Archbishop Theodore McCarrick. Those sentiments continue and are deepened in light of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. We are faced with a spiritual crisis that requires not only spiritual conversion, but practical changes to avoid repeating the sins and failures of the past that are so evident in the recent report. Earlier this week, the USCCB Executive Committee met again and established an outline of these necessary changes.

The Executive Committee has established three goals: (1) an investigation into the questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick; (2) an opening of new and confidential channels for reporting complaints against bishops; and (3) advocacy for more effective resolution of future complaints. These goals will be pursued according to three criteria: proper independence, sufficient authority, and substantial leadership by laity.

We have already begun to develop a concrete plan for accomplishing these goals, relying upon consultation with experts, laity, and clergy, as well as the Vatican. We will present this plan to the full body of bishops in our November meeting. In addition, I will travel to Rome to present these goals and criteria to the Holy See, and to urge further concrete steps based on them.

The overarching goal in all of this is stronger protections against predators in the Church and anyone who would conceal them, protections that will hold bishops to the highest standards of transparency and accountability.

Allow me to briefly elaborate on the goals and criteria that we have identified.

The first goal is a full investigation of questions surrounding Archbishop McCarrick. These answers are necessary to prevent a recurrence, and so help to protect minors, seminarians, and others who are vulnerable in the future. We will therefore invite the Vatican to conduct an Apostolic Visitation to address these questions, in concert with a group of predominantly lay people identified for their expertise by members of the National Review Board and empowered to act.

The second goal is to make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier. Our 2002 “Statement of Episcopal Commitment” does not make clear what avenue victims themselves should follow in reporting abuse or other sexual misconduct by bishops. We need to update this document. We also need to develop and widely promote reliable third-party reporting mechanisms. Such tools already exist in many dioceses and in the public sector and we are already examining specific options.

The third goal is to advocate for better procedures to resolve complaints against bishops. For example, the canonical procedures that follow a complaint will be studied with an eye toward concrete proposals to make them more prompt, fair, and transparent and to specify what constraints may be imposed on bishops at each stage of that process.

We will pursue these goals according to three criteria.

The first criterion is genuine independence. Any mechanism for addressing any complaint against a bishop must be free from bias or undue influence by a bishop. Our structures must preclude bishops from deterring complaints against them, from hampering their investigation, or from skewing their resolution.

The second criterion relates to authority in the Church. Because only the Pope has authority to discipline or remove bishops, we will assure that our measures will both respect that authority and protect the vulnerable from the abuse of ecclesial power.

Our third criterion is substantial involvement of the laity. Lay people bring expertise in areas of investigation, law enforcement, psychology, and other relevant disciplines, and their presence reinforces our commitment to the first criterion of independence.

Finally, I apologize and humbly ask your forgiveness for what my brother bishops and I have done and failed to do. Whatever the details may turn out to be regarding Archbishop McCarrick or the many abuses in Pennsylvania (or anywhere else), we already know that one root cause is the failure of episcopal leadership. The result was that scores of beloved children of God were abandoned to face an abuse of power alone. This is a moral catastrophe. It is also part of this catastrophe that so many faithful priests who are pursuing holiness and serving with integrity are tainted by this failure.

We firmly resolve, with the help of God’s grace, never to repeat it. I have no illusions about the degree to which trust in the bishops has been damaged by these past sins and failures. It will take work to rebuild that trust. What I have outlined here is only the beginning; other steps will follow. I will keep you informed of our progress toward these goals.

Let me ask you to hold us to all of these resolutions. Let me also ask you to pray for us, that we will take this time to reflect, repent, and recommit ourselves to holiness of life and to conform our lives even more to Christ, the Good Shepherd.”

USCCB article

Victims hurt by lack of compassion

WASHINGTON—Sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests, but by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference.

Four survivors of sexual assaults by priests shared their stories with Catholic News Service. They are: Jim VanSickle and Mike McDonnell of Pennsylvania, Michael Norris of Houston and Judy Larson of Utah.

Many of them have not been to a Catholic church in years. They say the hardhearted attitudes of diocesan officials, staff and ordinary churchgoers and an atmosphere at their parishes allowed the abuse.

“Being raised Catholic, I remember—you don’t speak out against your own church,” said VanSickle. “Nobody’s going to listen to you.”

Most of them belonged to what they described as extremely traditional parishes and said they were attacked as vulnerable children. Their view of Catholicism changed when fellow believers showed them no compassion and acted to protect selfish interests.

“I’ve known others that came forward. They were ridiculed and ostracized—even by their own family members,” said VanSickle, 55. He stood next to Attorney General Josh Shapiro when grand jury findings were released to the public August 14. He had suffered silently for 37 years after being sexually abused by a priest at age 16.

“We lived in a neighborhood where most of the people in the subdivision were Catholic. Everything in our lives revolved around the church,” said Larson, who is now retired and in her 70s. “To be in that kind of environment and try to say something horrible happened to you, by a person everybody thinks is a god on earth, you’re all alone.”

The abuses these survivors suffered at the hands of priests were not crimes of passion, they said, but cold exploitations of control. Most victims were not aware that their attackers were serial abusers. Each felt alone when he or she was victimized.

“I think it’s opportunistic,” said VanSickle. “I feel like I was targeted.”

“It’s a lifelong impact. I deal with it every single day,” said Norris, a chemical engineer. He said he was abused by a priest in Louisville, Kentucky, at age 10. After many years of struggle, he revealed the truth to his devout parents at a point when he “couldn’t take it anymore.”

When he acted to report the abuse, he and his family members were mistreated by fellow Catholics in the archdiocese.

“They discredited me,” he said. “Probably the biggest disappointment in my life was how the church responded to my accusations. Maybe I was naive, but I expected them to believe my story and take action. When they didn’t do what I saw as morally right, I became more disillusioned with their teachings.”

Survivors also faced a stigma caused by sexual assault. The victims were molested at an age when they did not know about sex. Confused, they realized what happened when they grew up. Feeling disgust, anger and shame, they feared hostile reactions from their traditional communities.

“When I was growing up, we were told, ‘It would be better for you to die than lose your virtue.’ This was told to me in fourth grade,” said Larson. “I didn’t know what ‘lose your virtue’ meant.”

She was raped by a priest one year later at age 10. After realizing the truth as an adult, she did not tell her parents. She knew they would not listen, since it was taboo to speak ill of a priest or nun in their presence.

Some Catholics viewed sex as scandalous and treated victims as if they were contaminated.

“People say, ‘You’re a bad person,’ or ‘You must have wanted it,'” said VanSickle. “It’s amazing that they attack their own people. They attack their own faithful.”

The survivors are disillusioned with the way church officials handle abuse cases. This disillusionment has affected their personal beliefs.

Norris is no longer Christian. “I personally can’t set foot in another church because of what’s happened and the way I was treated,” he said.

Larson hasn’t been inside a church in over 50 years. “For a lot of us, going to church is a triggering experience. It’s re-traumatizing to victims,” she said.

VanSickle said he has strong belief in Jesus and has become a Christian. His family members are Catholic. He welcomes interactions with Catholics and wishes to be reconciled with the church, but wants the institution to change first.

“To be away from the Eucharist in my life is a hard thing to deal with because of my belief as a Catholic,” he said. “But I can’t reconcile myself with the church until I see change.”

They feel sorry for Catholics who are struggling with their beliefs in light of the recent grand jury report. Norris and VanSickle say they do not wish for Catholics to lose their faith.

Despite the pain caused by recent revelations, they hope change will result.

“It reopens a wound from the past for me as a survivor. But I’m also extremely happy that this information is coming to light,” said McDonnell, a specialist at a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Philadelphia, regarding the recent grand jury report. “It is vindication and validation for many survivors and victims.”

He believes the church needs to stop withholding information about abuse and be honest with the public. “It will invite people back to the Catholic Church once they see that the church is not just publicly making a statement that ‘we’re sorry,'” he said.

As the church hierarchy considers change, Catholics can make simple changes in their homes and parishes. According to Larson, the average age for a clergy sexual abuse victim to come forward is 42. As child victims grow into adults, they begin to realize what happened to them—and fall silent due to religious and social pressures. Ordinary Catholics can solve this problem, she said, by treating others around them with openheartedness instead of moral superiority.

“Be compassionate,” said Larson, sharing her advice to families coping with revelations of abuse. “Believe your family member. They’re in pain. And they’ve held this terrible secret for many, many years because of their fear of your reaction when they tell you.”

One of the hardest things Norris experienced in his life was the shattering effect of the abuse on his parents. They did not find out about it until they were much older. One of the last things his father expressed on his deathbed was sorrow for what happened.

VanSickle said a family’s first responsibility is to love and believe a child who speaks out about sexual abuse by clergy.

“They need to wrap their arms around that kid and make them feel safe. That never happened for me,” he said. “You need to hug and protect your child first. Deal with the church after.”

McDonnell said victims recover with support from others, including fellow survivors.

“Part of the healing process is coming forward. I’m only as sick as my secrets,” he added. “Talk to somebody.”

Catholic News Services article

Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis to the People of God

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26). These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike. Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated. The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

1. If one member suffers…

In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims. We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced. But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity. The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands. Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history. For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53). We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.

With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them. I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency! Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison—Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).

2. … all suffer together with it

The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way. While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough. Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit. If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history. And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228). Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person. A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption. The latter is “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness. Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165). Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need. This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does. For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49). To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence. To do so, prayer and penance will help. I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.[1] This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.

It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People. Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.[2] This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.[3] Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today. To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.

It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people. We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in the human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6). Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God. This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within. Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change. The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion. In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel. For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable. Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others. An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.

Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils. May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled. A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary. A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.

In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul. By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation. Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross. She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side. In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life. When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319). She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice. To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.

FRANCIS

Vatican News