BROOKFIELD—At the third and final abuse crisis listening session held in the chapel of St. Joseph Church in Brookfield the discussion between Bishop Caggiano and those in attendance was candid, at times deeply personal, and ended on a hopeful note.
The Bishop said that the crisis may take generations to heal, but he believes profound change is already underway in the Church, and much of it is coming from the bottom up.
“I think we’re entering an age of heroes. There’s no room for mediocrity in our faith. Heroes come with collars and without them, from inside the Church and outside. They are witnesses of holiness in life, and they teach us to be bearers of light in a world that is divided and filled with violence and loneliness.”
The men and women who shared their thoughts and feelings with the Bishop expressed disappointment, anger and confusion about the scandal that has engulfed the Church, but they also said they love the Church and were grateful for the Bishop’s candor and commitment to transparency.
“It has been cover-up after cover-up for years, and trust has been eroded. The wounds are deep and this will take a long time to heal,” said one woman who was dismayed by ongoing revelations.
Another said she had started to write a letter to the Bishop but gave up because she didn’t really think anyone was listening or would answer her.
The Bishop then listened in depth to her concerns as she spoke about wanting to feel more welcome and engaged by the Church, which often seems remote and uncaring to her. She said the Eucharist keeps her in the Church in despite her disappointment.
Peggy Fry, a victim of clerical sexual abuse and member of the diocesan Survivor’s Group, consoled the woman and told her that a meeting between Bishop Caggiano and victims of abuse changed her life because the Bishop listened intently to her story and began to work with victims.
Fr. Karol Ksiazek, Parochial Vicar of St. Joseph’s, said he was grateful for the Bishop’s leadership and “his sense of urgency about the crisis.”
A young man who was recently baptized into the Church told the Bishop that the abuse crisis “has done a ton of damage to the Church,” but said he was encouraged by the meeting, the comments of parishioners and the bishop’s commitment to accountability.
One man said he was concerned “that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction” and that priests, including those who are deceased, don’t have the opportunity to defend themselves against allegations.
Erin Neil, Director of Safe Environments for the Diocese, explained the diocesan investigative and review board process and the multiple ways that a decision of credibility is arrived at when allegations are made.
In his brief remarks before taking questions from the gathering, the Bishop said that the Dallas Charter, established in 2002, and the safe Environments programs it created, have been very successful in protecting children, but the diocese still has more work to do to bring closure to the crisis.
“You can’t have healing and move forward without three elements—child protection, transparency, and accountability,” the bishop said.
The Bishop said in order to address the transparency and accountability issue he asked retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert Holzberg to lead an independent investigation that not only provides a complete accounting of all priests credibly accused of abuse, but also reports on leadership decisions and how the diocese handled abuse cases in the past.
“There will be no redactions to the report. The people of the diocese will read the same report that I receive,” the Bishop said, adding that he expects the report to be completed by the end of Summer.
The Bishop said that Judge Holzberg and his team have reviewed 38,000 files and imaged the contents of 11 diocesan computers in addition to responding to calls on the hotline (833-990-0004) that the Judge set up recently as part of the investigation.
As in the first two listening sessions held at Notre Dame High School in Fairfield and St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, people inquired about seminary training, the screening of candidates and overall priestly formation.
The Bishop responded that current seminary programs place a strong emphasis on “human formation” and the ability to seminarians to relate to others and understand their own sexuality.
“If you had told me in 2006 when I was first named a Bishop that I would spend so much time on this issue, I would have been amazed,” said the Bishop who admitted that everyone in the Church has been affected by the crisis and that priests are having a difficult time because of public perceptions.
He said that the relationships he has formed with the men and women survivors of sexual abuse have been a gift to him and the entire Church.
“One of the great blessings for me has been the witness of survivors. They have come forward as healing agents and I am very grateful to them.”
A full accounting of the diocesan response to the abuse crisis including information on how to report abuse, a financial accountability report, a revised list of credibly accused and settlements paid, and a complete guide to resources can be found on the “Pledge to Protect” page of the diocesan website. Visit: https://www.bridgeportdiocese.org/pledge/welcome/