May 17, 2006

Clergy abuse cases present challenges for Church leaders

Catholic Sentinel

05/17/2006 Archbishop John Vlazny

Nineteen years ago on May 19 I was appointed a diocesan bishop. As I look back upon that day, I can’t help but entertain the image of a lamb being led to the slaughter! Little did I realize then that pastoral ministry for me included a lengthy sojourn into very troubled and unfamiliar waters, namely, litigation resulting from claims of child sexual abuse by clergy. The journey continues, and the “ship” moves relentlessly forward and many of the passengers, including this one, often become quite seasick.

Back then in my former diocese, lawsuits had been filed claiming child sexual abuse by a priest. Confronted with the ghastly credibility of the claims, other people and I did our best to seek just compensation for victims while trying to be faithful to our evangelizing mission as a faith community. Everyone had advice, including psychologists, insurance carriers, lawyers and parishioners, but there was no manual to guide the captain and crew about the best course to take. Little by little, with the help of some wise confreres and the grace of God, we managed to work through all kinds of confrontations, challenges and deeply distressing situations. The demands for compensation and punishment then were excessive as they remain today, but no one knew for certain the worth of such claims. Personally I am grateful to those who helped me patiently and perseveringly seek the truth and work for justice for all concerned.

“Liberation” came in October of 1997 when I was appointed the 10th Archbishop of Portland. For two years no similar claims came to my desk. But it all ended abruptly in early 2000 when 25 claims surfaced alleging abuse by one of our priests in previous decades, dating all the way back to the 1950s. It was a high-profile event for the Oregon media, and we were brought to our knees both in terms of the financial and non-monetary demands. I apologized. We prayed. Policies were revised and improved. There was even public acclaim from the Oregonian for the way we had handled this matter. But it was only a beginning, certainly not a happy ending.

Posted by kshaw at May 17, 2006 04:15 PM