Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Several weeks ago, I attended a “Forum on the Church” at the St. Boniface parish center in Cold Spring. The gathering was an opportunity for local Catholics to voice their concerns and ask questions about a number of important issues facing our Church: clergy sexual abuse, plans for the diocese to file for bankruptcy reorganization and the formation of Area Catholic Communities to meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of our people.
The forum, which was attended by about 75 people, featured three panelists, including me, who spoke briefly on the topics. Afterward, those in attendance had an opportunity to submit questions to a moderator, who passed each to the panelist best suited to answer. There wasn’t enough time at the gathering to answer all the questions I received, so I promised to answer some in our diocesan magazine. Other people throughout the diocese likely have similar questions.
The limits of space for this column prevent me from addressing every question and comment that I received, but I will do my best to answer as many as possible.
Q: “How has it taken bishops 17 years since the sex abuse scandal broke to do a code of conduct? Isn’t this common sense?”
A: There should be a code of conduct for bishops, but there isn’t one — yet. We bishops have been remiss in this and are addressing it. But the bishops and the Church have done other work over the last few decades on which we can build.
Back in 2002, the U.S. Bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” as a means of addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter — which has been updated three times since then — also includes provisions for creating safe environments, cooperating with civil authorities, disciplining offenders and providing accountability. The charter has made the Church safer for our youth.
The news last summer about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report show, however, that more must be done to ensure bishop accountability. This was discussed at length at the U.S. bishops’ meeting last November and at the Vatican summit on abuse with Pope Francis in February. Adopting standards and specific measures to improve bishop accountability nationwide — measures that would include input and participation by lay people — are at the top of the agenda for the U.S. bishops’ next meeting in June.
Q: “Are priests/diocesan leadership mandated reporters of abuse?”
A: Mandated reporting is for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. Members of the clergy (“clergy” includes the bishop) are mandated reporters. In addition to clergy, Minnesota law designates which other professions have mandated reporters, such as education, health care, social services, child care, mental health and law enforcement; many, but not all, diocesan leadership positions fall within these professions. Diocesan staff members who are not mandated reporters are still encouraged to notify authorities; all Church personnel must notify the vicar general or his designee of any alleged incident of clergy or church personnel sexual misconduct.
If the alleged abuse involves minors, a verbal report must be made within 24 hours to law enforcement or social services of the county where the alleged incident took place. A written report must be sent to social services within 72 hours, exclusive of weekends and holidays. If the alleged abuse involves a vulnerable adult, notification is made in that same timeframe to the statewide adult abuse reporting line (1-844-880-1574).
The diocese’s sexual misconduct policy is available on our diocesan website (www.stclouddiocese.org). Click on “Safe Environment” at the top of the page, and then your choice of either “English” or “Spanish.”
Q: “Why aren’t abusive priests in jail?”
A: Priests, like everyone else, are subject to the law. If a priest is charged with a crime and found guilty in a court of law, he is subject to whatever penalties the court imposes. Almost all of the complaints that have been initiated against the diocese alleging abuse by a clergy member have been civil cases, not criminal cases, and they seek financial compensation and other forms of restitution. As you know, our diocese plans to file for bankruptcy reorganization in the near future in order to compensate victims/survivors of 74 claims made against the diocese alleging past abuse of minors. These are civil claims involving both diocesan and religious order priests. Of the diocesan priests, two are still living. The diocese maintains a public list of clergy identified as likely to have abused minors at http://stcdio. org/list-clergy-likely-abused-minors.
Q: “Has there been, or will there be, money set aside for victims that may need counseling?”
A: The diocese offers abuse victims/survivors financial support for counseling or spiritual healing. At the conclusion of the bankruptcy reorganization, victims will receive compensation, which could also be used for counseling, if they choose.
Q: “How are the seminaries being proactive in preventing [clergy abuse] from happening in the future?”
A: The psychological screening that is done before a seminarian is accepted has been enhanced greatly since the days when I was a seminarian. The approach to seminarian formation also is much different today. There is more emphasis put on human formation to ensure the men are psychologically and emotionally healthy. The people who work with our seminarians bring a wide variety of expertise and experiences to the formation process so that the men we ordain are ready and well-prepared for ministry.
Q: “What was the culture in the priesthood that made it possible for [clergy] to think they had the power, and what is being done to change the culture of clericalism?”
A: Clericalism is a serious problem in some places. It is an unhealthy attitude that bishops and priests are superior to others. Church hierarchy have often fostered this attitude. Pope Francis has spoken against it many times. In some cases, it has led to a lack of accountability among clergy and protecting the institutional Church at the expense of the people it serves. Ensuring that this issue is addressed in seminary formation and fostering greater collaboration with laity in ministry and leadership will help to end clericalist attitudes and foster respect for all people who serve the Church.
Q: “How do we reach out to those who have left the Church due to abuse?”
A: Pray for healing. Be a good example. Let your actions speak louder than words. Live out the Beatitudes. Be the face of Christ to everyone you encounter. Cultivate holiness in your everyday life. Jesus calls us to be faithful in this way. This witness is the best way to bring people back to the Church, including those who have been hurt by it.
Q: “Is it the Church’s responsibility to develop materials for parents, teachers and children to read and study to add to their protection as they grow and develop, above and beyond sex education?”
A: Our diocese offers both adults and students safe environment training that follows Catholic moral principles. You can learn more about this training on our diocesan website (www.stclouddiocese. org). Click on “Safe Environment” at the top of the page.
Q: “The groupings [of Area Catholic Communities] feel like primarily administrative groupings. Is there any expectation for them to be more than that?”
A: I wrote about Area Catholic Communities (ACCs) in the April issue of the magazine. (“Area Catholic Communities: Planning for a strong and vibrant future,” see www.TheCentralMinnesotaCatholic. org; scroll down to “Bishop Kettler’s Column.”) Much time and discussion with clergy, parish leaders and other laity went into the creation of the ACCs to best serve the people in those regions. ACCs will require new levels of collaboration and resource-sharing among clergy, staff and volunteers to ensure the area’s spiritual and pastoral needs are met. The ACCs are more than administrative circles drawn on a map; they are a new way of “being Church” that will serve the needs of our Catholic people for many years to come given the trends our diocese is experiencing in terms of demographics, priest numbers, etc.
Q: “What will cause us to look at closing parishes?”
A: My goal with the formation of Area Catholic Communities was not to close any parishes to start with. Every parish, no matter its size, has something unique and special to bring to its ACC. It will be up to every ACC to determine the best use of its facilities, finances, staff and programs now and into the future. A parish and its ACC may discern over time that a change in status (merger, closure, etc.) is necessary because the parish is no longer viable and/or a change would best serve everyone in the ACC. You can read more about ACCs and the pastoral planning process at http://planning.stcdio.org.
I hope this column answers some questions you may have had about important issues our Church is currently facing. You will be hearing more on these topics in the coming months as the U.S. bishops gather to address concerns over clergy sexual abuse and as our diocese moves ahead with Area Catholic Communities. I will keep you informed about all of these matters as best I can.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of Saint Cloud