“I am deeply sorry. God weeps,” said Pope Francis last September after meeting with several sexual abuse survivors during his visit to Philadelphia. All of us in the Catholic community must do what we can to understand the pain, anger, and isolation experienced by a survivor of the crime of childhood sexual abuse. The news of the grand jury investigation of abuse allegations in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has provoked confusion about the Church’s response. Many Catholics may not realize how the dioceses continue to take responsibility for the abuse that occurred in our Church.
For more than a decade, the Catholic community has consistently enforced strict safe environment policies and offered assistance to survivors and their families. While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey to heal, the Church is committed to offering assistance.
• All survivors of abuse are offered assistance no matter how long ago the crime occurred.
• Each diocese [eparchy] has trained and deployed professional victim assistance staff to provide a response that is compassionate, supportive, and sensitive to the needs of survivors.
• Every diocese [eparchy] has an ofﬁce for victim/survivor assistance, which provides a range of support, including:
• Counseling and other forms of therapy for survivors and their families
• Addressing barriers to participation in therapy, such as child care and transportation
• Vocational assistance
• Resources about child sexual abuse support services in the community
• Financial assistance for medication
• Referrals and payments for outpatient therapy and related psychiatric services
• Assessment and case management assistance for social services resources
• Pastoral support and counseling
• Facilitation of meetings with the Archbishop or Bishop.
To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses [eparchies] have spent more than $16.6 million on victim/ survivor assistance services to provide compassionate support to individuals and families. The Catholic Church has a sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed. One survivor from the Diocese of Pittsburgh said, “ After years of hurt and anger, I broke my silence and reached out to this Church for help. What I found surprised me: caring Catholics who weren’t afraid to hear my story and share my pain.
They taught me to trust again, restoring my wounded faith. With their help and God’s grace, I experienced the healing I’d longed for. Forgiveness dispelled anger, love washed away pain, and dignity replaced shame. If you or a loved one has been hurt – even if you’ve left the Church – I pray you will reach out to this Diocese for help. You don’t have to carry your burden alone. ” We pray that the Catholic Church’s painful past will contribute to a better understanding of sexual abuse in all sectors of society. We must always encourage anyone who has been abused to report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-9320313 or local law enforcement. For more information about available services and support, contact your diocesan victim/ survivor assistance coordinator who is available to help victims/survivors make a formal complaint of abuse to the diocese or eparchy, arrange a personal meeting with the bishop or his representative, and to obtain support services for the needs of the individual and families.
Hill is Communications Director of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – the public affairs agency of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses/ eparchies of Pennsylvania.