Everyone was saddened recently to hear the news that one of the priests, Miguel Luna, who served this Diocese has acknowledged that he abused a young adolescent girl in the 1980’s. One of my most heart-wrenching tasks as a bishop has been to speak to victims of such abuse, to hear their story and feel the terrible pain they have endured, often for many years.
It has taken the Church and society as a whole a long time to face this issue and to recognize the depth of the harm that is caused when a person who is supposed to represent God uses a child or any other person for their own perverted and lustful purposes. Many victims of abuse will struggle to recover throughout their lives. Victims of abuse by a priest often also understandably struggle with their relationship with God and the Church.
I continue to be deeply sorry for the pain that members of the Church have caused. For many years I have regularly fasted and prayed for all the victims of abuse. As a Diocese we have been working with these victims when they come to us through the offices of our Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, Susan Martinez, LCSW. She is always willing to listen to victims who seek us out and to give whatever assistance we as a Diocese can offer for their healing.
We have also put into place a process by which we can investigate allegations of abuse. Of course, we always recommend that a victim approach law enforcement if they have not done so. We have a long-standing Pastoral Response Committee, which is made up of counseling professionals and others who are independent from the Diocese and are experts in conducting investigations into these allegations. They present their findings to our Review Board, which draws conclusions and recommends actions regarding consequences for the perpetrator and assistance for the victim.
As you are aware, this problem of sexual abuse is not only a problem within the Church, it is found in every institution of society including schools, youth organizations and within families. One of the proactive responses we have taken to this scourge of abuse is the institution of a new program for the training of clergy, staff and volunteers in parishes and catholic schools.
We had a program in place for some time but under my direction we hired a full time Safe Environment Coordinator, Diana Bulko, MPS. She was given the charge to find the most effective program of safe environment formation that is currently available. We decided on the program known as VIRTUS.
For two years now we have been using this program and in this brief time we have trained over 15,000 people, including clergy, diocesan and parish staff and parish/school volunteers throughout the Diocese. Every parish and catholic school in the Diocese has a school/parish-based safe environment coordinator and under their direction national back ground checks have been conducted and over 500 classes are offered in parishes and catholic schools every year. People are trained as to how to recognize signs of inappropriate behavior and to be aware of indications that a child is experiencing abuse.
I invite you to pray and to work with me that we can root out this terrible evil from our midst—from the Church, from our institutions, from our families, from all of society! Everyone has a role in this fight. In combatting abuse ignorance is one of our greatest enemies. You can help up to make our communities places where all children and vulnerable adults are truly safe and loved, respected and served as Jesus has taught us.
Most Rev. Mark J. Seitz