SEXUAL ABUSE BY CLERGY: OVERVIEW
Sexual abuse by priests or deacons is an issue of professional ethics, one which compromises the integrity of a church minister and causes serious damage to individuals and the whole Body of Christ. Since clerics (priests and deacons) are representatives of Church leadership, anytime they use the influence of their role to engage in sexual activity with parishioners, clients, employees, or volunteers, they involve themselves in irresponsible, unethical, and potentially illegal acts which take advantage of vulnerable persons.
It is the policy of the Diocese of Rochester that clerics are to maintain the integrity of the ministerial relationship at all times. Sexual contact (any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person done for the purpose of sexual gratification of either party) between clerics and those in their care is never permissible.
This policy addresses sexual abuse of children and non-consenting adults by clerics, amplifies procedures already in effect in accordance with the Priests’ Personnel Policies issued in 1992 and is, in itself, a separate section of those policies.
This policy is an attempt to respond in a way that is both pastoral in approach and effective in application. The prompt response of the Diocese of Rochester to complaints of sexual abuse by clergy will include:
- Appointment by the Bishop of a delegate and deputy delegate whose responsibilities include investigation of allegations of sexual abuse;
- An examination by Church officials of the content of the allegation, in an effort to determine its veracity;
- Assistance to the victim and his or her family by offering psychological and spiritual counseling as needed;
- Full respect of the civil and canonical rights of the accused, while seeking to assist him, as well as observance of all applicable civil statutes;
- Outreach to parishes or communities that are affected.
B. IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS
Any allegation of sexual abuse by a cleric is a serious matter. When an allegation is brought to the Bishop or his delegate, an investigation is to begin immediately. The delegate notifies the Bishop, if the Bishop has not already received the allegation himself, and any other persons designated by the Bishop that an allegation has been made and an investigation will begin immediately.
C. ROLE OF THE BISHOP
While several official representatives of the Bishop investigate and evaluate the evidence, the Bishop makes all final decisions regarding the Diocese’s response to the cleric and others involved, taking care that canonical and civil rights and laws are upheld. The Bishop remains responsible for ensuring that allegations are investigated and appropriate remedies are enacted, while exercising the compassion of Christ.
D. REVIEW BOARD
The Diocese has a review board that functions as a confidential consultative body to the bishop. The majority of its members are lay persons not in the employ of the diocese/eparchy (see norm 5 in Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, 2002). This board advises the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of suitability for ministry. It regularly reviews diocesan/eparchial policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors. Also, the board reviews these matters both retrospectively and prospectively and gives advice on all aspects of responses required in connection with these cases.
E. INVESTIGATION OF COMPLAINTS/RESPONSE
When an allegation of sexual abuse is made, the Bishop’s delegate organizes the investigation promptly as the circumstances demand. The delegate or a member of the Review Board speaks directly with the parties involved. Persons other than the alleged victim or the accused cleric may be consulted as needed. A written report of the investigation and its findings is prepared.
1. VALID COMPLAINT
If the Review Board determines that there is probable cause and that a valid complaint exists, they meet with the Bishop and present their written report of the investigation, its findings of fact, and their recommended actions.
The ultimate goal of the Diocese is to give pastoral care that results in healing for all directly involved. Once an allegation is determined to be valid, representative(s) of the Diocese meet with the victim and/or their family to discuss the Diocese’s findings and appropriate treatment or therapy. Anyone victimized by sexual abuse by a cleric has the right to expect meaningful pastoral assistance from the church to enable that person’s holistic healing.
Appropriate treatment will vary by individual. The Diocese will provide reasonable assistance with a victim’s treatment or counseling with support determined by the recommended course of therapy.
If an allegation is determined to be valid, the Bishop will place the cleric on administrative leave. The cleric may not reside in parish or diocesan housing. Those closest to the cleric’s official assignment, including staff and parishioners, have the right to be told of the Bishop’s decision but not the details of the allegation. The obligation of sustenatio will be satisfied.
The accused cleric is subject to all aspects of canon and civil law that apply and will be advised of his canonical rights and his right to retain legal counsel. If the accused cleric admits his guilt, the Bishop will remove the cleric permanently from any assignment, place him on administrative leave and remove him from the parish residence. Other restrictions may be placed upon the cleric by competent authority. All appropriate parties will be notified of these actions.
Upon being placed on administrative leave by the Bishop, the cleric may receive psychological and psychiatric evaluation at a recognized facility of the Bishop’s choice as quickly as scheduling permits. Such assessment will include a complete course of action specific to the individual. The cleric will be asked to provide appropriate releases in accord with civil law.
2. INVALID COMPLAINT
If the Review Board and the Bishop agree that there is no probable cause to believe that alleged sexual abuse occurred, the investigation and response process will ordinarily be suspended. The file of the investigation will be retained. The Bishop will ensure that the accused and the alleged victim are notified of the termination of the investigation.
3. INCONCLUSIVE COMPLAINT
If the Review Board and the Bishop agree that an allegation is unfounded but that the accused cleric has or may have acted imprudently, the Bishop may restrict actions of the cleric and require that he be supervised, monitored, evaluated, or counseled while ensuring that the cleric’s canonical and civil rights are upheld.