Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this recorded homily in all Masses Sept. 15-16.
In the wake of the scandals surrounding ex-Cardinal McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s report regarding over 1,000 cases of sexual abuse by some 300 priests in that state over the course of the last 70 years, and then last month the shocking though unsubstantiated allegations of Archbishop Viganò, some have asked for an accounting regarding the existence of such cases in Arkansas and how these have been handled locally, hence this message for you today.
Although most of our perpetrators are now dead and none have been in active ministry in the Catholic Church for a very long time, I believe full disclosure is simply the right thing to do. This is your Church and you have a right to know. Unlike other dioceses which were forced to release the names of known abusers due to the imminent threat of civil lawsuit, criminal investigation or bankruptcy proceeding, no one is forcing me to do this. I am acting simply in the interest of transparency.
On Monday (Sept. 10) of this week I published a letter disclosing the names of all known perpetrators and I have asked that a copy of this letter be provided to you as an insert in this week’s bulletin. It is my hope that bringing these painful truths into the light might bring some measure of healing to the victims — they will know they are not alone — and encourage as-yet unknown victims to come forward.
In my own name and in the name of the Church, I would like to apologize to all victims for the abuse you have suffered in the past and for the way that Church leadership has sometimes failed you. I am committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that this never happens again.
This is what we currently know: Over the course of the last 70 years, approximately 700 priests have served for varying lengths of time in Arkansas. Of those 700, we know of 12 priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, nine of whom abused in Arkansas and the other three elsewhere, involving altogether about 23 known victims in Arkansas.
While it is no excuse, it is important for you to know that most of these offenses occurred long ago and none of them occurred later than the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People 16 years ago, in 2002.
Even so, while the crimes committed by these priests were in the past, the resulting brokenness in the lives of their victims remains very much with them in the present and often throughout the rest of their lives, and that is a source of great concern to me.
I should add that during these last 70 years there have been other priests who have left ministry for personal reasons or even have been dismissed from ministry for reasons having nothing to do with the abuse of minors — for instance, misconduct with adults — and should not be treated as such.
My first step upon learning of the Pennsylvania grand jury report last month was to ask for a preliminary review of all our relevant files here in Arkansas, which led to the publication last Monday of our findings in the form of a list with the names and years of service of the 12 priests who over the course of the last 70 years have been the subject of credible allegations of abuse of minors. Eight of these 12 names were so far in the past as to be completely new to me.
My next step, undertaken in order to make sure that all our clergy abuse cases have been identified and objectively reviewed, was to arrange for an independent review of all the clergy personnel files, including also those of deacons, and other relevant files by Kinsale Management Consulting, an independent investigative firm that specializes in this kind of work. This more thorough review will also examine how the bishops and other religious superiors at the time handled any allegations of sexual abuse that they received. It is my hope that the findings of this independent review will be ready to be shared with the public sometime in December, but it will take as long as it takes to get it right.
The list I published on Monday has been posted at dolr.org/clergy-disclosure-list along with additional information regarding the cleric, and it will be updated upon the conclusion of Kinsale Management Consulting’s independent investigation of our files.
As we experience the shock of knowing that these priests preyed on so many victims, we need also to honor the courage of those who have come forward to share the most painful experiences of their entire life. All of this might still have been hidden in the dark if it were not for them and their courage. We need to keep these victims and their needs foremost in everything we do.
My heart goes out to all who carry deep wounds of this sort. It often takes years for victims of trauma to come to terms with the abuse they have suffered, to come forward, and to ask for help. It takes much courage to make this admission and it takes trust. And trust is something that gets twisted and manipulated by the abuser, as well as by the institutions that helped protect the abuser. So stepping forward is that much more difficult and will not occur until the victim feels safe and is confident that he or she will be heard.
And that is the task before the Church today. “Safe environment” means not only a place where no one will be abused going forward, it also means creating a safe place where those who have been abused in the past can find understanding, healing and hope.
Therefore, if you or anyone you know has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon or other representative of the Church, know that we want you to come forward, and we want to help. Please contact the civil authorities first by calling the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline and then call or email one of our diocesan contacts: Deacon Matthew Glover, Chancellor for Canonical Affairs or our Victims Assistance Coordinators.
Full reporting information is included at the end of my letter which you will receive along with your bulletin this weekend and posted at all of our parishes and schools. I am deeply concerned to see to it that we offer whatever assistance we can provide.
Let us all pray for one another during these most trying times in our Church. But let us pray most especially for the victims and their families — they are the ones who are hurting the most.
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