At the request of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis has called all Episcopal Conferences in the world to a heightened awareness of their responsibility for the protection of minors and has asked for a day of prayer and penance for the victims of sexual abuse. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has responded to the Pope's requests by having a special Mass at the opening of their spring meeting at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral, Indianapolis, Indiana, on June 14, 2017, just last week. I was privileged to concelebrate this Mass with all of my brother bishops as we acknowledged the pain and suffering of those who have been abused by trusted members of the Church and prayed for their healing. We recommitted ourselves to every effort to assist victims and to protect minors from the possibility of abuse.
This Mass was also an occasion to acknowledge the fifteenth anniversary of the drafting and promulgation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People which came about at the Dallas, Texas, meeting of the bishops in June 2002. In our Diocese of Palm Beach, in conformity with the spirit of the day of prayer and penance, we have called for an increased awareness of the need to remain ever vigilant in regard to the protection of young people and to request prayers and understanding in regard to the needs of victims. We continue the efforts of our Diocese in promoting the safety of young people in conjunction with the Charter.
During the past fifteen years a great deal has been accomplished in regard to the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The needs of the victims of abuse have been consistently prioritized as we continue to listen to their agonizing pain, to encourage any victim to come forward, to report such cases to the proper authorities, and to make sincere apologies for grave mistakes of the past. We continue to be ever vigilant in implementing the best procedures and policies for preventing sexual abuse of minors as well as in our efforts to make our policies the best they can be. In so many ways, the Church in the United States has made great progress and has set a standard for all to follow in regard to dealing with the terrible sin of sexual abuse.
As I celebrated the Mass this week, I recalled with great vividness the meeting of the bishops in Dallas, as well as the intense pain that was present fifteen years ago. That pain continues to be present within the Church, society and among the victims of sexual abuse. While a great deal has been accomplished, our efforts in regard to the protection of young people must continue to be a priority within the life of the Church and this Diocese. The pain suffered by victims can never be forgotten or underestimated. Our Diocese of Palm Beach remains fully committed to full compliance with the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. We have taken great and strong measures in this regard. During these fifteen years we have been in full compliance with the annual audits. I am deeply grateful to our staff for their commitment in this regard and to our parishes and schools for their compliance. It is our continued commitment to take every precaution to ensure that the Church is the safest possible haven for our children and young people, especially in view of past grievous mistakes. While we realize the great strides which have been made in the past fifteen years, we, as the bishops, do not congratulate ourselves but continue to be vigilant in preventing abuse.
Before I left for the Dallas meeting, fifteen years ago, I had just finished reading a small book by St. Pope John XXIII regarding his papacy. In the work, An Invitation to Hope, the Pope reflected on the Second Vatican Council and his hope for that Council. I could not help but think that his reflection had much to say to me regarding the Dallas meeting of bishops and what it was meant to accomplish. He said: Everything that the new Ecumenical Council is intended to do aims at restoring to full splendor the simple and pure lines that the face of the Church of Jesus had at its birth, and at presenting it as this divine founder made it: without blemish or wrinkle. And yet this history has its darker side, too, a fact which cannot be glossed over. These nineteen hundred years have reaped their harvest of sorrow and bitterness. You know that God's Church has at times amid the trials of centuries lost some of its vigor, but it has always found new strength again. Its journey through the centuries is still a long way from the point where it will be transported into an eternity of triumph. The critical issues, the thorny problems that await men’s solution, have remained the same for almost twenty centuries. And why? Because the whole of history and of life hinges on the person of Jesus.
The implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was meant to address directly the harvest of sorrow and bitterness which the Church has faced due to sexual abuse by clergy. Truly this darker side of the Church's history has caused untold pain to victims, faithful priests and all of its people. It is one of those trials of centuries in which the Church has lost some of its vigor. Despite the progress that has been made during the past fifteen years, what caused the pain of victims can never be forgotten, especially if we are to continue to move forward to new strength again. The Church can never forget that our journey through the centuries is still a long way from the point where it will be transported into an eternity of triumph. We own the pain, we apologize for the pain and we continue to commit ourselves to avoiding this pain for the future.
We continue to implore from God pardon for the sins of sexual abuse committed against minors by members of the Church; we continue to make acts of public acknowledgment of these grave crimes; we ask God's forgiveness for Church authorities who did not act properly in regard to the pain of victims believing that the good of the Church came before them; we implore the grace of recognizing, as members of the Church, everyone's responsibility to care for victims; we beg from the Lord assistance for the victims and their families; and we continue to answer promptly and with special pastoral sensitivity anyone who reports abuse. All of these commitments are part and parcel of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. All of these commitments are part of our turning away from ourselves and realizing that the whole of history and of life hinges on the Person of Jesus and not on ourselves.
As we look to the future with continued hope especially in the perspective of darker days of the past, I again renew my commitment to the protection of children and young people which I made upon coming to the Diocese of Palm Beach. We will do all we can to continue our implementation of the Charter so that young people may be protected and victims may be heard. The following prayer was said this week by all of the bishops while kneeling at the Mass of prayer and penance on the occasion of the fifteenth anniversary of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. It is a good one to keep always before us as we continue our efforts in protecting young people.
"Almighty and most loving God, through your Son your compassion brought healing to many. We ask for your healing once more for all who have been profoundly wounded by abuse, especially those who have been hurt by your ministers. In your mercy, we also ask for forgiveness. Words cannot express fully the sorrow we have for the great harm done by those who are called to be trusted. In your goodness, we ask for the grace to be a source of healing to all who have been abused and to be ever vigilant in protecting all your people. Grant, we pray, our prayers for healing and forgiveness for we ask them through your Son, Christ our Lord.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 23, 2017