Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the head of the U.S. bishops' conference, reiterated the bishops' resolve to swiftly remove priests guilty of sex abuse from active ministry.
Archbishop Dolan released a March 22 statement – just ahead of National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April – saying that the occasion provides an opportunity “to unite with all Americans in a renewed resolve to halt the scourge of sexual abuse of youth in our society.”
Archbishop Dolan also cited “recent disclosures” about the Church’s response to the clerical sexual abuse of minors as a primary reason for his statement.
Earlier this month, Cardinal Justin Rigali placed 21 Philadelphia priests on administrative leave following an investigation into a grand jury report that said there were credible abuse allegations against the clergy members, who were in active ministry.
Archbishop Dolan emphasized that the Church will continue to enforce a zero-tolerance policy, referencing the bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was drafted in the wake of the first revelations of sex abuse by clergy.
“Over the past nine years, we have constantly reviewed the high promises and rigorous mandates of the Charter, as we continually try to make it even more effective,” he said.
“We want to learn from our mistakes and we welcome constructive criticism,” the archbishop said, adding that the U.S. bishops “remain especially firm in our commitment to remove permanently from public ministry any priest who committed such an intolerable offense.”
The conference president said that “this painful issue continues to receive our careful attention” and that “the protection of our children and young people is of highest priority.”
Archbishop Dolan also expressed his thanks to the conference's National Review Board – an initiative that works to prevent sexual abuse of minors within the Church – as well as “Catholic parents, professionals, the victim-survivor community, law enforcement officials, and our diocesan victim-assistance coordinators.”
The archbishop noted that annual outside audits by forensic experts will continue, “checking that we remain faithful to the processes in place to protect our young people, promote healing of victims survivors and restore trust.”
“In short, the progress made must continue and cannot be derailed,” he said, adding that “we want to strengthen it even more.”
“We can never stop working at it, because each child and young person must always be safe, loved and cherished in the Church.”