A Holier Church

The recent meeting hosted by our Holy Father Pope John Paul II for American Cardinals and Bishops, as well as for Vatican officials, was an historic occasion. On the matter of clergy sexual abuse of minors, labeled by our Holy Father as "a crime and an appalling sin," it raised an already acute sensitivity to an even higher level.

Official statements were issued from the meeting, but I am sure we will be hearing much more in the weeks ahead, particularly as we prepare for the June meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Significant work remains to be done, as the Bishops develop and expand upon the recommendations coming forward from the Rome meeting. We will welcome that work.

At the same time it must be stated that substantial achievements have already been made, nationally and in individual dioceses. I will speak for the Diocese of Buffalo, carrying forward what we reported in the April issue of the Western New York Catholic.

We have had in place for more than eleven years a diocesan Policy Relating to Sexual or Physical Misconduct. We comply with it, as we do with the laws of New York State.

Accordingly, we have had screening procedures in place for seminarians, candidates for the diaconate, aspirants for religious communities, and others who work with young people.

In 1995, my first year as Bishop of Buffalo, the faculty of Christ the King Seminary and I invited the Bishops' Committee on Seminaries to evaluate our seminary. A committee of Bishops and priests, all experienced in seminary work, spent almost a week here and produced a highly favorable, laudatory report. They made some suggestions, which we have moved to implement with enthusiasm.

The moral teachings of our Church are taught at the seminary in their integrity. Lectures, classes, and seminars on celibacy, the observance of boundaries, and pedophilia are conducted regularly. The recent meeting in the Vatican called for a new Apostolic Visitation of seminaries. I will be happy to invite that Visitation as soon as the structure for it is in place.

As noted last month, seminars on abuse of minors are provided for all in our Diocese who work with young people: clergy, religious, and lay. Screening procedures for clergy and others coming to work in our Diocese from elsewhere are in place and are observed.

I am happy to say that in our Diocese we have not received allegations that clergy sexual abuse of minors has taken place in recent years. Perhaps this is a result of all the work that has been done. I pray that this pattern continues.

A suggestion was made in Rome that the Bishops of the United States ask the faithful to join us in observing a national day of prayer and penance, in reparation for the offenses perpetrated and in prayer to God for the conversion of sinners and the reconciliation of victims. Certainly our Diocese would participate in such a day.

Allow me once again in the name of the Diocese to apologize to any and all victims of clergy sexual abuse in our Diocese. The stories over the decades are horrific and strike right to the heart. We continue to offer our prayers, our facilities, and our assistance for counseling to help in your healing.

At the same time allow me also once again to express our profound gratitude to all of the clergy who provide such sacrificial and inspiring service and leadership to all in the eight counties of Western New York. These are particularly painful times for all of us, especially our priests, who know that the abuses have been perpetrated by a fraction of a fraction of the total number of priests.

All of us are experiencing a very prolonged Good Friday. In the depths of our faith we know, however, that Easter will follow. We pray that such a resurrection will see us as a purified and stronger Church, a Church in which abuse of minors is excised root and branch.

As Pope John Paul II stated, the present crisis "must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church."

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
April 25, 2002