A Sense of Perspective

At the beginning of Saint Ignatius' classic "Spiritual Exercises," retreatants are asked to meditate on sinfulness in the created world. Immediately after, there is a colloquy in which we focus on the crucified Christ.

St. Francis of Assisi took one reference work for meditation during his 40-day retreat on Mount Alvernia: The Passion of Jesus Christ.

This past Lent we have had ample opportunity to appreciate anew the richness of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have come to a deeper understanding of our need for redemption from sin. Who has not been nauseated, repelled, and infuriated by the cascade of stories detailing clergy sexual abuse of children across the United States?

I have spoken publicly on these matters on various occasions: two Sundays in Saint Joseph's Cathedral, twice in the daily Masses carried by television and radio around the diocese, at meetings of the Priests' Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council, and at a large gathering of diocesan and religious order priests.

I have stated repeatedly that sexual abuse of children is despicable, repugnant, deplorable, a grievous sin, and a crime. Children are our greatest assets, and concern for their safety, security, and proper development must be uppermost in our priorities.

It is important, at the same time, to keep a sense of perspective. There are more than 46,000 priests providing wonderful service and leadership across the United States. Priests who perpetrate child abuse are a fraction of a fraction. It is interesting to note that surveys conducted periodically asking people whom they admire and respect most in their communities regularly place parish priests on top of the lists. These findings mystify, befuddle, and frustrate those in our society who seek to secularize the Catholic Church, to marginalize it, to exclude it from the public forum, indeed to destroy the Church.

To my knowledge, there have not been instances of clergy sexual abuse with children in our diocese in recent years. Page four of the April 2002 issue of the Western New York Catholic carries the Diocesan Policy Relating to Sexual or Physical Misconduct.

You should know that we have in place careful screening procedures for seminarians, for candidates for the diaconate, for candidates to the religious life, for prospective lay employees of our diocese. Standardized forms of approval are required from bishops and religious superiors for any priests transferring into our diocese. Seminars are required for clergy, religious, lay employees, and volunteers who work with young people and other vulnerable populations. These seminars are designed to educate people to identify possible victims of abuse, and to inform them as to their responsibility under the law to report suspicions of abuse.

Questions have been raised about possible use of the funds raised in the Catholic Charities Appeal to pay for settlements related to sexual abuse. We simply would not do this. For verification you can always look to our detailed financial statements reported annually in the "Western New York Catholic." These statements are audited by highly regarded external auditing firms.

In this regard I would like to thank profoundly the people of Western New York for their outstanding generosity to the Appeal once again this year. With the highest goal ever, $10 million, we were able to report on Palm Sunday night that we had reached the figure of $10,022,152.89. That is a tremendous witness to the goodness of our people, volunteers and staff, clergy, religious, and lay.

Yes, the face of evil has appeared in the accounts of clergy sexual abuse. There is a strong adage in the Church, honored for centuries, which reads, "Ecclesia semper reformanda est." The Church is always in need of reform. Saint John the Baptist is the patron of the Mother Church of Christendom, Saint John Lateran. His words herald at all times a call for purification: "Make straight the way of the Lord, reform your lives."

We are the Church of the Scriptures, of the Beatitudes, of the Commandments, of the Sacraments. We are the Church of Christmas and Easter, the Church of the catacombs, the basilica, the cathedral, the country chapel, the suburban parish, the inner city church. We are the Church of the classroom, campus ministry, the hospital room, the nursing home facility. We are the Church of the soup kitchen, the food pantry. We are the Church of saints and sinners, with mixtures of sinfulness and holiness found in all of us.

May the grace of the Crucified and Risen Jesus pardon us and make us an ever more effective experience of God's Church.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
April 2, 2002