The Bishops in Dallas

No question about it, the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas from June 13 to 15 was a landmark event. The attention it attracted was unprecedented, and its results will be discussed and acted upon for a long time to come.

The members of our Diocese are familiar with the issues. We have been writing and talking about them for months. The Western New York Catholic, the Internet, radio, television, and other newspapers have been some of the vehicles. I have discussed the problem extensively and intensively for months now with the Priests' Council, the Vicars, and the diocesan Pastoral Council. I have preached on the matter in the Cathedral at the Chrism Mass on Tuesday of Holy Week and Holy Thursday, also on various Sundays, including Palm Sunday. I have addressed these concerns in homilies at the daily Mass I celebrate in the Cathedral, which is carried at multiple times through the day on television and radio in various parts of Western New York.

This concern was the focus of my talk at the annual Priests' Lenten Penance Service in March. The week-long Priests' Convocation in May had this matter for its topic. We were privileged to have Father (and Dr.) Stephen Rossetti and Sister Lynn Levo, both of Saint Luke's Institute, to provide the formal presentations and facilitate the discussions. These arrangements were made a year in advance.

Throughout this time, I have been requesting your prayers, particularly before the Blessed Sacrament. I thank you for the thousands of assurances of prayers that I have received. They are deeply gratifying and meaningful.

The Charter and the Norms

By now it is well known that the Bishops' Dallas meeting produced a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (the vote: 239 yes and 13 no) and the Essential Norms (229 yes, 5 no, and 1 abstention). The Norms, depending on approval from the Holy See in Rome, would make the specifics in the Charter Church law for the United States.

The results? Basically, no priest, deacon, religious, or lay person, paid or volunteer, who has ever sexually abused a minor, can have a position of ministry in the Catholic Church. A priest who has committed such abuse must be removed if he is in active ministry, cannot celebrate Mass in public, cannot wear clerical garb, and cannot present himself as a priest. He may be laicized (returned to the lay state, or defrocked).

Each diocese is to have a review board, composed primarily of lay people not in the employ of the diocese, to assist in the assessment of sexual abuse allegations and in the review of diocesan policy on these matters. We are in the process of developing that board. We have a diocesan policy on sexual and physical abuse published in booklet form. We will continue to review that policy.

Each diocese is to designate a competent assistance coordinator to aid in the pastoral care of persons who claim to have been sexually abused as minors. We are making arrangements to have that person in place.

Each diocese is to cooperate with the civil authorities in these matters. We have been doing that and we will continue to do so.

Screening procedures for priests transferring dioceses, prospective seminarians, permanent deacons, candidates for the consecrated life and for applicants aspiring to work with young people are to be established. We have those procedures already in place and we implement them. Lectures and seminars on these matters are also provided by our diocese for personnel, paid and volunteer, working with young people.

Fasting, Penance, Prayer

The Bishops have designated August 14 this year as a day of fasting and penance for ourselves. August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is to be a day of special prayer on these matters. Obviously fasting, penance, and prayer must go on for a long time to come, and I invite all to join us in those spiritual exercises.

I have stated many times that sexual abuse of minors is despicable, repugnant, deplorable, a grievous sin and a crime. Once again, I apologize with the most profound sentiments of sorrow to anyone who has been sexually abused as a minor by a cleric or anyone else ministering in the Diocese of Buffalo. Our goal, our prayers, and our work must be continually oriented to assure to the extent possible that sexual abuse of minors never again happen in our diocese. May God bless us in this endeavor.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
June 27, 2002