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February 26, 2002


Attached is Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua's statement in response to clergy sexual abuse, titled "Restoring Trust: An Apology and A Commitment." You may quote from the statement or print it in its entirety.

Editor's Note: No news conference or media availablility is planned with Cardinal Bevilacqua at the present time.

Statement by Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua
Archbishop of Philadelphia
February 26, 2002
Restoring Trust: An Apology and A Commitment

In recent weeks, public attention has been focused intensely on instances of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in several parts of the country. Understandably, this has caused grave concern and raised a number of questions in the hearts and minds of many people, including the faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I wish to address this issue of sexual abuse of minors by priests, particularly as it affects the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Sadly and tragically, there have been cases of sexual abuse of minors by some priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Although the number of priests responsible for these actions is relatively few, even one act of abuse against a minor, whether by a priest or any other person, is to be condemned as a grave sin and a serious crime. Furthermore, each such instance of abuse by a priest is a heinous offense against the dignity of the human person and an affront to the sanctity of the Priesthood.

I take this opportunity to express to the victims of sexual abuse by priests, locally or elsewhere, my deepest apologies and heartfelt sorrow. One cannot begin to imagine the pain, humiliation and suffering which these victimized persons have endured and by which they continue to be affected as a result of this detestable violation of body and spirit. To all these individuals, as well as to their families, I extend my assurance of continued prayers and solicitude.

I must state clearly and without reservation that I denounce any form of sexual abuse, most especially sexual abuse of minors by priests. Such violations against children and those in their early teens cause great pain for all persons involved and, indeed, for the entire Church. Because priests are called to emulate the charity, chastity and care of Christ the Good Shepherd, the sexual abuse of a minor by a priest is among the most depraved of moral aberrations. Sexual abuse of minors by priests is a deplorable act and a reprehensible breach of trust. I have not and will not, under any circumstances, tolerate such behavior by any priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

From my earliest days as Archbishop of Philadelphia, I have made every effort to take whatever measures necessary to prevent such sinful and unlawful activity by priests and to respond quickly and forthrightly to any allegations of abuse of minors by priests. In order to ensure the most efficient and expedient handling of such allegations, in 1993, the procedures already utilized by the Archdiocese in such matters were further developed in a written policy. This policy has been reviewed and revised periodically, in consultation with legal counsel, to certify that we are acting in conformity with Church and state law. Considered in these reviews are the latest findings of medical science's evolving study of sexual disorders.

Mindful of the delicate circumstances as well as the situation of each victim, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is committed to addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors in a direct and forthright manner. In each reported case, we have not discouraged people from going to law enforcement or civil authorities with allegations. It has, in fact, been our preference that civil authorities investigate these matters. However, we have remained sensitive to the wishes of the victims and their families for confidentiality. We will continue to investigate and to report allegations of sexual abuse of minors in complete cooperation with the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Certainly, the main priority in addressing instances of sexual abuse of minors by priests is caring compassionately for the well-being and protection of the victims. In each case, the Archdiocese has attempted to be as responsive as possible towards the victims by offering assistance with appropriate therapeutic counseling. As part of our on-going review of our policy, we are exploring ways in which we can enhance the pastoral care provided to victims of sexual abuse and their healing process.

While acknowledging the evil of sexual abuse of minors by anyone, the Church remains sensitive to her responsibility to care for the priest-perpetrator himself. In no less a manner than anyone would care for a loved one or family member who evidences such sickness or deviant behavior, the Church demonstrates not only the justice but also the compassion of Christ.

In all cases, the priest against whom allegations are brought immediately undergoes extensive psychological testing before a decision is rendered regarding further treatment. The goal is to ensure that the real problem or disorder is addressed thoroughly. It had been the policy of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that any priest clinically diagnosed as a pedophile will never again receive a priestly assignment. More recently, it has been decided that any priest involved in the sexual abuse of a minor, whether or not clinically diagnosed as a pedophile, will not receive an assignment. Consequently, I do not know of any priest who has had sexual contact with a minor who is in a current assignment.

In addition, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia remains pro-active in evaluating applicants who wish to study for the Priesthood. The application and screening process for those entering our seminary is thorough and comprehensive, including psychological testing as well as criminal background checks. The seminary formation program focuses on the human, spiritual, pastoral and intellectual formation of the candidate. In particular, the human formation curriculum addresses all aspects of human development, including sexuality and appropriate inter-relational boundaries. For the priests of the Archdiocese, programs for on-going formation and education continue to address these issues of human development through workshops and days of education.

All of us must be vigilant to protect young people from abuse. The sexual abuse of minors is not limited to Catholic priests alone. To suggest that the evil of sexual abuse of minors finds its perpetrators proportionately higher among the Catholic clergy is unfounded and creates a disservice to Catholic priests in particular and to the Catholic Church at large. Those who sexually violate minors are found in virtually every profession, every state of life, married and single, male and female, Catholic and non-Catholic, friend, relative and parent.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for many years, has had in place policies which govern not only priests and deacons but also religious and laity who serve within the various apostolates throughout the Archdiocese. Policies regarding sexual abuse of minors exist for teachers and administrators in parish and archdiocesan elementary and secondary schools as well as those employed by parishes and Catholic Social Services who work with minors.

Among those adversely affected by reports of sexual abuse of minors by clergy are the overwhelming majority of dedicated priests who serve the Lord faithfully, day after day, tending to the spiritual and pastoral needs of those entrusted to their care. The criminal actions of some priests cast a pall of suspicion and uncertainty over all faithful priests. At a time when the media is so focused on the actions of priests who have abused children, it is understandable that all other priests may become discouraged, lose heart or even withdraw from the public view. I wish to assure the faithful of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia that the priests who serve them are dedicated to their work and committed to their vocation in imitation of Jesus, our great High Priest. I remain profoundly grateful to all my fellow priests within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for their dedicated ministry. I urge all the faithful to demonstrate support and appreciation for those priests whose devotion and leadership continue to make the love of Christ known and felt daily in the lives of so many people.

Christ established the Church to bring light, hope, healing and peace to the world. For transgressions against that work by a few, I am deeply sorry. I invite all the faithful of the Archdiocese to join me in praying most especially for the victims and their families. I also ask your prayers not only for all our faithful, dedicated priests but also for those priests who have caused such harm. I pray that God's forgiveness will renew us, that His grace will sustain us, and that, together, we may work to make present the love, healing and truth of our merciful God.

Catherine L. Rossi
Director of Communications

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