A statement by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., Diocese of Trenton, on the matter of protecting children and youth
March 8, 2011
Any priest who is ordained as bishop of a diocese today understands that dealing with the sexual abuse of minors by clergy and other diocesan personnel, as well as protecting the children who are placed in the Church's care, are among the most important responsibilities one is given. Since assuming the position of Bishop of Trenton on Dec. 1, 2010, I, too, have committed myself to this very serious responsibility, and have pledged to do all I can to ensure that we maintain a safe environment for everyone who walks through the doors of our churches, schools and diocesan institutions, especially minors, and for everyone who interacts with our clergy or lay personnel.
We have all heard or read media reports about troubling situations in dioceses around us. In the short few months since assuming the role of Bishop of Trenton, I have done my best to learn what has transpired here in the Diocese of Trenton since the establishment of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People by the U.S. bishops. As a result of this inquiry, I am convinced that our diocese has done everything in its power to fulfill the 2002 Charter, implementing every possible safety measure, removing abuser priests when identified and bringing them to justice, and reaching out in compassion and support to anyone who has been victimized by a member of the clergy.
I do not have the same level of certainty, however, in regard to the decades that came before the Charter --- a time when awareness about this problem was much less developed, when standards and expectations for response were less clear, and when policies were more open to interpretation and use of someone's best judgment. I say this not as a defense or an excuse but simply as a historical fact. The Church has widely acknowledged that mistakes were made and that things needed to change. That is the resolve that emerged out of the crisis of 2002. In every corner of this country, diocesan leaders have issued formal apologies for the failure of the Church to act steadfastly in defense of children and young people, and I add my deepest, heartfelt apology to theirs.
No matter how much any of us would like to, we cannot change this painful history. It stands as a sobering reminder of what can happen when we fail to fulfill our role as protector of the innocents who are placed in our care.
We are committed to helping anyone who was hurt as a minor by sexual abuse to seek help and to begin the healing process. But if we are ever to move beyond those darker days and truly begin to heal, we need to focus our energies on how we conduct ourselves now, looking always to implement best practices and to educate adults and children about how to maintain safe environments. Again, as Bishop of our diocese, I pledge to you my most earnest efforts to ensure the safety of our children and youth. And I appeal to anyone who was sexually abused as a child by a member of the clergy or other Church representative to come forward and contact us. We have set up a hotline for that purpose: 1-888-296-2965.
As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, my prayers continue for all the victims of sexual abuse by clergy or other Church personnel within our Diocese and throughout the Church and all those affected by its occurrence. May the Lord bring healing and peace.