As I write this, my first blog post in 2021, I want to begin by assuring you of my prayers for a healthy and happy New Year for you, your family, and loved ones. I am praying that God will bless us all with His Grace and bring comfort to those who have suffered greatly during this pandemic. Today, I am also praying for our country in the wake of yesterday’s troubling and unacceptable violence at the U.S. Capitol. I pray for peace and the safety of all throughout this country, and a recommitment to the values and principles upon which our democracy was built.
I want to use this week’s blog to talk about the painful and difficult issue of clergy sexual abuse. This scourge has deeply wounded so many in our Church most especially the victims of clergy abuse. It has affected dioceses around the world including, sadly, our own Diocese of Fall River. In order to do what is right and just, today the Diocese has published a list of clergy who have been credibly or publicly accused of sexual abuse of a minor. Before I share the link though, I’d like to offer some background and context.
You might recall that in early 2019 I wrote to all members of the Diocese to explain my intention to do this and to announce the launch of a comprehensive review of our clergy files toward that end. This review, going back 70 years, was incredibly time consuming. Our records are not digitalized and the manner of record-keeping varied over the years. I will admit it took far longer than I expected; yet it was critical that we took the time to complete a thorough and comprehensive review.
As I pray for healing and reconciliation, I know that we cannot move on without an honest accounting of the past and transparency on this matter. It is my hope that the publication of this list will help in the healing and care of survivors.
I sadly acknowledge that survivors were not always heard and supported by the Church community. I want to reiterate here to survivors and their families, my heartfelt sorrow and regret for this betrayal and for any failures on the part of the Fall River Diocese in responding to your allegations and cries for help. I want to assure all in our diocesan community that I am firmly resolved to do all that we can to support the healing of survivors; to make certain we are accountable; and to protect children and vulnerable adults in any parish, school, program, or ministry offered under the auspices of the Diocese.
Over the past two years, the Diocese has revamped our Safe Environment program to strengthen our child protection efforts as well as our policies and procedures for handling allegations and responding to those impacted by abuse. This included the creation of a new Ministerial Review Board with an expanded mandate and the hiring of a licensed social worker to serve as our Victim Assistance Coordinator. Please visit our Office of Safe Environment webpages to learn more: www.fallriverdiocese.org/office-of-safe-environment.
I urge anyone who has suffered abuse by a priest or anyone representing this Diocese to notify local law enforcement and to contact the Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator, Carolyn Shipp, at 508-985-6508 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our publication of the names of credibly and publicly accused priests is available on our website here: www.fallriverdiocese.org/diocesan-response-to-the-sexual-abuse-crisis. You will see that it is accompanied by an introductory letter and video from me along with information to explain how the lists were compiled, the role of outside experts to support and review the process and lists, plus FAQs, a glossary of terms, and helpful links.
I began this post with an assurance of prayer and I want to close it with the same. First and foremost, I pray for those whose lives have been wounded by the crimes of abuse by clergy. Their pain and suffering can never be underestimated. It is my prayer that the publication today of this list will support their path toward healing as well as mark for the Diocese a significant step forward in confronting failures of the past. I ask all to join me in these prayers.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha