Opinion Columns & Blogs - INACTIVE

Don’t paint Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth with same broad brush on response to abuse

Bishop Michael F. Olson heads the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
Bishop Michael F. Olson heads the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. Star-Telegram

In her recent column, Cynthia M. Allen captured the dynamics of denial and obfuscation that appears to be reoccurring in some sectors of the Church.

However, Allen’s broad-brush demand that the Church must “face an accounting” by the civil authorities fails to recognize that some dioceses, including the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth where I have served as bishop for nearly five years, maintain a zero-tolerance policy and are directly addressing sexual abuse perpetrated by clergy and other diocesan personnel.

Ministry in the Church is a grace from God that carries with it sober responsibility, not a right to be claimed by anyone as an entitlement. Rather, it involves a covenantal trust established through our baptism as members of the Church founded by Christ.

As I stated publicly in my July 28 Letter to the Faithful of our diocese regarding the initial findings of alleged sexual predation against seminarians perpetrated by former Cardinal McCarrick, the sexual abuse scandals that have been at the forefront of dialogue the past two months must be universally addressed – beyond policy to action.

In 2002, our diocese created its Office of Safe Environment to take specific action in response to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, known as the Dallas Charter, to address sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons. Our diocese extended that commitment for accountability to include all other church personnel, employees and volunteers, including the bishop. Additionally, we go beyond the language of the Dallas Charter and draw upon the authentic message of the gospel in the protection of the vulnerable by also addressing allegations of sexual predation by clergy in which the victims are not children.

Because policies are not enough to make and maintain the safest environment for children, youth and vulnerable adults, the diocese went a step further and instituted specific actions to protect youth and to bring healing to individuals and their families who have suffered from abuse.

In 2006-2007, as the vicar general of our diocese, I along with our chancellor, Monsignor James Hart, oversaw, at the request of Bishop Kevin Vann, the inspection of the file of every cleric who had served or was serving the diocese to identify any cleric against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse with a minor had been lodged. After careful review, in 2007 the diocese published and placed on the diocese’s website a list of clergy against whom credible allegations have been established. The list has since been updated and today contains the names of 15 priests and one religious brother.

Since July 28, I have said clearly that sexual abuse by clergy is causing such damage to the integrity of the hierarchy and mission of the Church that it prompts a need for severe actions against abusers, both in civil and canonical courts of law. Similar consequences need to apply to those in Church leadership whose complicity or complacency by doing nothing enabled others to be hurt.

Because the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth is committed to accountability and transparency, we steadfastly refuse to allow familiarity to breed complacency toward sexual abuse of any minor or vulnerable adult, and trust other dioceses and organizations will join in being part of the solution by following suit.

Father Richard Kirkham also violated the Diocese safe environment policy on reporting allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct, according to Bishop Michael Olson.

The Most Rev. Michael F. Olson is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth.
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