Making A Truly Safe Environment

09-16-2018Pastor's LetterVery Rev. Gregory B. Wilson, VF

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Now that a couple of weeks have passed since the jarring revelations in the recent Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, I’d like to do two things: (1) let you know what our diocese (and every diocese to my knowledge) has put in place since 2001, and (2) to encourage you to write to those bishops and even the Pope, who are able to put in place whatever changes are necessary.

First: The latest statistics from the non-profit, non-religiously affiliated group “Darkness to Light” indicate the scope of the problem of child sexual abuse in our general society: About 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and that’s about 1 in 7 girls and 1 in 25 boys. The abusers are neighbors, friends, and family members, and often can be other children. There is so much to say here, so I encourage you to visit to read more, including how to recognize both abuse and a potential abuser. Although these statistics are across the board, it is especially heinous when perpetrated by someone who is supposed to represent the love of God.

Since 2001, any priest or deacon who receives a credible accusation of abuse of a minor will automatically undergo laicization (sometimes called “defrocking”). The goal is, of course, to have no abuse, so since the 1990s, all potential seminarians have undergone extensive psychological testing during the application process, which wasn’t the norm previously. Also, since the implementation of safe environment training for all Church personnel and volunteers, every parish has made even physical changes to the environment to help ensure people can been seen at all times. All of us agree to be “two-deep,” meaning that there’s always more than one adult when minors are present. All of us are trained to recognize behavior called “grooming,” through which an abuser works to win the secret trust of a minor. Silence is the enemy. If someone suspects abuse by parish personnel, we are instructed to first call the local police immediately, and then call the Victim Assistance Coordinator, Louisa Storen, at 843-856-0748 or 800-921-8122. Suspected abuse within a family is referred to the Department of Social Services. We are committed to eliminating any and all abuse. Although almost all of the reports in the Church that have surfaced are from before 2001, we know it remains possible, so we must remain diligent. The Church must be the safest environment possible.

Second: I encourage you to write so that our leaders truly know the scope of the issue of silence and cover-ups, and that you, the People of God, insist on important changes. Some names and addresses: The Most Rev. Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of Charleston, 901 Orange Grove Rd., Charleston, SC 29407; the president of the USCCB, Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, 1700 San Jacinto St., Houston, Texas 77002; our Vatican representative (the Nuncio): Archbishop Christophe Pierre, 3339 Massachusetts Ave. NW; Washington, DC 20008-3610; and Pope Francis, Domus Sanctae Marthae, 00120 Vatican City State.

Remember: Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it civil, and don’t try to be Shakespeare – write conversationally. I will have a more extensive list of suggestions on the tables at the doors of the church. And above all, let us pray and fast for the healing of all victims of abuse.

Yours truly in Christ,

Father Wilson