The release of 31 names of priests with credible accusations of sexual abuse of minors sent shockwaves through the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston last November, in the middle of what had already been a challenging few months for the diocese.
Since then the Diocese said they’ve gotten more calls; some about names already on the list, and others were new accusations.
Now, after the hurt and many questions, the diocese hopes comes a time of healing.
“I wish I could tell everyone it will never ever happen again,” said Archbishop William Lori. “Who can make that guarantee?”
What Archbishop William Lori can say is that the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston is taking steps to prevent the abuse from happening again, and it starts with acknowledging the sins of the past.
“You gotta be honest with people. You gotta tell it like it is. You gotta take responsibility for it,” Archbishop Lori continued.
He said the Diocese must strive to take a zero tolerance policy, hold those who have harmed young people accountable, hold bishops accountable, be transparent in bringing any allegations to the surface, have qualified lay people advising the clergy, improve church policies and have widespread training to help recognize the signs of abuse.
Perhaps most importantly, the church knows it needs to re-gain the trust of parishioners.
“If they wanna restore the trust of their parishioners, they have to be good, holy bishops and priests who live the faith with integrity,” Archbishop Lori continued.
Some of those parishioners have had their faith shaken, which Archbishop Lori acknowledges.
“Because they say to themselves ‘if the leaders of my church are capable of doing such things, preaching one thing and doing another, how can I remain in a church such as this?’,”he said.
Archbishop Lori also explained accusations like this have far reaching effects, not just for the victims but for their families and other families placing their faith in the Catholic church.
“It is hard enough today for parents to help their young people open their hearts to the faith, understand and love and practice the faith, let alone to have to do so in the atmosphere of of this crisis,” he continued.
Archbishop Lori said he and the Diocese hears the concerns in their hearts, and while it may be a long road to restoring their faith, he hopes parishioners take it with a hopeful view of the future.
“This is a matter of acknowledging the sins and the crimes of the past, horrific as they are,” he continued. “And this is a way, an indispensable way of purifying the church so that we can repent and that we can continue to take the steps to purify the church of this sin and to move forward and be the church the Lord wants us to be.”
This only touches the surface of the message that Archbishop Lori had for members of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.
He also spoke about his past meetings with survivors of abuse, the impact these allegations have on families and about more steps the Diocese is taking to prevent this in the future.
You can hear the rest of Archbishop Lori’s message by watching our exclusive web extra.
Archbishop Lori also addressed the ongoing investigation into former Bishop Michael Bransfield. Hear that part of the conversation in part one of our special report “What’s Next?”.