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Solidarity with victims of abuse

From May 2002:

It is impossible to fully comprehend the hurt faced by children who are victims of the crime of sexual abuse by clergy. We can only try to imagine the pain, questions and isolation these individuals and their families have lived with for years and years. Nor should one minimize the hurt and anger these victims have felt as many of them have lost faith in their Church's ability to take proper action at the proper time.

Abusive priests have caused a hurt to all Catholics. Though significantly different than that felt by their direct victims, this hurt is also real. It, too, should not be minimized. Many with whom we live and work view us as a Church full of abusing priests and out-of-touch leaders. A recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll indicated those not of our faith have more confidence in the Internal Revenue Service than they do in the Catholic Church.

Our good priests are victims, too. One who has not been ordained to the priesthood can only imagine how difficult it is to be a holy priest today. Though they are grateful, to be sure, for the support offered by their flocks, our priests equally are hurt by suggestions - usually offered without evidence - that something intrinsically related to their lives of dedicated service as a celibate actually leads men to molest. In the same poll cited above, about 10 percent of non-Catholics believe that "more than 30 percent" of Catholic clergy are guilty of sexually abusing children. In a recent open letter to priests, the U.S. cardinals who gathered at the Vatican wrote, "The entire Church, the bride of Christ, is afflicted by this wound - the victims and their families first of all, but also you who have dedicated your lives to the priestly service of the gospel of God."

It is good, then, that our bishops have taken an increasingly active role in offering assistance to victims of sexual abuse. We see dioceses waiving past confidentiality agreements and indicating such agreements can no longer be the norm. Bishops are more actively discussing pastoral approaches in advance of a national meeting next month that likely will call for national standards about how abuse allegations will be addressed. The Holy Father has called sexual abuse what it is: a crime as well as an appalling sin. Last week we heard his powerful words, "There is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young," as he expressed his profound sense of solidarity and concern for the victims and their families.

The current crisis, while painful to many, also has been characterized as a time of purification and renewal for the Church. With confident hope in the Lord of Hosts, our fervent prayer is that all victims of the tragedy of sexual abuse - indeed, all Catholics - find the peace of mind that they seek.

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