Reflecting on God’s blessings and working to do the right thing

| November 21, 2013

NienstedtBlIn just another week, we will join with millions of families around the country to celebrate Thanksgiving, a time that has traditionally been set aside to reflect humbly on our many blessings, all of which we prayerfully acknowledge come from our loving and generous God.

I have been reflecting quite a bit lately on God’s blessings to me and the things for which I am personally grateful. I have thought and prayed about this because, particularly now, in the midst of all of the painful strife within our local Church these past many weeks, I am reminded of the great hope we have in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

I am reminded that, as our patron St. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians, “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” This empowerment and strength must always be directed only for the pursuit and telling of the truth in service to God and our neighbor. This strength, which we find in the source and summit of the Holy Eucharist, reminds us that God gives us all that we need to live in his love and in his truth. It is only for us to recognize and accept his gifts. And, it is these gifts from God, those of strength and truth, of faith, hope and love, and grace and light, and so much more, for which we give thanks.

Like you, I am also thankful for the gifts of my family and friends. And, I am grateful for all of you, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus. There is much sadness and frustration among us still. I feel that, too.

And, yet, I also feel so powerfully your prayers as well as your hope for a path forward. I give thanks for these, too. They have been in my prayers as well. The strength of your prayers has been felt by my entire leadership team, which is working tirelessly to do the right thing in the midst of this crisis. Together, we have learned and grown much these past many weeks. And, we have made decisions to take actions that we sincerely believe set us on that path forward, a path that embraces the truth, for the sake of justice.

These actions, as I shared with you in my column two weeks ago, are anchored by a set of goals that I have set for myself and for all leadership within the Church as we address the very serious concerns before us.

Our first goal, and of greatest importance, is keeping our focus on creating and maintaining safe environments and protecting the young and the vulnerable. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Our protection of children and young people must be our top priority, and it must be what animates our every action and decision.

Our second goal is to care for those who have been harmed by members of the Church. Our hearts ache for the victims of sexual abuse, and they deserve our care and support as, together, we work toward a process of hope and healing. It is among the most important things we can and should do, for the sake of the dignity of each person who now struggles to move forward with his or her life. We are called to love, with great compassion, those who are hurting most among us. This is doubly important when a victim’s pain has been caused by a member of our clergy.

Our third goal is to facilitate the beginning of a healing process for our local Church. We must restore trust with the Catholic faithful, who I know are counting on the clergy and leadership of the Church, most especially me as archbishop, to make virtuous decisions for the good of the body of Christ. I take this responsibility very seriously. I also know I cannot do this alone. My entire staff and I are united in our commitment to work together in pursuit of the truth and restoration of trust.

Finally, our fourth goal is to restore trust with our many clergy who do live out their vocations nobly and with great dedication to their sacred trust. These good men deserve our confidence and respect. We must avoid impugning them as we seek justice for the few who have violated this trust and hurt others.

These four goals — protecting the young and the vulnerable, caring for victims, and restoring trust with both the laity and the clergy — are anchoring me and my leadership team in all we do.

Nearly two months ago now, as we began to understand the breadth and depth of the concerns before us by ascertaining the facts, we focused on what actions should be taken. On Sept. 27, in a letter to clergy, parish and school leadership, and other leaders of our local Catholic organizations, I called for the first of our major actions: the formation of an independent task force to investigate any and all issues associated with clergy sexual misconduct. We need the help of outside experts to assess our many past and current efforts to create and maintain safe environments and how we have been handling allegations and cases of clergy sexual abuse. We want the truth and the best thinking on these matters.

So, to make sure this group would be able to operate unimpeded, I took an unprecedented but necessary step to appoint a vicar for ministerial standards to — separately and without my involvement — appoint a task force and ensure they have what they need to help us understand what we can do better and how. In our quest for the truth and the best path forward, I am counting on this group to provide us with the truth. I am eager to hear what they have to say and have pledged to implement their recommendations. I am confident they will focus on best practices for the benefit of our community.

My second major action, and one that complements the work of the task force, was the decision to hire an outside firm to do a thorough review of our clergy files. I announced this decision in my column in The Catholic Spirit on Oct. 24. As I said then, we need to ascertain the facts, and this will lead us to prudent and ongoing disclosure.

Our approach is straightforward: find the facts, communicate our actions, and then do what we say we are going to do. This happened with the formation of the task force within a month of the start of this crisis. And last week, we fulfilled my commitment to hire an outside firm with national experience to review objectively our clergy files. Over the past month, my staff thoroughly researched and interviewed several national firms who have the expertise and experience to review these files and ascertain if anything has been missed or any prior actions or decisions should be revisited.

As we announced last week, Dr. Kathleen McChesney and her team at Kinsale Management Consulting were chosen for this important work because of Kinsale’s significant and relevant experience performing file reviews with both religious and secular organizations across the country. I was personally most impressed with Dr. McChes­ney’s commitment to ensuring that the review is thorough and complete. I am confident she and her team will approach this work with the highest level of integrity.

Finally, on Monday, Nov. 11, I announced my decision to take two more critically important actions: first, to disclose the names, locations and status of any living member of the clergy of our archdiocese who has a substantiated claim — that is, where there exists sufficient evidence and reasonable grounds regarding the abuse of a minor; and second, to do a thorough review and analysis of the monitoring program we use for those men who have been so assigned by our Clergy Review Board.

The review of our program thus far suggests changes are needed, but in order to make the right changes, I have asked that we first seek the recommendations of outside experts so that our program reflects best practices. One of the reasons we selected Dr. McChesney and her team at Kinsale is that they have the expertise to guide us well with this evaluation as well.

Our commitment to prudent and ongoing disclosure is unwavering. This makes sense in light of the goals I referred to earlier. We cannot meet our goals if we are not sincere in our commitments to our actions, including and especially disclosure.

Our first concern is for potential victims, so our initial round of disclosure will be focused on priests residing in the archdiocese where we have definitive information. We set a goal to provide the first round of this disclosure in November, and we are working diligently with the proper authorities to allow us to do so. This takes time, but like all things of this importance, we must do this accurately for the sake of everyone affected.

While we are starting here, our intent is, in conjunction with the review of clergy files, to disclose names of all living priests of our archdiocese who have substantiated claims of sexual abuse against a minor. This is regardless of where they are currently residing.

All of these actions — the work of the task force in examining our policies and procedures; the thorough review of our files by Kinsale; the disclosure of the names of offending priests; and the examination of and changes to our monitoring program — all are part of a broad and cohesive approach to addressing clergy sexual abuse and our handling of these situations.

All of this will be done in a spirit of honesty and sincerity — in pursuit and telling of the truth. As our Lord Jesus says in the Gospel of John 8:32: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

As I stated in my column on Oct. 24, you have my commitment that I will do what I have promised, for the good of this local Church and our extended communities. May our actions redound upon the good of all souls and the good of the body of Christ. May our actions deliver the promise of our words, in the pursuit of the truth.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving with your family, I offer my heartfelt prayers for you and your loved ones. I offer you all that I have as shepherd of this local Church, and in service to Christ who is: the Way, the Truth and the Life.

May God abundantly bless you and your family, and may we all be thankful not only today, but throughout the year, for his many gifts.

View Archive of Archbishop Nienstedt’s Columns

Tags: , ,

Category: Only Jesus

Comments are closed.