Bishop Richard F. Stika issued a pastoral letter to priests, pastors, deacons, religious communities, and the parishioners of the Diocese of Knoxville on Thursday. The letter addresses a report by the Pennsylvania attorney general on abuses that took place in that state and comes after two days of detailed reading of the report by the bishop.
August 16, 2018
My Dear Priests, Deacons, Religious,
and Lay Faithful of the Diocese of Knoxville,
It is with horror and disgust that I have been reading the Pennsylvania grand jury report that was released on Tuesday,Aug. 14. There can be no excuse for the sinful crimes that were committed against children by ministers of the Church and there is no room for the negligence of those in leadership who failed to act to protect the innocent. I understand and share your anger and disappointment.
I am thankful for the victims who have had the courage to tell their stories and I realize that there are others for whom the memories are too painful to recall. I pray for their healing and peace, and I am committed to helping to bring healing and justice wherever possible.
I have supported publicly and I will advocate at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall General Assembly for a national review board made up of laity, to review any accusations of abuse or failure to respond to allegations by a bishop. In 2002, the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which commits us to respond promptly and compassionately to victims, report the abuse of minors, remove offenders, and take ongoing action to prevent abuse.
The recent grand jury report highlights a gap in the 2002 charter. The charter does not provide a clear means of reporting and responding to abuse by bishops nor does it address how to handle bishops who fail to act to protect children. This gap is part of what has led to this moment we are in now.
I share your anger at those who had the responsibility to protect others and failed to do so. As your bishop, I pledge to continue to be transparent when dealing with accusations of abuse by clergy or others, to provide for the permanent removal of offenders from ministry, and to maintain safe environments for everyone. The Diocese of Knoxville has taken rigorous and effective steps to ensure the safety and welfare of you and your family.
All diocesan employees and volunteers, including those working at parishes and schools, are required to attend VIRTUS training, a nationally recognized program that focuses on the protection of young people. Our seminarians are subject to intense scrutiny, including background checks, thorough psychological testing, and a holistic approach in their formation as priests to guarantee that the individuals we ordain are well-balanced with a genuine calling to be pastoral. Each year, our Safe Environment Program is reviewed by an independent auditor. The Diocese of Knoxville’s record for compliance and transparency is beyond reproach and all of our policies, letters, and reports can be viewed on our diocesan website, dioknox.org.
The recent grand jury report and other reports of failures in leadership are disturbing and embarrassing. Beginning with me, we need to recognize that we are experiencing the effects of sin, and hear the call to greater holiness in the Church. St. Catherine of Siena, who in her day helped to reform the papacy, may be a saint for our times. Through her intercession, may God help us to purify and reform our Church that it may bear the Light of Christ to the world. I invite you individually and in groups to consider dedicating some time in the next weeks to pray for the purification of our Church and its leaders. “Heavenly Father, help us to pass unscathed through the corruption of this world, and to remain unshakably faithful to the Church in word, deed, and example. St. Catherine of Siena, pray for us.”
Yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Richard F. Stika
Bishop of the Diocese of Knoxville