Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"The mission: an update"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the May 19, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

We are a pilgrim church. We are on a journey of faith. That concept has been very real for us in the Diocese of Spokane, especially over the last two years. As the Catholic Church continues its efforts to become more sensitive and compassionate to the victims of sexual abuse, our diocesan family also has had to address the implications of the situation. Those implications are many: social, pastoral, economic, and legal.

I have said before, and I believe it remains true today: We are sailing uncharted waters. This is particularly evident as we work through the Chapter 11 Reorganization in Federal Bankruptcy Court, a process we began last December. I have tried to keep everyone up-to-date through postings on our diocesan web site. I urge you to take advantage the information there – click on “Chapter 11 Reorganization.” There is a wealth of material available.

I know I speak for the entire diocese when I repeat that we are profoundly sorry that victims have been hurt. I personally and corporately wish to express our apology for what has happened. My commitment as bishop of this diocese remains: We will continue to search out the best possible ways for healing and reconciliation to take place; we do so, well recognizing that it is God who truly heals.

When we embarked on Chapter 11 Reorganization, it was with the hopeful intent that we would preserve, to the very best of our ability, the mission of the Church in Eastern Washington. To be honest, already there has been a profound impact on our mission. That impact will continue well into the future.

One of our strengths as Church is our sense of community. We are a community of faith; we are a family of faith. We witnessed that reality and that strength during the events surrounding the death of Pope John Paul II. If anyone in the family is sick or in need, we respond to that need in solidarity and love. As we work to resolve this matter of sexual abuse in the Church, we have asked those who have been abused to please come forward so that we can respond with hope, reconciliation, and healing. I profoundly respect victims who are able to step forward. Only they know the tremendous courage that step requires. Only they know the impact of these tragic events that were beyond their control.

We also have committed ourselves to a safe environment for ministry in the Church. The Charter for the Protection of Youth and Children, approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002, has been of tremendous assistance to us. Extensive training of volunteers and employees has taken place throughout the diocese in this regard, so that tragic events of the past might never be repeated.

The screening processes for our candidates for priesthood have been improved. We are more aware, and can now better identify and recognize, potentially dangerous behavior patterns.

Our diocesan Code of Conduct is in place (and also available for public viewing on our web site). That Code makes clear our expectations of all our diocesan family, especially employees and volunteers.

We continue to be blessed by our Victims Assistance Coordinator, Mary Butler, who facilitates outreach to victims and monitors our progress as we comply with the terms of the Charter.

We are family, together, as we move through this complex situation. The tragedies of the past help us identify what we can do to make our parishes and schools safe environments, now and in the future. We have a mutual responsibility to uphold and protect the dignity of every human being, especially the most vulnerable.

On the national level, the Catholic Church in the United States has just concluded a confidential, on-line survey of abuse victims (“Bishops launch confidential on-line survey of sexual abuse victims,” IR 4/7/05). Now the bishops are looking at a more in-depth study of sexual abuse in the Church, in an attempt to analyze the problem and to see how we can better provide protection for everyone, in the Church and in society.

The issue is huge in our society in general. For the safety and dignity of every person, we must address the issue collectively. It’s an interesting paradox: On the one hand, we can easily become cruel ourselves in regard to perpetrators of sexual abuse, yet on the other hand we see media programming which accepts promiscuity, lack of fidelity to marital relationships, and the trivialization of sexuality. It’s all too common. The messages reduce the mystical gift of human sexuality (and human beings) to a commodity – and commodities are easily viewed as disposable.

Even as we struggle to protect our children and young people, we cannot allow ourselves to forget compassion – yes, even compassion for those who are addicted, or mentally ill, caught up in the sordid cycle of misused sexuality. Compassion is a Christian response. Cruelty is not.

I have said many times that this is a moment of grace and blessing as we try to address the health and well-being of our Church and society. I hope and pray that what we are experiencing in our Church will help us heal; but also that it will be an incentive for all of society to address this whole matter seriously and with resolve.

As Christians, we are a people of hope. Jesus, the Great Healer, continues to work in our hearts and our lives, in our communities of faith, in our diocese. For that loving care, we must be eternally grateful. In following the footsteps of the Good Shepherd, may each of us embark upon the same path.

Much peace and many blessings.

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