Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Reflections on the seven Regional Ministry meetings"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the April 12, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Each year, the Secretariat, composed of the dioceseís department heads, schedules ministry meetings in seven different regions in the diocese, to interact with the pastoral leadership in the various parishes. Up until this year, the meetings were usually scheduled mid-day, for several hours at a time, including lunch. Besides the Secretariat, participants included pastors, deacons, parish ministers, and representatives of Catholic institutions of the area. Normally there has been a thematic approach to the meetings to discuss certain issues and receive feedback.

This year, the seven meetings were compressed into about a month and scheduled during the evening hours, so more people could attend. In addition to the usual invitation list, parish pastoral councils, parish finance councils, and school boards also were invited to come. Such meetings are invaluable to all of us in the diocese to communicate, process certain matters, and listen to feedback as we move ahead on our journey of faith. I must say that all of the meetings were well attended. Once again, I thank the various parishes which hosted the meetings for their hospitality.

The general theme for this year was the Chapter 11 process, with three major areas of focus: The numbers of abusers, claims against them, and a random sampling of frank details of some of the abuse; the financial arrangements in progress with regard to the settlement, and how we will strive to pay for the settlement; and finally, discussion of how we will try to address the issue of healing for all involved in this tragic affair.

In the first section of the meeting, besides the number of abusers and victims, I strove to give some graphic detail of what really happened in the sexual abuse situations. Sometimes there is a lack of knowledge about what really happens in sexual abuse and how people are truly trapped in abusive situations. I sometimes hear a cruel statement: that victims need to get over it, they need to forgive, and move on with their lives. Only victims know what they have experienced and the impact abuse has had on their lives. Our response needs to be one of compassion, and trying to make it right through the legal system. Through the Chapter 11 process, we have striven to do just that. Constantly, I have said that our first concern was that all of the victims who have come forward will be treated equally. Secondly, we need to protect the mission of the Church.

In the second part of the meetings, Deacon Mike Miller, in charge of diocesan business affairs, led us through some of the financial ramifications of the Chapter 11 process. As most of you know, for months now, the Association of Parishes (AOP) has been meeting with their attorneys to protect their assets and to contribute to the settlement. To my knowledge, this is the first time that parishes, to the extent suggested by the AOP, are participating in the settlement so that we can move ahead, rebuilding for the future. Because we are a relatively small diocese and have few assets, participation of parishes will be vital to a final resolution. I would hope all of us as a Catholic community of faith could see this as a compassionate outreach to victims, even though we werenít directly responsible. The diocese is selling all of its assets, and as we move into the future, we are examining how we can better protect the property of parishes under civil law.

In the third section of the meetings, we discussed the need for healing and how we might foster an attitude of healing in our Catholic community. All of us, in one way or another, have been hurt by this tragedy. It is clear that each parish has its own personality and needs. Several organizations are also interested in assisting with healing. Once we have an agreed-upon consensual plan that will lead us out of bankruptcy, we will focus more discussion on this matter.

At the meetings, there was time at the end for questions and discussion. One of the items that surfaced several times was: What are we doing to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening in the future? There are several areas that are being addressed.

First, there is the Charter for the Protection of Youth and Children, approved for all dioceses in this country by the U. S. Catholic bishops. Our safe environment training for all of our parishes and personnel working in the diocese is a must. Some say education is one of the best ways of preventing child sexual abuse. Of the 195 dioceses in the United States, all but one has agreed to be audited on how well this directive is implemented. Such safe environment training has been a massive, complex commitment, and will continue to be.

Second, background checks are made on everyone working in the diocese, to make sure as far as it is possible that there is nothing in the background of a person that would indicate he/she would be a danger to a child.

Third, a code of conduct has been in existence in the diocese now for over 15 years. A few years ago, as the tragedy of abuse became known in our country, our own code was revisited and tightened up even more. Those of you who work with children and youth know how demanding such a code is Ė and well it should be.

Fourth, the screening of candidates for the seminary has improved. There is no absolutely sure way that we can detect whether someone in the future might be a danger to children, but all candidates for priesthood are psychologically screened to make sure as far as humanly possible a person is acceptable for formation in a seminary.

This is the Easter season. We have been experiencing a painful and challenging time in the diocese. The cross is never easy, but we should also be mindful that we are Easter people who live our lives with joy and profound gratitude to God for our gift of faith.

May Godís peace and joy be with all of you.

Bishop Skylstadís Schedule

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