Focus on Healing, Preventing Abuse
Bishop Reilly Speaks out about Crisis

The Catholic Free Press [Worcester MA]
Downloaded March 14, 2003

It has been more than a year since the Church sex abuse scandal broke in the national media. In an interview with Editor Margaret M. Russell, Bishop Reilly answers questions about how the diocese has responded to the crisis.

What is the Diocese of Worcester doing to protect children?

We have updated policies and expanded the review board that deals with sexual abuse allegations. We have set up the Office for Healing and Prevention which is developing programs to ensure the protection of children. We are meeting with victims, listening to victims and providing counseling and other needed services so victims can embark on the road to healing.

We have trained mandated reporters. We are responding to the needs of the priests who have been accused. We are trying to create an awareness of abuse and have brought the call for healing to parishes with prayer, Scripture and dialogue using a nationally developed program "Healing the Body of Christ."

All of these things are really in response to what has happened in the past year.

How is the diocese responding to the needs of abuse victims?

First of all we listen to them.

We are trying to make ourselves as available as possible. Not everybody will use the (Office for Healing and Prevention) - some go to other places - but it's a very busy office. They're available first of all, trying to be helpful, listening to the stories, and then giving whatever direct assistance they can with reference to therapy, for the victim and the family members, and trying to keep some sort of relationship with them as they fight through this nightmare. So, it's not just see them and then it's dropped.

I'm looking down the line, when someone who has been a victim and feels they are able to do that, to get them on our diocesan review board. I think it will be very, very helpful.

We have to keep looking at things that will give us insights into just how to treat victims. I don't want to make it look like we're dealing with victims and it's OK. No, we are still looking for ways in which we can respond, as we find out more about this problem.

But I think it's a one-on-one-on-one situation; I really believe that. And I think that's the way the Church is going to have to deal with this, to have that openness. The Church is at its best in dealing one-on-one with people who have been hurt in any way. And this is the aspect, I think, that gets lost in all of this talk today - all the good that the Church does even in individual situations like this. There will be a lot of testimony to this coming forward in years to come.

What we have to do is get the story out that people are being heard, if they want to be heard.

What do you see as the biggest need for victims?

It is healing. Victims need to heal.

What is healing? What is emotional healing? I really think healing means becoming whole again. Being a full person again. Being together physically, emotionally, spiritually. And having a sense of your own dignity and worth. And the right to respect. They deserve that.

See, some people go through this and they think they are never deserving of respect. To me - here I'm going to come from a pastoral point of view - to me this has to do with healing from the inside out. And has to do with becoming in touch with the deepest part of us; and for me God is part of that. So, I would think healing has to - for a person of faith at least - has to bring someone in touch with the God who made us whole and will bring us back to wholeness.

In our culture that is so divorced from the spiritual it is very hard. It's hard for some people who are living in and have been directed by this present day culture that is so divorced from the spiritual to grab on to that again but there's where we have to try to reach into ourselves. We need help to do that, we need pastoral direction, we need spiritual comfort, we need to ask for the gift of prayer. There's one prayer, "Lord, help me," "Lord, that I may see," all these things that the Gospel is so full of. But that calls for a great deal of patience on everybody's side.

Our task is to try to help them. To me that is such a beautiful role for the Church to play. I think we ought to do more thinking about that.

A lot of people think healing is a surface thing or is going to be brought about simply by a person receiving funds, that's a consideration, or be brought about by revealing everything. I don't think that's healing.

I think we should not be afraid of victims. We as Church should not be afraid to listen to victims. To listen to them and to let them know that you are there with them and for them and respect them. You hope that they could find some sense of the power that goes beyond their own - I'm talking about the power of God - to grab onto, to let come into their lives, into the core of their lives, so they can have some chance to recover. We can't be afraid. We can not be condescending. Just listen. And listen with your heart. And listen with your spirit. I've never felt ill at ease talking with people like this. Even though it is very hard to hear, it's harder for them to say. And I hope that's an attitude that the Church will take. I think it is.

There is this whole part of the Church, this whole element in the Church that is the spirit of God and that spirit lives in each of us to be able to empathize and comfort, even out of our own weakness, just by being there.

There's a cry in the Psalms, "God are you there, don't you see how we are suffering?"

Here's where we move from the institution to the whole sense of community. We hope that in this community of brothers and sisters that we really see the victim as a brother or sister.

We should not be afraid to speak of God, we have to speak out of our own faith - not in any judgmental way.

If this person is saying it happened, you have to give them a listen. I think we can learn a lot about ourselves and what we should be through listening to victims' stories. But to be victims of abuse by a trusted person must be a terrible thing.

Where does the diocese stand on the call for release of personnel documents? Financial reports?

We have turned over the documents to the DA (district attorney) and that's where it stands and that's where it's going to stand. We will do what the law says. We will do what we are asked to do -to try to have these problems solved - by the people in authority.

We've given the financial report. If other things come up, we'll report that too. I'd like to make it as clear as we can to our people. And to say once again these funds - surely they are church funds - but they are not funds that are given for special purposes, like the Bishop's Fund and Forward in Faith.

What is the diocese doing for priests who have been accused? Where are they?

They're for the most part living on their own.

We are staying in touch with them, seeing that they're OK. I've gathered with them. Went to visit them in their homes. Celebrated Mass with them in a private setting. Had dinner with them. Listened to them and listened to what their concerns are.

It's getting more intense. It's been a long stressful period for all of them and it's getting more intense as we come to the time when we will be having these ecclesiastical tribunals set up. So I try to give them the best support we can.

Father Dennis Rochford is in touch with them. Probably, certainly, he's hearing from them on a daily or weekly basis. If they have any needs that come up, they call him and he'll be in touch with me.

I'm sure they would love to be back doing their work. This is not just a job, this is their life. But we have to follow the law and we have to follow the rules of the Church, too, and that's what we'll do. It's not easy on me because it's a brother priest. It's like tearing yourself apart, but that's what we have to do and we'll do it.

How can you be happy in a situation like that? It's an awful time, it's sort of a limbo situation. We just have to see where it's going to go. But they wouldn't be off the job if there weren't these allegations that have some sort of substance to them and some sort of credibility. So we have to follow the law.

What is the status of tribunals?

They are moving along. The big thing is, I think, we know what we want to do, the second thing is to have the personnel to do it. We need to know the kind of form it's going to take. We don't have enough people in our tribunal to carry on the daily work that they do and then to get into this special situation. So, maybe we'll have inter-diocesan tribunals; Msgr. Steve (Pedone) is working on that.

Right now I'm thinking that every priest will want to have a fair hearing in the ecclesiastical court. They have a right to that.

It's starting to take form now.

Is trust being restored?

Yes, I think so, I think so. We are still hurting. But I think also we're healing.

I've never felt that this was a crisis of faith and the people tell me that it's not a crisis of faith. I talk to people and see the way the people express their faith. This is very much on their minds.

But the hesitancy about trust, yes, that's still there. And I think rightly so. I mean it's been a terrible ordeal from that point of view. And so I think it really comes down to restoring trust one-on-one. That's why I think the personal dimension, as we were saying earlier with victims, is so important whatever the occasion might be.

The Diocese of Worcester is hurting, but it is also healing. And that's the stage that we're at after all this year. For the most part of last year we were hurting, just hurting. But now I can say the Diocese of Worcester is hurting, but it is healing. Healing takes time but I'm confident that we are on the right road.

Healing has entered into the picture in a very important way now. That's what we should give ourselves to. We know what we want to do and let's all join in that healing process and the task of restoring trust with one agenda: the safety and enrichment of the lives of our children and recovery of hope for all who have been hurt by sexual abuse.

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