By Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz, OMI
August 25, 2006
As many of you are aware, the archdiocese has been involved in four legal actions making claims of sexual misconduct by clergy. Three legal actions were resolved recently through the mediation process, including the action which named Francis Murphy.
(After the mediation was complete, I received a letter of apology from Murphy, reprinted below in its entirety.)
One action remains, which we hope to see resolved soon. That case involves the action of a layman in the Dillingham area from a period prior to the establishment of the Archdiocese of Anchorage when that territory was part of the Diocese of Fairbanks.
I know over the course of the last few years many questions have come up as a result of the legal actions taken against the archdiocese. I hope the following information will answer some of the questions you might have regarding these settlements or other issues related to clergy sexual misconduct.
Many have asked why mediation. There are several reasons that we chose this route:
• It provides a more rapid process for coming to resolution;
• It only occurs if all parties agree that this is a viable option;
• It is a just solution that provides a forum for all involved to express their concerns and desires, in a manner which respects each party involved;
• A successful mediation is one where all parties feel that a mutual agreement is reached;
• It protects the privacy of the plaintiffs.
When all parties in each of the individual actions agreed to mediation, we agreed at the request of the mediator that the content of the mediation discussions would be confidential, including the settlement information.
I am abiding by that agreement. It is discouraging to me that others who signed this agreement have not upheld this commitment.
As a result of the mediations, the total archdiocesan financial commitment to all three settlements is $795,000.
Our insurers provided support for legal costs and will cover a large portion of the settlement payments. That portion of the settlement fees not covered by our insurers will be paid from funds earned through the sale of properties, which were reserved for this purpose, such as the archbishop’s house.
No funds from parish collections or the annual appeal were used to pay these settlements.
It is important that we not forget these events. We need to be vigilant as a church and as a people of God, to address the reality of abuse and prevent it from ever happening to anyone, child or adult.
We continue to provide a safe environment program in the archdiocese that includes background checks for all pastoral ministers, volunteers who work with youths and children, and diocesan and parish employees.
Additionally, there is mandated training for all priests, deacons, parish directors, pastoral leaders, catechetical leaders and youth ministers; a column in the Anchor on safe environment tips is provided; and there are education opportunities in parishes to explore and discuss abuse, what to watch for, and how to report.
Further, the U.S. bishops have commissioned the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct a thorough study of the causes and context of past sexual abuse of children and youths by clergy.
The results of this study will give us insight into what more we can do to provide a safe environment for children in the future.
I share all this with you in a continuing effort to be a faithful and transparent steward of the resources entrusted to my care.
I am committed to seeing that justice and healing are served. I seek justice and healing for those who were harmed by past actions while at the same time seeking justice and healing for those parishioners who continue to faithfully support their church and its dedicated priests and clergy.
I invite us to continue our fervent prayers for all victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Thank you for your patience and support throughout the painful experience this has been for everyone.
May God in his infinite love bring about good from what we have experienced.
Letter from Francis Murphy to Archbishop Schwietz
Dear Archbishop Schwietz,
I am writing to tell you how ashamed I am of what I have done and of the hurt I have caused the people of Alaska and the church. I offer my heartfelt and sincere apology for all of the problems I have caused.
My past behavior has been the source of great pain and scandal to the people with whom I worked and among whom I lived for the years that I was in Alaska.
In His teachings, Jesus was very specific about only a few things. One of them was scandal and those who cause it. Every day I seek forgiveness for the scandal I have created.
The settlements that have been reached have resulted in a major financial burden for the archdiocese. For that I am deeply sorry. I know the hardship this will cause you in the future.
I have let down my brother priests and the other religious who have served long and well and have worked hard for the church in Alaska. I apologize to them and to the people whom they must face daily.
My disloyalty weighs heavily because it casts a shadow on those who have remained faithful to their vows.
I ask for your forgiveness and for your prayers.
Frank A. Murphy