The Church makes a firm commitment to strive for seven things in particular:
- Healing for the victims
- Assistance to other persons affected
- An effective response to those who are accused
- An effective response to those who are guilty of abuse
- Prevention of the abuse
The Church makes a commitment to seek to know and understand the full extent of the problem of abuse and the causes of such behaviour within a community that professes the values of Jesus Christ. It also seeks to know the truth, so far as possible, about individual allegations of abuse. Concealing the truth is unjust to victims, a disservice to accused people and damaging to the whole Church community.
It is very humbling for a Christian Church to have to acknowledge that some of its clergy, religious and other Church personnel have committed abuse. We recognise that humility is essential if we are to care for victims and prevent abuse in the future.
Healing for the victims
Whenever the offender is a cleric, religious or another person appointed to a position of pastoral care by an agency of the Church, Church Authorities accept they have a responsibility to seek to bring healing to those who have been victims of abuse. A sensitive and compassionate response to the complainant must be the first priority in all cases of abuse. This attitude must be present even at a time when it is not yet certain that the allegations are accurate. At the first interview complainants should be assured that, if the circumstances are truly as stated, abuse must be named for what it is and victims assisted to move the blame from themselves to the offender. Victims should be asked what needs to be done to ensure that they feel safe from further abuse. They should be offered whatever assistance is appropriate. These responses do not pass judgment on or prejudice the rights of the person accused, but they are part of the Christian response to the very possibility that the person present is a victim of abuse. Whenever it is established, either by admission or by proof, that abuse did in fact take place, the Church Authority shall listen to victims concerning their needs and ensure they are given such assistance as is demanded by justice and compassion.
Assistance to other persons affected
We shall also strive to assist in the psychological and spiritual healing of those persons who, as well as the victims, have been seriously affected by incidents of abuse. The effect on the family of the victim can be profound. Sometimes disclosure results in the rejection of the victim by the family. Parents can feel guilty that they did not protect their child more effectively. The parish, school or other community in which the abuse occurred may be deeply affected. The more popular and respected the perpetrator, the greater will be the shock, grief and sense of betrayal. The family and close friends of the offender may also be deeply hurt. They can find it difficult to know how to respond and how to act towards the offender. When clergy or religious are found to have committed child abuse, then other clergy and religious are affected, and the thought that other people might perceive them to be potential child abusers can be a cause of personal stress. Clergy and religious have had to make changes in their manner of relating to all young people and some good things have been lost as a result. The whole Church community has been affected by incidents of abuse, for all Catholic people have been dismayed by the stories they have heard. The reputation of the whole Church has been affected and the religious faith of many has been disturbed.
A response to those accused
All persons are presumed innocent unless and until guilt is either admitted or determined in accordance with the requirements of the law governing their position. Proper consideration should be given to the importance of confidentiality in the handling of the complaint, particularly prior to the conclusion of an assessment. If Church personnel accused of abuse are asked to step aside from the office they hold while the matter is pending, it is to be clearly understood that they are on leave and that no admissions or guilt are implied by this fact. Every effort should be made to conclude inquiries as quickly as possible in relation to a person who has been asked to step aside from a position. Unless and until guilt has been admitted or proved, those accused should not be referred to as offenders or in any way treated as offenders.
A response to those guilty of abuse
If guilt has been admitted or proved, the response must be appropriate to the gravity of what has happened, while being consistent with the civil law or canon law which governs the person’s position. Account will be taken of how serious was the violation of the integrity of the pastoral relationship and whether there is likelihood that such behaviour could be repeated. Serious offenders, in particular those who have been found responsible for sexually abusing a child or young person, or whose record of abuse of adult pastoral relationships indicates that they could well engage in further sexual exploitation of vulnerable adults, will not be given back the power they have abused. Those who have made the best response to treatment recognise this themselves and realise that they can no longer return to ministry.
We accept that the Church and the community expect of us a serious and ongoing role in seeking to ensure that offenders are held accountable for what they have done, come to a true appreciation of the enduring harm they have caused, seek professional help, and do whatever is in their power to make amends.
In order to carry out this responsibility, Church Authorities need to have some contact with offenders and some form of influence over their conduct. In order to achieve change, they need to be able to tell them that there can be forgiveness, by human beings as well as by God, and that change is possible.