Archbishop Vigneron releases letter addressing abuse allegations in U.S. Church

DETROIT — In anticipation of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court releasing a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron released a letter Monday expressing sorrow for the abuse, compassion for survivors and a recommitment to protecting God’s children.

In an Aug. 13 letter (available here), released to chancery staff, parishes, schools and faithful throughout the six-county archdiocese, Archbishop Vigneron addressed the recent news of Pennsylvania’s grand jury report, plus developments regarding the case of former Cardinal, retired Washington Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick.

Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron released a letter to the Archdiocese of Detroit on Aug. 13 in response to reports of clerical abuse in the United States. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Detroit)

“My prayers today are with the victims of abuse at the hands of clergy worldwide, particularly those represented in the grand jury report in Pennsylvania,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “The allegations contained in the report, as well as recent allegations of sinful behavior involving former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick – regardless of when and where they happened – are daunting test of faith for you in the Church, her leadership and our ongoing effort towards abuse prevention and response.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to release a report detailing decades of sexual abuse by clergy across six dioceses in the state, implicating more than 300 priests, some of who are in active ministry.

Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik told parishioners the report was “a sad and tragic description off events that occurred within the church” and noted almost all report of abuse in his diocese occurred before 1990.

On July 20, New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan announced then-Cardinal McCarrick, who resigned as Archbishop of Washington in 2006 when he reached the mandatory retiring age of 75, has been removed from public ministry at direction of the Vatican after an investigation by the Archdiocese of New York found credible a charge that he sexually abused a teenager.

On July 28, Pope Francis accepted Archbishop McCarrick’s resignation from the College of Cardinals and suspended him for public ministry. The pope ordered him to a “life of prayer and penance” until the accusations against him are examined in a canonical trial.

“This summer’s news reports affirm we – as bishops, priests, Church representatives and lay people – must be very vigilant to protect children from abuse and must re-double our efforts of outreach and healing to those most harmed by sexual abuse,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote in his letter.

Archbishop Vigneron also called upon all priests who “try to live a double life by ‘cheating on the Church’ through impure relations with others to repent or give up their pastoral office.”

“Likewise, I acknowledge that I, too, am accountable for living up to my commitment to celibacy,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “To that end, it is essential that I adhere to my habit of prayer and asceticism, especially regular Confession and spiritual direction. In standing before Christ’s judgment, I humbly give account for myself, acknowledging my weakness and asking for pardon and healing.”

Turning to governance of the Archdiocese of Detroit, Archbishop Vigneron reaffirmed his support for the archdiocese’s safe environment training program required for all clergy, employees and volunteers, as well as his commitment to reporting to police all allegations of abuse or impropriety.

“When allegations of wrongdoing surface, we report them to local police, fully cooperate with their investigation and, in the case of substantiated reports, publicize the names of those accused,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “In addition, we encourage those who have been abused to come forward, and stress there are no deadlines or restriction on bringing complaint to us. Be it five, 15 or 50 years later, our archdiocese accepted and respond to all reports.”

Archbishop Vigneron referred in his letter to a 2002 communication from St. John Paul the Great to the bishops of the United States regarding clerical abuse and a call to address all allegations of abuse an opportunities for repentance and healing.

“They (the faithful) must know that bishops and priest are totally committed to the fullness of Catholic truth on matters of sexual morality, a truth as essential to the renal of the priesthood and the episcopate as it is to the renewal of marriage and family life,” Archbishop Vigneron cited from St. John Paul’s letter.

Archbishop Vigneron also endorsed a recent address from the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Galvonston-Houston Cardinal Daniel DiNardo,to his fellow bishops about how the conference will investigate Archbishop McCarrick to the “full extent of its authority; and where that authority finds its limits, the conference will advocate with those who do have the authority.”

Archbishop Vigneron said Church leadership must review the processes and systems in place to reporting abuse and prevent it for occurring in the first place.

“We must give an accounting for the failures that have occurred,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “While policies and best practices are never substitute for moral integrity and virtue, they are nonetheless necessary They do much to protect the vulnerable and to create clarity about what needs to happen when things go wrong. We bishops must look honestly at how this situation unfolded, and I want you to know that I am committed to joining my brother bishops in seeing this work through.”

Archbishop Vigneron finished his letter by asking for the faithful to pray for him and all priests.

“By the power of the risen Christ, this hour of darkness is a moment to anticipate the dawn,” Archbishop Vigneron wrote. “We are called to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to turn what could reflect us from the work of the new evangelization in an opportunity to proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all sin – yes, even these sings of which we are so painfully aware of these days.”

Making a report of sexual abuse: To inform the Archdiocese of Detroit regarding the sexual abuse of minors by priests, deacons and other Church personnel and/or to speak to the Victim Assistance Coordinator, contact: (866) 343-8055. This toll-free telephone number has been established as part of an effort by the Detroit archdiocese to protect children, young people and other vulnerable people in our schools, parishes and ministries.