A House in Order

05-26-2019Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden" (Mt 5:14). Our Lord Jesus Christ calls every believer to be a shining example of virtue, integrity and holiness. All of us, in fact, are called to give concrete witness of faith in Christ in our lives and, in particular, in our relationship with others.

Above is the opening line of the Apostolic Letter of Pope Francis in which he issued procedures for dealing with Bishops or Superiors of Religious Orders who are accused of abuse of a minor or failure to deal with reported abuse cases. The new document establishes a clearer set of universal procedures for reporting suspected abuse, carrying out initial investigations and protecting victims and whistle-blowers. The directives specify that a report on a Bishop's or Superior of a Religious Order malfeasance or abuse is made to the local Metropolitan Archbishop, in our case it would be the Archbishop of Santa Fe or directedly to the Apostolic Nuncio in each country.

The norms are general in nature as they are universal in scope. Each country will have to specify the details according to its own situation. One of the criticisms of the new procedures is that they do not require automatic reporting to civil authorities. In the US, mandatory reporting to law enforcement is required by the US Dallas Charter and each Diocese specifies how that is to be done based on the requirements of local state law. The main reason that mandatory civil reporting is not included in the universal directives is that some countries that are hostile to the Church could use it bring false allegations. Case in point is what happened in Germany during the Third Reich. After Pius XII wrote his encyclical letter Mit brennender Sorge (With Burning Concern), which condemned the racist policies of the Nazi's, the government used false accusations to silence the priests and bishops who spoke out against the Third Reich (see: www.cesnur.org/2010/mi-goebbels_en.html). That being said, the new procedures are a step in the right direction and we will have to see how they work.

In many parts of the country, Dioceses are suffering through Grand Jury reports and civil investigations. But thankfully not here in Phoenix and for two reasons. First we went through that nightmare in 2002 (all the cases from 2002 to the present are listed on the website: fidelity.dphx.org along with lots of good information about how our Diocese and our Bishop is responding to the latest crisis. The second reason is that after the 2002 Grand Jury and settlement, our Diocese has continued to work with the various County Attorney Offices and Attorney General's office in making sure we are handling all allegations properly. If you remember back in 2002 the settlement between the Diocese and the Maricopa County Attorney included an eleven-point Agreement specifying the procedures the Diocese would follow to prevent, report and manage suspected cases of abuse including those that fall beyond the legal statute of limitations. Even after we were released from the Agreement, we have continued to abide by it and any and all allegations since the Grand Jury in 2002 have been reported to the local prosecutors in the respective counties in our Diocese. For that we owe a debt of thanks to retired Archbishop Sheehan, who was our Apostolic Administrator in 2002-03 who helped turn a relationship that was adversarial between the Diocese and the County Attorney to a much more positive and cooperative one and to Bishop Olmsted and our Vicar General for maintaining a positive, non-adversarial relationship with the County Attorney's office.

Looking back on that period of time, as painful as it was, I am glad today that we dealt with it all because it means today our house is in order. Moving forward so that our house stays in order, our Bishop has announced the opening of a local Seminary House of Formation for candidates for the priesthood for our Diocese. The program will be for the two years before a seminarian heads to one of the seminaries (we mostly use the seminary in Denver). The two-year program is designed to give the seminarians a strong spiritual, human and moral foundation and give us the opportunity get to know them better. This will also help us to let the seminarians know what seminary formation should be and should not be, so that they can let us know if a seminary is not being faithful to the Church's teaching (which was a big problem in the past). It's one thing to clear away the wreckage of the past, to have policies and procedures to deal with abuse allegations, to train people to spot potential abuse, but in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past we have to do our best to make sure we are not admitting men to the priesthood who are unable or unwilling to live up to its demands. So, kudos to our Bishop for being forward thinking in the formation of men for the priesthood for our Diocese.

Fr. John B.

P.S. Please join me in thanking Sr. Stephanie as she heads back to Lima for her final period of formation before making her Perpetual Profession. She has served us well, as a Spanish teacher in the School and leading our Grief Support Ministry. Having gotten to know her over the last few years, she really is a most excellent Sister and I hope she returns to us one day!