The Reality of Perception

October 26th, 2018
Bishop Robert F. Vasa

The Reality of Perception

   The Report of the Attorney General of the State of Pennsylvania which charged that the Church continued to be complicit in the cover-up of child sexual abuse has shaken the confidence of Catholics all across this country. While much could be said about the Pennsylvania report the reality is that perception is as powerful as truth. The perception of many is that the report points to serious gaps in the Church’s dealing with child sexual abuse. The fact that the report mainly references crimes and mishandling in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and makes no mention of what has been done since 2002 gives the impression that it is pointing to failures in 2010 to 2018. While there have been failures in these years, they are far different than the ones reported from decades ago.

               In recent decades the Church has taken very strong and active measures to help assure that children under the care and supervision of the Church are kept as safe as possible. This effort includes fingerprint screening of every employee and volunteer who has regular access to children. In addition, these same persons are required to view a training video which points out some of the sign of predatory behavior on the part of ‘trusted adults’. The fingerprinting reveals who has prior criminal convictions but it does not necessarily identify all those who have offended but have never been arrested. Sadly, the level of our vigilance needs to view every potential volunteer and every prospective employee with a very critical eye, both before and after they have been fingerprinted and ‘cleared’. I can recall an insurer saying, “Only those you trust can steal from you.” The same applies to those who seek positions where there is access to children, “Only those you trust can perpetrate ongoing crimes against children.” At the Diocesan level, there have been regular meetings with the Diocesan Review Board, which has been in existence since before 2002, about ways to help assure the safety of children as well as to discuss any new allegation which may have come forward.

               The question which many have concerns the actions the Diocese of Santa Rosa is preparing to take in regard to the revelation of the names of those who have been accused of some kind of evil in regard to children. I have been reviewing files for the past month and have established what I believe to be a complete list of all of the accused. Now I must determine if there is some legal reason why I would be prohibited from releasing certain names on that list. There is a strong tendency to use the word ‘cover-up’ in regard to the due diligence which I am trying to exercise. I have no desire to cover up anything. My desire is to release all of the names but what I want to do and what others may want me to do is not necessarily the same as what should be done or what the law allows me to do. What I can say now is that none of the priests on the list is involved in any active Church ministry. All of them are deceased, laicized or permanently removed from ministry.

               It is precisely to help me discern the release of certain records that I have added two additional members to the Diocesan Review Board: Honorable Charlotte Walter Woolard, Retired Judge of the California Superior Court and Honorable Daniel (Mike) Hanlon, Retired Justice of the California Court of Appeal. I have had an initial discussion with them about the priests accused and plan on additional conversations with them. Sometimes the determination that a name can and should be released is easy. Sometimes this is not so easy. While concern for the healing of a victim can be and is a very strong consideration it is not the only consideration. I want any victim to know that I take their allegation very seriously and yet, at the same time, I want to follow the law. State law regarding the confidentiality of employee records (which includes priests) is very important. I cannot act in a way which, even with very good intentions, violates that law.

   I plan to talk to all the priests of the Diocese about these matters in November, I have a meeting of the Diocesan Review Board scheduled in December and hope to set a January date for the revelations of the names which I am able to release. While this is going on there is ongoing need for prayers. Prayers for healing and reconciliation. Prayers for restoration of trust. Prayers for wisdom. Prayers. Prayers. Prayers.