July 20, 2014
“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls like a roaring lion seeking some one to devour. Resist him… ” (1 Pet 5:8-9)
Dear Fathers, Deacons, Consecrated Women and Men, Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There is nothing harder for me as a bishop, as your pastor than to have to announce that yet again, this diocese has recently reached yet another settlement with yet another victim of clergy sex abuse.
If you do not know the details, we recently agreed to pay a significant settlement to a victim of the deceased Fr. Ted Oswald. This was not his first victim. He died in 2010, however. He cannot harm anymore. Because of the settlement, the suit was dismissed.
Thankfully, as of this writing, we have no pending lawsuits.
As I noted in the news release to local media announcing the settlement, the money this child of God received will never compensate for what was taken from them. I pray and hope they will eventually find peace and tranquility.
I apologized for the harm done to them. I also apologized—and this apology includes you—that this perversity was allowed to persist in the Church for far too long. I have asked their forgiveness. I ask your forgiveness, as well.
Many think the Church or I as bishop has the ability to definitively root out every hint of this type of perversity. This however is a task beyond any human power. We will only accomplish this through prayer and works of penance such as fasting and giving of alms to the poor. In short, it will only happen through each of us working first for the conversion of our own hearts and then for the wider renewal of the Church. When through conversion every heart has redoubled its resolve to avoid every occasion of sin, that is the day we need no longer worry about another of these terrible horror stories happening.
It bears stating there was a public disclosure of the settlement involving Fr. Oswald in 2009, prior to the time period of this case. And when the diocese became aware of the 2008 allegations involving Fr. Oswald, it responded by removing him from ministry. It also reported the situation to the civil authorities. The diocese could not do more than the civil authorities.
At this time, the most important thing is to begin the healing of all involved.
Clearly the Diocese of Santa Rosa in California has appropriate—even trend setting—policies and procedures in place, and yet this evil still occurred. We therefore need everyone—every member of every parish, every administrator, teacher, employee, coach, volunteer, catechist, and student in every school to cooperate with them—to be vigilant and diligent now more than ever if we hope to safeguard the safety and well-being of our children and everyone else.
If you are an ordinary parishioner with no volunteer, ministerial, or administrative function, educate yourself about things such as warning signs, what is and isn’t abuse, and what factors might place the vulnerable at risk. Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection Julie Sparacio often has excellent tips on how to do this in her monthly “Guarding the Vulnerable” column. You will find this in North Coast Catholic.
The bottom line is that all Catholics—especially Catholics who want to prevent the perversion of abuse from happening ever again—when we see something suspicious, we must act on it by saying something.
If you are your school’s or parish’s safe environment coordinator, then ensure all employees right down to the janitor and housekeeper and all who serve in a volunteer ministerial role are compliant. If you serve as a catechist or coach or volunteer, etc., make sure you have: 1) gone through the safe environment program; 2) been fingerprinted; and 3) your status is listed as compliant.
If you are a parent, ask to see proof that your child’s catechist or coach, for example, is compliant.
This incident has proven yet again we all need to show ever greater diligence to protect the vulnerable in our midst.
Let me say this: Despite our best efforts, evil may still occur. It will not ever be tolerated, however.
Some have questioned—understandably so—where we found the money to pay this settlement. Starting with my predecessor Bishop Daniel Walsh, this diocese has conscientiously husbanded its insurance resources for just such a calamity. Thus the victim will receive their settlement funds from insurance reserves.
To this end it is important to note the following:
· This settlement does not come from the Capital Campaign monies;
· This settlement does not come from the Annual Ministries Appeal monies;
· This settlement will have no financial impact on your parish;
· This settlement will have no effect on any diocesan ministry.
It bears repeating that the full disbursement will be paid from insurance reserves.
Therefore regardless of any just anger you may experience in learning of the settlement—sentiments I fully share, believe me—I would ask for your continued support for the AMA and Capital Campaign. Many worthy ministries and apostolates count on your support, support that comes from these two fundraisers, and I pray you will not take out any understandable outrage you may feel on their worthy efforts.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
I pray that God continue to shower every good grace and blessing upon you.
Sincerely yours in Christ Jesus,
The Most Reverend Robert F. Vasa
Bishop of Santa Rosa