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Observer Editorial: Action must accompany awareness

| Friday, September 21, 2018

On Tuesday, the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend released a report stating the names of 18 priests and deacons who had been “credibly accused” of sexual abuse of a minor.

Of the 18 perpetrators, at least four have some past affiliation with the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross community: Edward Krason, Paul LeBrun, Cornelius Ryan and James Trepanier. Three of the affiliated priests were or are members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross (CSC). In a statement to The Observer, University vice president for public affairs and communications Paul Browne said none of the priests were the subject of complaints while at the University and that they were not employed by Notre Dame.

Fifteen of the 18 served at some point in the South Bend area, including at schools and parishes where tri-campus students regularly volunteer or attend services such as St. Adalbert Parish; Holy Family Parish; St. Therese, Little Flower Parish; Marian High School; and St. Monica Parish.

In the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August that uncovered details about 300 priests accused of abusing more than 1,000 children, and at the urging of a former Mishawaka resident, Kevin Rhoades, bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, announced last month he would release the names of priests from the diocese credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor.

“In the shadow of this report, we must make an effort to regain the trust of our faithful and the communities we serve,” Rhoades said in a press conference in August. “We must be vigilant in our efforts to protect our youth.”

While this report released by the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend pales in comparison to the Pennsylvania grand jury report in terms of sheer numbers, it is nonetheless shocking, appalling and hits close to home. Whether 18 or 300 priests committed these crimes, or whether the survivors number tens or thousands, these acts are grave moral injustices that must continue to be revealed. One instance of sexual abuse is one instance too many.

The public release of names marks a critical first step toward change, and we encourage other dioceses to follow the example of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. “It is my hope that by releasing these names, the innocent victims of these horrific and heartbreaking crimes can finally begin the process of healing,” Rhoades said in August.

Yet these measures are not enough, and this Editorial Board calls for more work to be done. Merely releasing information about the perpetrators, while a crucial first step, does not merit absolution. Awareness must be accompanied by action, and therefore further steps are required from the administration of our three colleges, from the Congregation of Holy Cross and from the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

During a Campus Ministry discussion regarding the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Fr. Pete McCormick said the CSC had notified its members that the Congregation had decided to appoint a lay board to review its formation of priests and prevention of sexual abuse. If the review board finds any practices lacking, the CSC will implement further steps to prevent these instances and make its changes public, McCormick said. We encourage the CSC to continue to communicate with the public throughout this process. Clear, concrete and accessible information about what has already been done and what steps will be taken to prevent sexual crimes, not only in the Catholic Church, but particularly in the CSC, will help ease public consciousness. It will help the community to understand what is going on and what each individual can do to aid healing, as a member of the affected community.

We call on these institutions to make these processes transparent because we realize this issue goes beyond the clergy and beyond the church as a whole. Rampant, longstanding sexual abuse by members of the clergy has harmed thousands across the entire country, and the report demonstrates how this damage extends to our local community as well. The tri-campus and South Bend communities deserve radical transparency from the clergy members and administrators of the local church.

Only through communication can the larger community become a part of this healing process. We cannot simply wait for investigations and reform to come from those in positions of authority; this must be a grassroots movement. The South Bend-Fort Wayne investigation was stirred by one local voice that pushed for the release of the report. This example should stand as a model for community awareness and engagement.

Reparations for survivors of sexual assault and preventative measures should be shared in a clear and concrete fashion as well. We, as an Editorial Board, do not yet know what reparations for the survivors of sexual assault might be, but we firmly believe that these conversations should be an integral next step. The CSC and other institutions involved with the clergy should demonstrate a clear and rigorous course of action for preventing further sexual abuse in the church. In all of these discussions, community members should be invited to take an active role.

Overall, our goal as a community should be to make aware this problem, repair the damage that has come from and is being done by it and take preventative measures to ensure it ends and never happens again.

Tuesday’s release of the report by the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese was an important first step, but it certainly cannot be the last. Subsequent action and transparency will be paramount for this community to not only come together and heal from past and present wounds, but to provide a model for others to do the same.

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