Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in the Jan. 1 issue of the Orange County Register. It is being reprinted with permission of the Southern California News Group.
Jan. 1 represents a new beginning, marked by hope and promise for the year ahead.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange is in the midst of its own resolutions for the year that lies ahead, as it charts its continuous journey in care of the faithful. As it does so, it gives special attention to those most vulnerable and precious among us — our children. And so, on the eve of the new year, the Diocese of Orange reaffirms its long-standing commitment to promote a safe environment and eradicate sexual abuse of children; to ensure that the dark chapter of the Diocese’s past never recurs; and, to provide a voice to those who previously suffered in silence.
For over 15 years, the Diocese of Orange has taken vast strides that have placed it well on the path to eliminating the scourge of child abuse. At the same time, the Diocese appreciates that it cannot turn the page on the past until it has reconciled with survivors of long ago.
Therefore, the Diocese, unlike other public and private institutions that have yet to confront the tragic issue of abuse, is resolute that it will continue to embrace and give voice to past victims of abuse, irrespective of the dates of abuse.
As it looks forward to 2020 and beyond, the Diocese of Orange remains firmly committed to the fair resolution of every legitimate abuse claim. Its bold initiative to settle in a respectful and humble manner the 2003-2004 time period of abuse cases perpetrated by clergy and lay people and to institute strict procedures for the protection of children has become a model for other institutions that seek to atone for the sins of the past and ensure they not recur.
Since 2003, the Diocese’s Oversight Review Board has played a critical and positive role in eradicating abuse, evaluating claims of abuse and advancing policies and procedures to prevent abuse.
The Oversight Review Board is lay individuals from various professions including a retired judge, a social worker, a physician and former law-enforcement personnel. The board’s recommendations have resulted in extensive efforts by the Diocese to protect the faithful by investing heavily in programs, processes and tools to provide a safe environment for all.
In this regard, the Diocese of Orange was at the forefront of voluntarily releasing the names of priests accused of abuse and misconduct. Any effort to ascribe current guilt to the Diocese of Orange for sins long past or for acts committed within the larger Catholic Church is belied by the facts.
Education and awareness are key to preventing child abuse. To that end, the Diocese created the Office of Child and Youth Protection to support parishes and schools and promote a safe environment. This includes mandatory Safe Environment Training for all adults, including clergy who work with youth in our parishes and schools.
Furthermore, in 2018-2019, 65,714 children participated in awareness programs that help them to recognize grooming or abusive behavior and to know how to report it.
Statistics reinforce that the Diocese’s efforts to eradicate abuse have been successful, as new incidents of abuse dwindle. Yet despite the existence of a safe environment today, the Diocese has not and will not turn its back on survivors of past abuse, even as to abuse long ago suffered. Consistent with this philosophy, this past year, the Diocese of Orange voluntarily subscribed to the Independent Compensation Program for Victim-Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors, allowing victims to seek compensation for their injuries.
Our leader, Bishop Kevin Vann, says the goal of healing will not be realized until the voice of every survivor is heard. Bishop Vann has been a trailblazer in promoting progressive change within the church, and he ascribes to the philosophy: “If one of ours has done wrong, let’s make it right, but moreover let’s stop it from happening again.” Bishop Vann long has empathized with survivors, personally meeting with them, hearing their traumatic experiences, working with them to advance healing and justice.
The leadership of the Diocese of Orange feels strongly that if any survivor has not come forward, he or she should do so now, whether through the Independent Compensation Program or directly to the Diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, 800-364-3064, but ultimately, through any channels with which they are most comfortable. The new year brings us all an opportunity to redress past failures and effect positive change to guide our future. We pray that 2020 allows us all to heal and thrive.
Editor’s Note: Bishop Timothy Freyer is auxiliary bishop of Orange. Ron Lowenberg is chair of the Oversight Review Board. Darlyne Pettinicchio is a member of the Oversight Review Board.