(COVINGTON, La.) — Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired archbishop of Washington, announced on June 20 that he would step away from public ministry after an allegation of sexual abuse against him that allegedly occurred 47 years ago was deemed credible.
The investigation led many to conclude that McCarrick not only escaped punishment for his crimes but was eventually elevated to Cardinal in spite of them. These revelations have rattled members of the Catholic community, who have witnessed great strides in the prevention of sexual abuse in schools. Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who served as Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from 2011-2016, claims to have told Pope Francis of allegations against Cardinal McCarrick in June 2013, but said that Pope Francis did nothing about it. Vigano has asked for Pope Francis to resign.
With the Catholic Church under fire for the mistakes of high ranking church officials, local church leaders have taken bold steps to reassure the community that the archdiocese continues its commitment to keep students safe.
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond celebrated a mass at the start of the school year to ask Catholics for forgiveness and to pray for the of victims of sexual abuse. Aymond wrote a letter to local priests in which he told them he shared their pain and said that “we must be there for our people as they express to us disappointment and anger.” He said that there are no excuses for what has occurred and that “we as a church must ask for forgiveness and repent.”
President Brother Ray Bulliard, F.S.C., said that “there is no place for this [sexual abuse] in our Church. I have nothing but sympathy for the victims, and if I were to find out about anything like that happening at St. Paul’s I would report the abuser to the police immediately.”
Father Zachary Dominguez, a Legionaries of Christ priest in Covington, La., said he believes the statute of limitations may be a factor in holding Cardinal McCarrick accountable for his past actions, but that he believes priests accused of sexual abuse “should be held accountable to the law.”
Because of past stains upon the Catholic Church’s name and reputation, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in June of 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter includes guidelines for the reconciliation, the healing of those involved, the accountability of the accused, and prevention of future acts of abuse. Additionally, the charter is meant to take action in disciplining offenders.
Efforts to ensure the protection of children and students include mandatory safe environment training for teachers and others responsible for minors in school communities. This training must be repeated every three years.