Article in Washington Post on Clergy Sexual Abuse Misses the Mark

The Washington Post has published a story this morning on the Sexual Abuse Scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. Why exactly they have chosen to do so at this time is not clear. There are no new allegations, no legal updates to report, no recent protests or accusations against the Archdiocese of Washington’s handling of this matter.

The Article, entitled  After child abuse accusations, Catholic priests often simply vanish, seems to have as its purpose and focus the question of whether the Catholic Church is doing enough to “track” and control the behavior of former priests once they have been “defrocked” (i.e. laicized or removed from ministry). The question seems somewhat misplaced however since such functions of control, probation and registering sex offenders are the role of the State, not the Church. Never mind though, this article is going to be about the Church. Never mind that the Church has no legal standing or power to accomplish such tracking, control and legal disclosure. Yet it would seem according tot he article that she is still negligent. Exactly how the Church is to accomplish this task of tracking and controlling is not made clear by the reporters or others interviewed. At any rate this lack of monitoring seems to be the premise of the article. The article begins with this somewhat rhetorical observation:

[S]omething glaring is missing in this country: the accused priests. Although the vast majority were removed from ministry long ago – barred from celebrating Mass in public, administering the sacraments, wearing their clerical collars or presenting themselves as priests – church officials say they have no way to monitor where the men are now…..The Washington Post was able to identify 31 priests accused in the Washington area and locate nine who are still alive…..

The implication of course is that we are supposed to be monitoring. Again, how and on what legal basis or standing we are to do this is not stated.

 The Article is further deficient in that  it doesn’t discuss the breadth of what the Church has done to protect kids nor does show how much has been developed, including criminal background  checks of all priests and lay staff who have any contact with youth. No mention is made of the reporting and accountability to third parties that all abuse prevention training is up to date and that all requirements are met yearly in terms of legally recognized abuse prevention programs. Neither does the Post article make clear that historical data and names of all accused priests have been made public. All the men mentioned in the article have been named publicly before by the Church. Further, it is the policy of the Archdiocese to immediately inform the local police of any charges of abuse, past or present.  None of this is mentioned and the impression is allowed by the article that the Archdiocese is somewhat  cavalier about men who are barred from ministry and child safety, which is not true.

As a priest, I am grieved and angry that any brother priest of mine harmed children, sexually abused them, or scandalized them in any way. Nothing could be further from the purpose of the priesthood and the Church than the exploitation of the innocent and vulnerable. There is simply no place in the priesthood for those who have done such things.  I believe the Archdiocese of Washington has been very serious about finding those men who offended and, upon knowledge of any past abuse coming to light, has acted swiftly to remove them and report them to law enforcement. As a priest I am additionally grieved at how the horrible violation of trust by these abusers has affected the ability of the vast majority of priests who never offended to preach the Gospel and build trust with their people. I am no apologist for any abuser priest. Neither do I think that the Church has handled this matter well in the past. However, this Post Article says nothing about how seriously this Archdiocese has been about this problem for a long time now. This leaving out  of the “rest of the story” is a serious deficiency of the article and a disservice to the Church, and to  many people I love and respect who are very diligent in protecting the  young. Susan Timony is the post just prior to this (  some of the significant measures we take to prevent abuse and also the pastoral care we extend to victims and their families.

But the ultimate deficiency in the Post article  is the poor marksmanship of the authors who completely miss the target of what should concern us at this point. The data in this article goes a long way to show the deficiencies in our criminal justice system. If we are really serious about protecting young people from sexual abusers it is not obvious by looking at the lapses in incarceration, probation and community protection by the State.

I would like to look at an example from the article to illustrate this. The quote from the article is in bold italics black. My commentary is normal text red

The Case of Robert Petrella:

Robert J. Petrella has been accused by at least 25 men of molesting them when they were boys, church officials said. He has been convicted twice of abuse charges in Prince George’s County – in 1997 and 2002. Yet his name does not appear on any sex-offender registry He was prosecuted under the Maryland laws in effect at the time his crimes were committed, long before such registries existed, said Prince George’s Assistant State’s Attorney Renee Battle-Brooks: (This is bureaucratic gobbledygook. Robert Petrella has been in and out of jail twice since 1997. His absence from sex-offender registries is not a negligence on the part of the Church, this is negligence on the part of the State. Where is the outcry? Where are the demands for reform? Surely the Post will devote full attention to this terrible oversight in the law. The Post and many voices legitimately demanded immediate reform in the Church for our oversights and bad policies of the past. How about this dreadfully bad policy by the State of Maryland?  Robert Petrella should be listed prominently in every sex-offender registry. He is a very serious offender. At least  25 men have accused him. This is a serious dereliction of duty on the part of the state).

The Washington Archdiocese, which removed Petrella from the ministry in1989 after two decades and seven parishes, defrocked him in 2002. Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said she isn’t sure where Petrella is, and his attorney, William Brennan, declined to comment. (Hmm…so it looks like the Post isn’t going to decry the State of Maryland and interview people who demand reform. Oh, I see, it’s back to the Church which is supposed to know his whereabouts and be doing…. what? Has the Post not missed the true target here? It is the State of Maryland and other States as well that need reform. The Church does not have the capacity to track whereabouts since she cannot demand reportage from US Citizens. We cannot force Petrella to where a ankle device   or demand he check in every day. That is not in our power. The State however does have that power and I would recommend that the Post, if it is serious about protection, use a little journalistic pressure to agitate for change as they and others rightfully did of the Church in the past).

The person who has tracked the former priest most closely in recent years is [David] Fortwengler, who was an11-year-old altar boy at St. Columba when Petrella molested him in 1968. “I got that sick feeling in my stomach again,” Fortwengler said of learning that Petrella’s probation was coming to an end. Petrella, who did not respond to phone calls and letters, had gone unmonitored for long stretches before…..  Petrella….didn’t face criminal charges until 1997. After being convicted of battery, he served one week in jail before persuading a Prince George’s judge to release him so he could care for his ill mother. (Pay attention folks. After being convicted of child molestation Petrella spent only one week in jail, one week. Now this is a serious miscarriage of justice by the State. Again, where is/was the outcry? Where are the demands for reform? Why did this go unreported at the time? Again, this is the State, not the Church that is going lite on offenders)

His release required him to be in a home detention program in Pennsylvania under supervised probation for three years. Yet it came out in court documents years later that probation authorities there were never supervising him….  (More incompetence and dereliction by the State. It seems well past time for the Post and others to demand a full investigation of such matters. A dangerous sexual predator was allowed to go free and unmonitored for years. Did he live near a school, a playground? How many others are going free and unmonitored? Why is the Post making this an article about the Catholic Church. Here again it seems that they are missing the mark, which is the States of Maryland and Pennsylvania, which have both the legal power and duty to protect citizens and have failed to do so. The Church does not have the ability to track people or the power to engage in probative practices. It really must be the State that does this).

In 2002, after Fortwengler and two more victims came forward with allegations, Petrella was arrested again and pleaded guilty to three counts of unnatural or perverted sex practices. This time, he served nine months (nine months? Is that all?) and was released on the probation that ended three years ago…. (out already?) Haunted by the idea of Petrella going unnoticed, Fortwengler located him in 2008 in the North Arlington, N.J., home where the former priest had grown up. He was living there with his mother  (Is this the same mother who was so sick that he had to be released to care for her in 1997?),  neighbors said. He sometimes took walks carrying a Bible and wore a clerical collar when he appeared for a neighborhood condolence call, they said. “In order to protect your children, the whereabouts of dangerous predators like Petrella must be disclosed,” read the flier Fortwengler took door to door. Since then, neighbors have kept a close eye on Petrella, Good for Mr. Fortwengler. However he shouldn’t have had to do this. Further, with all the weird protections Petrella seems to have, Mr. Fortwengler may well have opened himself to a lawsuit had Petrella chosen to do so. Just as the Church has no power or jurisdiction to engage in such practices, neither does Mr. Fortwengler. But again he should not have had to do this. Robert Petrella belongs on every list of registered sex offenders. Had this been the case, neighbors would have known.

Well, OK, you get the point. It is the State which should be the real target of our reporters here. But, strangely, they are silent in terms of pursuit of this angle of the Story. It remains the Catholic Church that is their target. Rather than call State Officials, our reporters called the Bishop’s Conference and the Archdiocese of Washington. They received the following and rather obvious replies:

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops conference, said there is only so much that can be done to keep track of accused priests once they are no longer connected with the Church. “There is a lot of concern, but there are limits to what we can do legally,” she said. “We have no authority over them. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.” 

“Our authority over them ends when they’re laicized and no longer priests,” [Susan] Gibbs [Communications Director for the Archdiocese of Washington] said. “Even if they’re not laicized, they have the choice of walking away. They are adults. We’re not a police force. We don’t run prisons. We don’t have mechanisms in a legal sense for controlling them.” The legal system is much better positioned to offer ongoing scrutiny, she said. “That’s why it’s best if someone reports abuse immediately and that it’s brought to authorities, because then there’s a legal path to follow for investigating, proving and monitoring.”

Exactly, There are legal limits, and even legal liabilities involved when private citizens or organizations overstep their authority. Lawsuits, charges of harassment, defamation and so forth can result.

Three other ADW cases – Two former priests of the Archdiocese (Edward Hartel and Russell Dillard) are also mentioned in the article. Neither were convicted in court of the charges against them. They remain suspended from priestly ministry however for various reasons. In these cases the Church has been stricter than the State. The norms of the Church allow us to be very particular about who we allow to function in priestly ministry. However, to legally track and attempt to restrict the movement of former priests like these (who are free US Citizens and convicted of no crime in any US court) would surely involve legal liabilities. One final Archdiocesan Priest mentioned in the article is James Finan and he has freely submitted to supervision by Church authorities. Having met his legal obligations to the State he has lived in Church retirement homes for priests. He has not ministered as a priest or had any contact with parishes or children. But note, he is supervised as a free decision of his own. The Church could not insist legally on this, since he has rights as a US Citizen.

In the end, the Post has missed the proper target. Currently there are serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system that need investigation. The safety of children and minors is at stake when the State either through incompetence or legal complexities fails to give sentences that are commensurate with the crime, grants early release and/or  allows sexual offenders to go unmonitored and unreported on sex offender registries.

The Church has rightfully been rebuked for our failings of the past. I know that this rebuke has had the salutary effect of reform in the way we handle these matters today. I think that on-going scrutiny is both necessary and helpful for the Church. However this Post article makes clear that significant reform is also necessary in the US criminal justice system. It is my hope that the Post will follow through with what it has uncovered and that other media and concerned parties will insist on reform in the State as well. Sadly, and for obvious reasons the Church herself cannot champion this call. I suspect that I will get more than a few comments here on the blog from those who will be quite angry with me and assert that I am trying to evade responsibility for our past failures. I am not, and hope I have stated that plainly. But the fact is, this problem is bigger than the Catholic Church. If we are really going to be serious about protecting children it’s time to widen the net of accountability.

Here is a PDF of the Statement Issued by the Archdiocese of Washington Yesterday in response to the Post Article: Our Commitment to Healing and Protection

What is a Cardinal and What is the Purpose of the College of Cardinals?

With the elevation of Archbishop Wuerl to the College of Cardinals, it might be good to spend a brief time reflecting on what a Cardinal is and how the College of Cardinals functions. Perhaps it is good to start with a little history and then describe the present realities.

History [1]- Originally the term “cardinal” simply referred to any priest who was attached to a particular church or diocese. Even to this day we speak of diocesan priests as being “incardinated” (or attached) to a certain diocese, and this is required for every priest. There are not to be “free-ranging” priests. Later however, from about the 4th Century through the late Middle Ages the term “cardinal” came to be used only of certain more prominent priests in the larger and more prominent dioceses of antiquity such as Constantinople, Milan, Ravenna, Naples, Sens, Trier, Magdeburg, and Cologne and of course, Rome. In more recent centuries the term came only to be used of Rome.

And thus we find the term cardinal used in the Church at Rome  (from at least fifth century) to designate priests permanently serving in the Roman parishes and ministries under the Bishop of Rome, the Pope— These were the “cardinal priests.” However, as the number of priests grew, not all the priests attached to these Roman parishes were known as cardinal, but only the first priest in each such parish—i.e. the Pastor or Rector.

Cardinal priests attended not only to their own ministry or parish but also convened regularly to oversee matters of  Church discipline in the diocese of Rome. These might include matters of disciplining the clergy, filling vacancies and so forth. But it also involved matters pertaining to the laity insofar as they interacted with the Church. Thus the Cardinal priests assisted the Pope in the administration of the Diocese of Rome. There are some echoes of all this in every diocese through a mechanisms known as the College of Deans and College of Consultors who assist the Bishop in administrative details and matters of Church discipline.

Cardinal Deacons – During all this time just described there also existed a group known as the cardinal deacons. The Roman Diocese was divided into seven regions and a deacon was assigned to each. They performed numerous duties but chief among them was record-keeping and the coordination of the care of the poor, cemeteries and the like. Given their elevated status over a deacon who only served a parish, they came to be called cardinal deacons.  These cardinal deacons would also assist the Pope liturgically whenever he was in that region of the diocese. The number of these cardinal deacons gradually rose over the years.

Cardinal Bishops – Yet again, during all this time there also emerged the cardinal bishops. As the worldwide Church grew in size, the duties of the Pope, and  the administrative concerns of the Roman Church (diocese) grew. The Pope increasingly came to call on bishops of nearby dioceses (esp. Ostia and Velletri, Porto and Santa Rufina, Albano, Frascati (Tusculum), Palestrina (Præneste), and Sabina) to represent him in an official capacity and to give him counsel. In a way it was like the modern notion of a local synod.

Thus we see that the Cardinals had varying ranks and functions. They were, assistants of the pope in his liturgical functions, in the care of the poor, the administration of papal finances and possessions, and met in synod over the  disposition of important matters to include Church discipline.

By the 11th Century the College of Cardinals took on more importance as they began to oversee the election of a new pope when this became necessary. They not only saw to the election but they also ran things during the interregnum. From this time on their functions and importance grew. The Pope met regularly with them in something called the “consistory,”  i.e. the reunion of the cardinals and the pope. In these meetings were regularly treated doctrinal questions of faith,  disciplinary matters, canonizations, approvals of rules of new orders, indulgences for the Universal Church, rules for papal elections, the calling of general councils, appointing of Apostolic legates and vicars etc. The consistory also oversaw matters concerning dioceses and bishops, creation, transfer, division, the nomination and confirmation of bishops, also their transfer, resignation, etc.

The Modern Scene – More could be said of the history but allow this to bring us to modern times [2].

Although we see historically that there are three ranks of Cardinals (bishop, priest and deacon) it is now the practice that only bishops are elevated to the College of Cardinals. Since 1962 all cardinals have been required to receive episcopal consecration unless they are granted an exemption from this obligation by the Pope.  Most recently this happened with Cardinal Avery Dulles who was elevated to Cardinal but remained a priest.

Though all the Cardinals are now bishops, the traditional distinctions are maintained. The title of “Cardinal Bishop” only means that he  holds the title of one of the “suburbicarian” (nearby dioceses of Rome listed above) or that he is the  Dean of the College of Cardinals — or that he is a patriarch of an Eastern Catholic Church. Cardinal priests are the largest of the three orders of cardinals. Cardinal priests today are generally bishops of important dioceses throughout the world, though some hold offices in the Curia. The cardinal deacons are either officials of the Roman Curia or priests elevated after their eightieth birthday (such as Cardinal Dulles was).

As for the functions of the College of Cardinals, we have already seen much of this in the history above. In modern times the function of the college is to advise the Pope about Church issues whenever  he summons them to an ordinary consistory.  The cardinals not only attend the meetings of the College but also make themselves available individually or with small panels of cardinals if the Pope requests their counsel in this way . Most cardinals have additional duties, such as leading a diocese or archdiocese. Others run a department of the Roman Curia.

The College of Cardinals also convenes on the death or abdication of a pope as a papal conclave to elect a successor. The college has no ruling power except during the sede vacante (vacant see) period, and even then its powers are extremely limited.

Congratulations to Cardinal-designate Wuerl – It is a great honor to be elevated to the College of Cardinals. Those who attain to this office have proven their worth as stable and wise counselors, good bishops of the Church. I can surely attest that Cardinal-designate Wuerl is a wise and prudent steward who is careful and consultative in his approach. He will surely be a fine counselor to the Pope. May our Cardinal-designate experience many graces and blessings in this new status even as he continues to shepherd this local Church of the Archdiocese of Washington.

It’s Time to Obey Christ and His Command that We Evangelize

The last words of someone are usually considered extremely important. Perhaps they express a final wish, or summarize what was most important to the person. Thus we do well to consider the final words of Jesus just before he ascended into heaven:

Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20).

This is often called the “Great Commission” in the sense that it is the overarching mission, job one, the standing orders for the Church, for any Catholic. There is nothing ambiguous about it either. Jesus says go! But where Lord? Everywhere! Every nation, every person. And Do what? Make disciples of them by drawing them into the sacramental life of the Church through baptism and teaching them everything I have commanded. Finally He bids us have no fear of this for he is with us to the end.

Pretty clear, right? And yet it is possible for the Church, a parish or a Catholic to push Job One down the list. Pray, sure, attend Mass, OK, tithe, I’ll try. Evangelize? Oops, I’m a little busy and rather shy too, you understand…..

Time to Obey – After years of declining Mass attendance, churches closing, schools, seminaries and convents shuttering their doors, children and family members no longer practicing their faith, perhaps it is just time to get back into the business of obeying Jesus Christ and his command that we evangelize. It’s not the job of some committee in the parish, it’s your job and mine. It’s not merely the pastor’s job, it’s the parishioners too. Remember, shepherds don’t have sheep, sheep have sheep. It’s easy to blame the Church or the liturgy or poor catechesis but the primary place the faith is handed on in the family. Pastor’s have to lead but the Pastor isn’t at your dinner table every night, not at your workplace, family gathering or neighborhood meeting. All of us have to do this, all of us must obey.

A Parish that Obeys has a Future – In my own parish, after years of declining numbers we’ve decided to obey Christ. I had been assigned to this parish in the early 90s and Mass attendance was at about 800 each Sunday, about average for a city parish. I left to pastor elsewhere in the diocese and upon my return to this parish I noticed a much emptier Church and looked to the usher counts for recent Sundays: 482, 502, 473, 512. In ten years the count had dropped 38%. 300 people had drifted away.  People seemed unaware of this. When people disappear one by one over ten years it’s less noticeable. But I, returning after ten years noticed it. And my parish is not unique. Most parishes are down in numbers from what they used to be.

Now some folks like to “explain” declining numbers by talking about demographics, sociological trends, secularization and the like.  But thank God, I’m blessed with a parish that wants to hear from God, which knows that God can make a way out of no way, a parish which prays for their pastor to get a Word from the Lord. And the Lord did not disappoint. The word was simple, “Obey.”  Obey the great commission, obey Job One. The Lord seemed rather clear and put it on my heart to say to the Parish that if we will obey the Lord in this we have a future. If we do not obey him we do not deserve to exist. For too long the Catholic approach to evangelization was to open the doors and expect people to come. But Jesus sent them out to where people were to call and invite and evangelize. It’s time to obey.

So, for the past year we have been preparing through prayer and study to go forth in a door to door campaign into our neighborhood. Jesus sent his disciples out two by two and so we also will go in obedience. Almost Fifty people have agreed to make the weekly walk for 8 weeks starting September 11. Fifty will pray while we walk and others will prepare a meal on our return. We’re stepping out. I do not know if the Lord will give us many new souls or few but only this I know, if we obey, we have a future.

We are also reaching back into our families and inviting them back, listening to their concerns and setting forth a host of activities. These activities are  designed to draw them back and interest our neighbors so we can get to know them and make the invitation to be disciples. We will have concerts, the blessing of the animals, Bible studies, civic meetings etc. Anything to get folks here and meet them, befriend them and invite them to discipleship. Just the beauty of our building and joy of our parishioners preaches Christ. I preparation I’ve been walking the neighborhood and meeting people.

In the Archdiocese of Washington as well we are getting focused anew on Job One. The Archbishop is preparing a pastoral letter on Evangelization. He’s been restructuring the Central Pastoral Administration around the task of evangelizing. We’re reaching out in new ways such as this blog, and preparing to do far more by revamping the Website, reaching out through Youtube, podcasting, direct and targeted e-mail, focused facebook  pages and other social media. The Archbishop’s letter will reveal other plans as well. We want to be more pro-active and obey Christ by intensifying our work to explicitly evangelize using all the new methods available.

And perhaps you’ve heard that Catholic Radio has come in the last month to the Nation’s Capital: WMET 1160 AM. You can also stream the signal at their website here:  The station presents EWTN programming and is part of the Guadalupe Radio Network. Soon enough, local programming will also be presented in addition to the EWTN lineup. This presents a great leap forward in the ability of the Archdiocese and the wider Church  to fulfill the mandate of Jesus to evangelize, to proclaim the Gospel to everyone.

And what of you? How do you obey the mandate of Christ to evangelize? Every Sunday at Mass you are sent forth by the deacon or priest with these words: The Mass is ended, go in peace.” There’s that word again: Go. It means “Go and tell someone what you have heard and seen. Tell someone of Jesus whom you have met in this liturgy and who has ministered to you with his Word and sacrament. Tell someone what a difference he has made in your life.”  Go.

These days evangelization comes in many different forms. Even if you’re shy, what does it take to do things like:

  1. E-mail a friend a link about a great blog post or article you read?
  2. Send the link to the new radio station:
  3. Send Links to YouTube videos that inspire.
  4. There are great Catholic Websites and blogs. The New evangelization has made it easier to connect people to answers and resources. Sites like  and the Catholic Answers website  are rich veins information and encouragement.
  5. Some of you who are technically savvy can help your pastor podcast his sermons or get them out on YouTube. Maybe you can help breathe new life into an out of date webpage.
  6. Talk to your family members who are fallen away and ask them “where it hurts.” Find out what has kept them away and share the story of your own faith.
  7. Get in the habit of inviting unchurched people to join you for special events at your parish. Not everyone is ready for a pew but a Chicken dinner might at least establish some connections where evangelization can take place.
  8. Tell folks you’re praying for them and actually do it. Ask for prayer requests.
  9. And pray, pray, pray for an increase, for a new springtime in the Church. Too many souls today are drifting and the Lord needs us to obey in order to save some.

The Bottom line is that we have got to get back into the business of obeying Jesus Christ in the mandate to Evangelize. To be a disciple means to obey. Jesus was not ambiguous about his final wish: Go, Go everywhere, in every available way. Go. Make disciples of everyone by drawing them into the sacramental life of the Church and teaching them everything the Lord has commanded. Go.

Deacons – Heralds of the Gospel!

“Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become”  – From the Rite of Ordination of a Deacon

This morning, 20 men were ordained as permanent deacons for the Archdiocese of Washington. Only two years removed from my own ordination to the diaconate, this was my first opportunity to witness a diaconal ordination that wasn’t my own. As these men were called from the congregation, prayed over, made a promise of obedience to the Archbishop and received the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, I was in a state of perpetual awe and joy.

Though we are clergy in every sense of the word, deacons are not “mini priests.” We have a vocation that is uniquely our own. We are ordained to the service of God’s people rather than to the service of the Sacraments. This is most visibly symbolized by the fact that we wear our stole in such a way to keep our right arm free to serve the people of God.

In most dioceses including Washington, those admitted to the Order of Deacon do so after at least five years of prayer and theological study. However, for these men, the hard work has only begun. Please join me in praying for my brother deacons as they begin their careers as “Heralds of the Gospel”

The Archdiocese of Washington Diaconate Class of 2010

Deacon Alfred Manuel Barros
Deacon Thomas Dwyer
Deacon Dan Finn
Deacon Barry Levy
Deacon Don Longana
Deacon Stephen Maselko
Deacon Albert L. Opdenaker III
Deacon Gerard (Stephane) Philogene
Deacon William (Bill) Stevens
Deacon Brandon Justice
Deacon Patrick Christopher (Chris) Schwartz
Deacon Desider Vikor
Deacon Francis Edward (Ed) Baker, Jr.
Deacon Joel Carpenter
Deacon David Divins
Deacon Richard Dubicki
Deacon Robert Leo Martin
Deacon Ammon Ripple
Deacon Kenneth Lee
Deacon Timothy E. Tilghman

Working Hard to Prevent Sexual Abuse – A part of the story that’s not often told.

Twenty-five years ago I had just entered the seminary. It was the Mid-1980s and reports of clerical sexual abuse were emerging. While the vast majority of priests were doing good work, some – even one was too many – had caused significant harm.

I am happy to say that the Archdiocese of Washington was one of the dioceses at the time which took the data of these reports very seriously. Archbishop James Hickey instituted a response in increasing stages to bring about a real prevention of any such behavior going forward. I recall how exhaustive the psychological testing was that I had to undergo before entering the seminary in 1984. Through seminary years careful attention was paid to teaching on the celibate commitment and I remember seminarians being dismissed from Mount St. Mary’s due to infractions of that commitment. Any looking the other way that may have occurred in years past was surely not operative in my seminary years.

When I was first ordained in 1989 the Archdiocese had already instituted a yearly meeting of the priests wherein we were frankly instructed in and warned about any boundary violations and that any credible allegations would be taken very seriously. The attention to this topic annoyed some of the priests who dubbed it the “yearly sex talk.” But it was surely necessary and no one was permitted to miss it. The talks were helpful because they not only reinforced our resolve to ensure safe and proper boundaries in our churches and schools but it also helped us to hold each other accountable and to recognize if brother priests or employees were being inappropriate in any way.

As our sophistication and resourcefulness in this new area began to grow, The Archdiocese of Washington began to expand this training beyond priests and school leaders to increasing numbers of lay leaders and employees. For a number of years we have in place a very expansive program called VIRTUS which you will see described in the CBS video below. It trains anyone in the Archdiocese of Washington (paid or volunteer) who has substantial contact with children to both recognize, and even more importantly prevent sexual abuse. No one is to work with minors unless they have been trained and had criminal background checks done.

I say all this with some pride because I think the Archdiocese of Washington was a leader among other dioceses in this country in the education and prevention of the sexual abuse of minors. We are all well aware that some dioceses did seemingly little in response to the growing crisis. But the Archdiocese of Washington was surely proactive and expansive in its response. Cardinal Hickey was quick to recognize the problem and took it very seriously. He set in motion a process to vigorously address the problem and protect the young. He is gone now but the legacy of his action lives on the programs he initiated long before the Dallas Charter of 2002. Ask any priest of this Archdiocese and they will tell you, we’ve been going to classes and meetings for a mighty long time.

Most recently our efforts have expanded to teach young people carefully on these matters and to give them the comfort and capacity to speak out if they are in any way troubled by the boundaries or behavior of others in this regard. Creating safe environments for children means that it is essential that they feel free to report anything that may concern them in this regard. In the past shame and fear limited reporting. We are trying to eliminate that and keep the door open to any who may wish to express concerns. The Web Page for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Protecting our Children Program is here:

Last night, CBS news ran a story which detailed not only one man’s story of abuse, but also of the Church’s efforts to prevent this sort of thing going forward. (While the news story says these are “new” programs, they have been in place for several years and similar programs are in place nationwide.) In this sense the story is fair. There are real victims who still have a lot of pain. But the Church has responded in many ways and that too is part of the story that needs to be told.

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Stand in the hallway– Then thank a priest.

Brothers and sisters, as a high school principal I can easily get discouraged. Because I am one of the few people in the building that knows everything that went wrong on a given day, I often end my day feeling that the whole school is falling apart and that it is my fault.  When I feel this way, I have a remedy that was suggested to me by a colleague early in my career as an administrator – Stand in the hall while classes are changing.

Standing in the hallway.

When I stand in the hall I quickly discover that most of the kids are indeed in uniform, most of the teachers are happy and fulfilled in their ministries and most of my parents do not in fact hate me. Standing in the hall, I appreciate the fact that while one of my 300 students may be falling short, the other 299 are doing just fine. This simple exercise is a reminder that my God cares for me and that His Holy Spirit is there to guide me. In other words, if I step back from my problems through prayer, I discover that all is well with my school.

Christ and His Church prevails

Monday night, I had an opportunity to “Stand in the hallway” with regards to our church. Specifically, I had the privilege of serving as a deacon at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Chrism Mass. This is a Mass celebrated during Holy Week by the Bishop of every diocese in the world. It is also one of those rare occasions when virtually every priest in Archdiocese surrounds our Archbishop on the altar during Mass. It is a celebration of the priesthood and a celebration of the men who have answered the call to serve God in this very special way.

At a time when our Holy Father seems to be under scrutiny and attack; At time when our values as Catholics are assaulted as marriage is being legally undermined and; At a time when our commitment to protect the unborn is ridiculed, we need to “stand in the hallway.”

In awe of the priesthood

Brothers and sisters, I stood on the altar of the Cathedral of Saint Matthew with my brother deacons and each one of us was in awe. The sight of six bishops – the literal successors of the Apostles – surrounded by hundreds of priests while a Cathedral full of seminarians, men and women in consecrated life and the lay faithful looked on was simply overwhelming. If for a moment I may have been discouraged by the recent attacks on my faith, the Chrism Mass was my opportunity to “Stand in the hallway” of my Church.

Thank a priest!

Brothers and sisters, there are very good men in the priesthood. Like any other group of humans, some are not living up to their calling from God. But, the vast majority are! And, if the media and those with political agendas try to tell you otherwise, find a way to spiritually “stand in the hallway.” When you do, I trust you will find that we are indeed the Church that Christ built on the Rock of Peter!

Thank a priest today for his service to us and to Our Risen Lord!

Here is a link to more information about Chrism Masses in the Catholic Church:

District of Columbia City Council Imposes Recognition of Same Sex Marriages

Legalization of Same Sex Marriage in the Nation’s Capital

Archdiocese Remains Committed to Serving Poor

Satement of the Archdiocese of Washington:

Today the District of Columbia joined a handful of states where legislatures or courts have redefined marriage to include persons of the same sex. Since this legislation was first introduced in October, the Archdiocese of Washington opposed the redefinition of marriage based on the core teaching of the Catholic Church that the complementarity of man and woman is intrinsic to the definition of marriage. However, understanding the City Council was committed to legalizing same sex marriages, the archdiocese advocated for a bill that would balance the Council’s interest in redefining marriage with the need to protect religious freedom. Regrettably, the bill did not strike that balance.

 The Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities are deeply committed to serving those in need, regardless of race, creed, gender, ethnic origin or sexual orientation. This commitment is integral to our Catholic faith and will remain unchanged into the future.

Religious organizations have long been eligible to provide social services in our nation’s capital and have not been excluded simply because of their religious character. This is because the choice of provider has focused on the ability to deliver services effectively and efficiently. We are committed to serving the needs of the poor and look forward to working in partnership with the District of Columbia consistent with the mission of the Catholic Church.

 For more information on marriage, visit

 The Archdiocese of Washington includes over 580,000 Catholics in the District of Columbia and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s. In the District of Columbia, there are 40 parishes, 21 Catholic schools and 25 corporations established to serve the community.

Archbishop Wuerl’s Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post

D.C.’s same-sex marriage bill: Finding the right balance

By [Archbishop] Donald W. Wuerl


One year ago, I stood with city leaders on a hill in Northeast as we broke ground for affordable housing in the District. When the St. Martin’s Apartments are completed, nearly 200 low-income families and individuals will get a fresh start on life in a wonderful example of the type of effective public-private partnerships the residents of our nation’s capital need.

 St. Martin’s is being developed by Catholic Charities, on land owned by the Catholic Church and with funding sources that include the District of Columbia.

 Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Washington are committed to continuing to serve the people of the District as we have for many decades. That includes partnerships such as St. Martin’s. Unfortunately, the D.C. Council is considering legislation that could end these kinds of partnerships.

It doesn’t need to be that way. While we do not agree with the council on redefining marriage, we recognize that it is firmly committed to opening marriage to homosexual couples. We are asking that new language be developed that more fairly balances different interests — those of the city to redefine marriage and those of faith groups so that they can continue to provide services without compromising their deeply held religious teachings and beliefs. The Archdiocese is not alone in this request. Other groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington and nationally recognized legal scholars all called for stronger protections for religious freedom in their testimony on the bill.

 For the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities, two core tenets of our faith are at the heart of our concerns: our understanding of the nature of marriage and our commitment to expressing Christ’s love through service to others. Under the legislative language before the D.C. Council, the Archdiocese would be forced to choose between these two principles. The archdiocese has long made clear that all people have equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation. But marriage is reserved for husband and wife because of its essential connection with the creation of children.

 The proposed legislation offers little protection for religious beliefs, including no protections for individuals, as is required under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Under the bill, religious organizations would be exempt from participating in ceremonies or from teaching about same-sex marriage in religion classes and retreats in accord with their faith beliefs, but they would be required to recognize and promote same-sex marriage everywhere else, including in employment policies, and adoption and foster-care policies, against their  beliefs.

 So what does this mean?

 The Archdiocese and Catholic Charities are committed to continuing to provide services in the District. Despite the headlines, there has been no threat or ultimatum to end services, just a simple recognition that the new requirements by the city for religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriages in their policies could restrict our ability to provide the same level of services as we do now. This is so because the District requires Catholic Charities to certify its compliance with city laws when applying for contracts and grants. This includes contracts for homeless services, mental health services, foster care and more. Since Catholic Charities cannot comply with city mandates to recognize and promote same-sex marriages, the city would withhold contracts and licenses.

 Each year, 68,000 people in the District rely on Catholic Charities for shelter, nutrition, medical and legal care, job training, immigration assistance, and more. This assistance is offered to whoever needs it, regardless of race, religion, gender, nationality or sexual orientation. Many of the programs are offered in partnership with the city, which turns to Catholic Charities and other ministries when it cannot provide social services on its own. Catholic Charities has a proven track record of high-quality service, supported through caring, qualified staff, thousands of dedicated volunteers and millions of dollars in financial support from parishioners all over the region. This legislation won’t end Catholic Charities’ services, but it would reduce unnecessarily the resources available for outreach.

 We recognize that the council is likely to legalize same-sex marriage. It is the hope of the Archdiocese and Catholic Charities that council members will work with us to find a way to better balance interests so religious organizations that have served this city well for many decades may continue to provide services without compromising the tenets of their faith.

 The writer is Archbishop of Washington.