November 18, 2018

Regarding Abuse: Double Talk?

After the report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury was released, the bishop of my diocese released a letter. Naturally, he was heartbroken that children were not protected from abuse by anyone, especially priests.

The letter went back to the year 2002 where the five dioceses of New Jersey entered into an understanding with the State of New Jersey. The good bishop was clear that the Diocese of Paterson is not the first investigator when any reports are received about the sexual abuse of minors.

“We first report, and have reported, 100% of all allegations to the appropriate county prosecutor. Only after receiving approval from the county prosecutor are we allowed to enter into any review.”

New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses have made concrete changes and reforms. Today it has conducted 380,000 criminal background checks of all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors. All New Jersey Catholic Dioceses have integrated a comprehensive program of reporting abuse to civil authorities, compensating and counseling victims, and implementing rigorous protocols since 2002 but the good bishop was clear to point out “that we do not investigate ourselves.”

Somehow this hit home in a very tragic way. If Father Smith let’s call him, abuses children but his actions appear to be exempt from investigation until they are brought to the attention of the local authorities through an independent source or by the victim himself or herself, no action is taken? Does this mean that the Diocese knew or may have had knowledge of abuses but appears not to pursue any action?

Somehow this seems to be a form of “double talk” as the Diocese has said that it has taken steps to report any known abuses to the authorities?

Again I am disappointed in what appears to be a form of a double standard.  A victim brings to our attention the fact that he or she has undergone a form of abuse and the Diocese will act accordingly.  Until that happens, we go along our merry way assuming that all is well when, in fact, we know that it is not.  It is no wonder, the Church has a long way to go to purge itself of abuse and the abusers.

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Written by
Donald Wittmer

DONALD WITTMER is a retired business executive who held key roles in the automotive and banking sectors. For a time, he also served as a Fiscal Agency Manager for the Detroit branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He received his undergraduate degree from Cincinnati's Xavier University, an M.A. in business management from Central Michigan University, and earned certification in bank operations from the School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A husband, father, and grandfather, he teaches part-time at the Kent Place School for Girls in Summit, New Jersey.

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Written by Donald Wittmer