Release Secret Clergy Abuse Files and Protect the Youth of Seattle Archdiocese
Dear Archbishop Sartain:
We, as Catholics of the Archdiocese of Seattle, believe that the profound damage and alienation caused by the clergy abuse crisis remains with us and that our young people continue to be vulnerable because of the incomplete response to this crisis by the Archdiocese. We know of your deep concern for abuse victims and appreciate your willingness to extend pastoral care to them. We also acknowledge that some procedures have been put in place to safeguard our youth. However, we believe that more is needed if we are to truly protect our youth, heal the wounds caused by this horrific evil, and address the continued alienation of Catholics from their Church. We urge you to:
- Establish and implement a protocol for the release of all files, memoranda, settlements and communications related to credible claims of abuse by all clergy and religious who have ministered in this Archdiocese or will do so in the future (with the names of victims redacted). Doing so would meet the expectation set forth in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” (Dallas Charter) that there be “open and transparent communication with the public.” (Article 7)
- Consistent with the intent of the Dallas Charter, empower a reconstituted Review Board that would have: a) broad, independent access to all Church files concerning clergy abuse of minors, and b) authority to investigate and make recommendations as to policy and discipline for all matters relating to such abuse in the Archdiocese – past, present and future. The majority of members on this independent Review Board should be selected by the laity and all of its recommendations made public unless the Archbishop explains in writing to the Catholic community the reasons for not doing so.
We urge you to take these actions because the interests of abuse victims must be placed above those of the abusers and those who protected them. A final and definitive revelation of the historical truth regarding clergy abuse, including attempts to cover up acts of abuse and shield abusers, will provide some measure of justice to the victims who have suffered so horribly. Although many victims continue to come forward, we know, too, there are many others who have and will continue to suffer in silence. We must honor them as well by disclosing the whole truth of what has happened.
Full disclosure of secret files and the ongoing involvement of an independent Review Board are necessary to create a sustainable culture and structure of deterrence and accountability, thereby significantly reducing the possibility that this systemic evil will ever happen again. As stated by Cardinal Frances George, when he released the Chicago Archdiocese files in 2014, “We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue.” Revealing secret files is one step in rebuilding trust. Reconstituting and empowering a truly independent Review Board would verify that the trust is well placed.
Now is the time for us to move forward in mercy and justice (gifts of the good Spirit), instead of remaining mired in fear, obfuscation and self-preservation (reactions not borne of the good Spirit). We recognize that the steps we urge you to take are not easy steps, but we also believe that God’s Spirit will be with us as we take them together. “When there is mercy, justice is more just, and it fulfills its true essence.” (Pope Francis)
Finally, we wish to emphasize that as Catholics we are deeply conscious of our baptismal identity, of our vocation and mission in the Church, and of the many dedicated and faithful clergy of our Archdiocese. Pope Francis, in declaring this Extraordinary Jubilee to be a Holy Year of Mercy, emphasizes the healing power of God’s grace, forgiveness and mercy. We pray that you recognize that full and open disclosure of these files and reconstituting the Review Board as a permanent, independent body are necessary if we are to become a more just, healing Church, one that will bring us all closer to the Mercy of God.