Statement of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men


Upon the Release of the John Jay Study and the National Review Board Study

February 27, 2004 — At the national assembly of the leaders of religious institutes of men in August 2002, our members adopted a document that began, “Sexual abuse of minors is abhorrent. When the abuser is a trusted member of church or society who holds himself out as a healer, the abuse is magnified.”

We were – and are – filled with a painful sense of responsibility that has motivated CMSM in the last year and one-half as we created programs for healing, reconciliation and wellness for all those affected by sexual abuse.

But before there is healing there must be full accountability. That is why CMSM volunteered to encourage its member clerical institutes to participate in the John Jay Study. This study was originally intended only for dioceses and was designed with those structures in mind. To address those concerns and the adaptations needed for application to religious institutes, we invited representatives of the John Jay College to make a presentation to our members at our assembly last August. We believe that the majority of the institutes of religious clergy did return the survey. In addition, approximately one-third of the religious priests in the United States serve within parishes in dioceses and would be included in the diocesan results. Moreover, no religious priest can exercise public priestly ministry without the permission and written faculties from the local diocesan bishop.

    Whatever the comparative numbers of rates of abuse, we religious are profoundly saddened that even one victim would be abused by a priest member of a religious order. Many of our groups were founded precisely for improving the lives of young people whether by education, social service, religious education, or Christian formation. We acknowledged this at our August 2002 Assembly as a betrayal of our very mission. In as much as we failed to take effective and prompt action to protect victims from further abuse, we again apologize with heavy hearts.
    We see the John Jay Study and the National Review Board Report as historic contributions not only for improving how the Catholic Church and its religious orders deal with this tragic issue, but also to society at large. We deeply hope that this study will spawn a host of studies that will surface with clarity the dangers children face in US society from sexual abuse in their young years, so that a nationwide effort can be initiated for their protection. These studies are a moment of profound hope that must not be lost on those who have the resources and opportunity to take them further. Nothing could be dearer to the hearts of many of our founders.
    We have already begun a widespread program for improvement for dealing with the protection of children called Instruments of Hope and Healing. We have been retraining leaders in the religious life to assure that we are all up to national standards for protecting children in our ministries. That program will end in certification of each of our institutes by an outside organization with unique expertise in these standards. These reports will be enormously helpful to us to assure that we are not missing any principal concern for the protection of children.

Along with the bishops, CMSM has been addressing the sexual abuse of minors by clergy since the early 1990s. CMSM adopted the principles put forth in 1993 by the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse. Religious communities have developed careful guidelines for screening new candidates, including intense psychological testing. For more than 12 years CMSM has encouraged and helped its members to review and continually update policies for professional conduct and to follow local, state and federal laws when dealing with abuse issues.

As is all too painfully clear in the reports released today, it was nowhere near enough. Our conference said in August 2002, “We will not tolerate any type of abuse by our members.” And so our tradition of fraternal correction requires us to hold one another accountable.

In order to fulfill that accountability, the CMSM Instruments of Hope & Healing program will lead to accreditation of its member institutes in accordance with the highest national standards for protection of minors. To implement this accreditation program, CMSM has employed the services of Christian Brothers Risk Management Services and its sub-contractor, Praesidium Religious Services, a well-known expert in the field among child-serving organizations.

So far:

    210 leaders went through a training session on effective outreach to those making allegations of abuse and how best to conduct the necessary investigations.
    In conjunction with LinkUp, a victim/survivor group, a training video was produced, with victim/survivors sharing their experiences of abuse, the effects of abuse, and reporting abuse to religious leaders of the institutes. These videos were used to help sensitize leaders to these areas and will be used further in internal education of the religious institutes.
    A similar number (about 220) of leaders have received training in January and February of this year in three-day workshops that includes updating policies in the direction of preventing sexual abuse of minors, the most constructive use of review boards, supervising religious who are in community and out of public ministry who have abused minors, and the accreditation standards that the groups will be held to by the accrediting agency.
    Training this spring will cover internal education of the membership, formation and assessment of candidates, mechanisms for internal accountability in implementing the accreditation standards.
    In addition, the accreditation requires:
    Individual examination of each religious institute to assure compliance with national standards both at the level of policy and practice by the outside accrediting agency
    With respect to high-risk offenders, ongoing, unannounced visits to communities where they reside by the outside agency to assure that standards are being followed.

CMSM’s executive board has been profoundly affected in this process through meetings with victims and victim advocacy groups. We are of one mind and one heart in our responsibility to care for children. And we continue to be committed to working with parents, church leaders, civil society and all people of good will to heal the wounds of sexual abuse and to restore hope and trust.

As set out in its August 2002 statement of the assembly, our member institutes continue to search for ways to enhance and bring about healing and reconciliation between those victimized and those who victimized them as well as our institutes themselves. Media stories have already appeared concerning some of the efforts.

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Topics: CMSM, John Jay Study

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