Assesses Need For Further Actions To Ensure Transparency And Accountability
In a pastoral message from The Most Rev. Armando X. Ochoa released on August 16, 2018 the Bishop stated:
“I stand firm in my conviction that all clergy must live out their lives as ordained ministers with integrity. As bishop, I have fully accepted my responsibility to address any serious matter that knowingly puts at risk any of the souls entrusted to my pastoral care and will continue to do so. One of my greatest concerns is the culture of secrecy that exists in many dioceses among the clergy and even among some of the laity who feel that they need to protect the Church at all costs. This must be addressed more effectively. To remain silent and abandon victims when they need their faith community the most is indefensible.”
Each diocese in the United States continues to respond to the current sexual abuse crisis in its own way. To date, there has been no standardized response formulated. In the Diocese of Fresno, the first focus was on diocesan compliancy to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Compliancy was verified through an independent audit conducted by Stonebridge for the fiscal year July 2017 – June 30, 2018. The compliancy letter was published on October 24, 2018. The purview of the audit included: background and fingerprint clearance of ALL clergy and religious, and employees and volunteers who serve where minors are present. Safe Environment training which is renewed on a three year cycle is also audited, along with administration’s adherence to response procedures when an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is received.
In the Diocese of Fresno, the authenticity of an allegation is assessed so that the Diocese has enough information to respond promptly with sensitivity to the specific circumstances and needs of a potential victim and his/her family, if applicable. A report is always made to law enforcement where the alleged abuse took place, regardless of how many years have passed. If the abuse took place in another diocese, the Diocese of Fresno will assist by bridging communications to the other diocese while offering local pastoral support.
Since the scope of the current sexual abuse crisis dates back several decades where investigations have taken place, the Diocesan Review Board (DRB) has been in dialogue with Bishop Ochoa to help determine if another thorough review of all files should be conducted to ensure that the current Bishop is aware of all allegations that predates his installation in this particular diocese. Resources to legally and competently complete this task within the oversight of the DRB are currently being explored.
In addition to recognizing the genuine needs of those who have been victims of sexual abuse as a minor, the faithful and general public, the needs of the priests faithfully serving in the Diocese must also be considered. This does not in any way minimize the focus on victims. On the contrary, it provides the wellness support that the majority of priests who are living their vocation devoutly need in order to stay healthy and continue their pastoral care to all, including those who are in great need of healing within a supportive parish environment.
In regards to the public release of names of accused priests, the Diocese of Fresno notifies all parish communities where an accused priest has served, asking anyone with relevant information to come forward to assist the investigation being conducted by law enforcement and/or the Diocese. Beyond this, the Diocese continues to survey how other dioceses are responding to the demand for an online posting of all accused priests, past and present, in addition to coming to a better understanding of any legal ramifications if due process of law has not been pursued according to Constitutional Rights. Bishop Ochoa will continue to engage a variety of professional opinions on this matter, both within the faith community and outside sources to ensure objectivity. It is understood that this is a very sensitive matter. It is essential that criterion, content and accurate terminology are well established to ensure that any further actions achieve their intended goal – to heal, protect and restore trust.
Bishop Ochoa begins every gathering with a prayer for victims and their healing, and has asked every parish to remember victims in the Prayers of the Faithful at every Mass to keep them ever before us. He understands that the need for healing is great and the process takes a lifetime. Additional updates will be published by the Diocese of Fresno as we move forward.