Catholic Standard El Pregonero
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Listening and responding to abuse survivors

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, speaks during a Sept. 21 prayer service at the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (CS photo/Matthew Barrick)

It is never easy to write about abuse of any kind. It can be troubling and uncomfortable for both the writer and the reader. Yet abuse in all its horrible forms is present throughout our society and must be addressed candidly and honestly. Today I want to focus on another facet that seems particularly timely. A note of caution: what follows could be triggering. 

There is no way to assimilate the pain of abuse without having endured it. One cannot begin to comprehend the suffering in its aftermath without waking up to it every day. Finally, it is not possible to appreciate the fortitude required to confide in another person unless one has personally felt compelled and empowered to do so.

Still, even if we cannot begin to understand how any of this feels to those for whom it is an inescapable and pervasive fact of life, we have no excuse for listening with anything less than totally heartfelt and genuine compassion, and then responding in kind.

Those lessons have been among the most challenging and most important of my life as a bishop. Every such interaction I have had with a survivor or the loved one of a survivor has served to strengthen my resolve to remove every obstacle along the path to healing, justice, and the safest environments possible throughout our Archdiocese. And if the approaches borne of our Church’s experience can serve as models for other organizations, then all the better. This scourge is not ours alone; we must widely share what we have learned and what we have developed in response if our society is ever to stop having to react to abuse of the innocent and start finding more effective ways to prevent it from happening in the first place.

With that in mind, I am taking this opportunity to remind our pastors, parish leadership, and the people of God of the unequivocal promises we have made to those who may have been abused and who may be struggling with bringing their allegations forward. 

We will, first and foremost and without exception, create environments that are open to hearing allegations of abuse and misconduct, and we will respond with appropriate pastoral care for all who are involved.

We will provide a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals who come forward with allegations of abuse and contact appropriate personnel to ensure all are supported, as stated in Section 9 of the Archdiocese of Washington’s Child Protection and Safe Environment Policy

“Through pastoral care, as well as ongoing education and training for clergy and Church personnel, the Archdiocese will work diligently to promote safe, healthy communities of faith.”

Should we ever fall short on that commitment locally in a parish or school, we will take it up at the archdiocesan level.

We will cooperate fully with civil authorities and allow them to conduct their investigations without interference. From Section 5:

“The Archdiocese is committed to working with civil authorities to protect children by preventing child abuse and neglect, reporting alleged incidents of abuse and neglect, cooperating in investigations of allegations and any resultant judicial proceedings, as well as advising victims of their right to report independently and supporting their exercise of that right, as specified in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

As important as what we will do is what we will not do. When presented with an allegation of abuse or misconduct, under no circumstances will we dismiss, judge, shame, minimize or act defensively. Rather, we will listen. We will learn. We will acknowledge the burden, and we will respect the boundaries. And we will act – appropriately and in accordance with the processes and policies set forth in our Child Protection and Safe Environment Policy, available at 

If you have experienced abuse or become aware of improper conduct by anyone in archdiocesan ministry, or if you have reported misconduct locally and do not believe our policies have been followed to the letter, I humbly implore you to contact Courtney Chase, our Archdiocese’s Executive Director of Child Protection and Safe Environment, at 301-853-5302. Again, at my direction and with my full support the actions outlined in our policy will be followed to the letter.

I am proud of the hard work of so many who have collaborated to put these policies and procedures in place, and yet I know that they are only effective if we similarly collaborate to implement them. We owe it to our children and to each other to keep these promises.

May God bless all who have suffered at the hands of another, particularly one in ministry in the Church, and may He bring them the healing that only He can provide.

(Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, writes his “What I Have Seen and Heard” column for the Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)