By Bishop James Conley
This week we begin the holy and penitential season of Lent. As I mentioned in my column last week, it is a time of detaching ourselves from the things of the world so that we can be attached to the love that Jesus wants to give us.
The three traditional acts of the Lenten season, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving assist us in becoming attached to God’s love. In carrying out these acts, we are not earning God’s love, but disposing our hearts to be purified by the work of the Holy Spirit.
During this season of Lent in particular, we pray that this purification happens in the hearts of individual members of the Church, so that the entire Church can be healed.
The Church needs a great deal of purification, a great deal of healing. This is particularly true in this diocese and the Church around the world as we all work to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
We faced a pointed reminder of this crisis again last week when the Attorney General issued hundreds of subpoenas across the state, including more than 150 in our diocese. These subpoenas were served on the diocese and our schools and parishes. I was disheartened to hear reports that morning Mass was interrupted in several locations. I know that this not only caused fear in the moment for those witnessing these troubling events firsthand, but caused real concern about what was happening in your parishes, your schools, and your diocese.
Many of you, our clergy and laity, have asked me why this is happening now. Candidly, I must tell you, I do not know.
I have pledged my cooperation and directed all of my diocesan staff to do the same. Until last week, we were given no indication that the Attorney General felt that further legal action was necessary. In fact, even when issuing the subpoenas, the Attorney General publicly stated his appreciation for the voluntary cooperation demonstrated by the Church. While I do not know what prompted this action, I can assure you that the diocese has cooperated and will continue to cooperate with this investigation.
Many of you have also asked whether this action by the Attorney General has anything to do with the task force I created last fall. I can confirm that it does not.
The Attorney General is conducting his own investigation. The diocesan task force was created to advise me, and the diocese.
I commissioned this independent task force of lay men and women last November. I asked them to conduct an outside review of: (1) diocesan safe environment procedures; (2) all prior allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse of minors or adults made against clergy and other diocesan personnel; and (3) the handling of those allegations by the diocese. Since then, the task force has been working hard to gather facts, review files, interview diocesan personnel, and analyze the issues within their charge.
When the task force was announced, I had hoped the task force would complete its review and finalize a report no later than Feb. 1. However, the task force came to me and explained that their work was not finished by that date. They made clear to me how seriously they were taking this review and the importance of being accurate and complete. I agreed to give the task force whatever time it needs.
Like the task force, I know that other lay men and women in the diocese want this review to be timely, thorough, and truly objective. I assure you, I do too. With the scrutiny on the Catholic Church everywhere, we all want to move forward from this crisis—as members and leaders of the Church, we all seek this purification and healing—but we also know that to do so we must reconcile the past.
Since its inception, this task force has operated independently of me and my diocesan staff. After the task force completes its review, it will provide me guidance regarding appropriate actions and specific reforms that help us all learn from the past and protect us in the future. This will ensure the diocese is using best practices for safe environments within its institutions. It will also ensure that we are promoting purification, and that we are offering healing to all of us affected by this crisis, and specifically to those who have been victims of it.
I am well aware of the healing that needs to take place in the Universal Church, the Church in the United States, and within our diocese. I continue my commitment to ensure that the institutions of the Diocese of Lincoln are indeed safe places to hear and respond to the Word of God.
We pray for the necessary purification in the Church, especially during this season of Lent. I also ask you to join me in continuing to pray for all victims of abuse, that they might find healing, love, and peace in Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician.