Building a culture of vigilance
By Bishop James Conley
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
As we continue our pilgrimage through this penitential season of Lent, we strive to incorporate into our lives the three traditional acts of the season: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We try to take extra time to contemplate the Passion of Christ and to meditate more intentionally on the pain and suffering that our Lord endured to win our salvation. As we approach Holy Week and the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, we pray for deeper conversion and purification for ourselves and for the entire Church.
Over the past eight months, I have dedicated many of my weekly columns here about the clergy sexual abuse crisis. These columns were precipitated in part by the horrific stories of abuse and cover up in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, but also by the tragic stories that began to surface publicly here in Lincoln and my growing understanding that we must do better for the families and children in our diocese.
It has become clear in my heart that we must do more for the victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by our brother priests, and honor these victims by ensuring that the next generation does not have to experience the scourge of abuse and the suffering that comes with years of silence and pain. We must stand in solidarity with each other and with God to confront this evil that continues to infiltrate our Church and breeds cynicism about our faith, our priests, and our good works.
There is no single answer, or single action, to combat this crisis, but I find myself consistently coming back to the same fundamental idea—vigilance. We must be vigilant. We can have policies and safe environment programming, but without vigilance and watchfulness by me, my staff, our clergy, our teachers, and you—the Faithful—those policies and programs simply will not work. Our commitment to protecting children cannot be limited to words that are put on a shelf to collect dust, but instead requires constant action and a continuing effort to build a culture of vigilance and zero tolerance.
This notion of vigilance was also echoed in the recommendations recently made to me by the independent, volunteer task force I convened. I have written about this task force many times and I am pleased to relay that the task force finished its work in March.
The task force members include a CEO, a CFO, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, and a trusted non-profit advisor. This extraordinary group is comprised of well-known and reputable members of the Church locally, they are also well respected in the business and legal community across Nebraska. Each member has demonstrated great leadership and integrity to reach their own personal and professional successes in life. They are known to be honest, objective, and independent. Indeed, they are vigilant in their own right—vigilant in their careers, in their passion for Christ, in their love for this diocese, and in their compassion for all those who have suffered from childhood sexual abuse.
With this task force, I asked for and was provided with a candid assessment of the diocese’s handling of allegations involving sexual abuse of minors. This assessment looked backward at what had been done right and what had been done wrong, and then identified steps necessary to move forward to build a culture of vigilance—where responsibility, accountability, and transparency are prerequisites.
Today, based upon the task force’s recommendations and as another step toward building this culture of vigilance, I announced three new initiatives to address childhood sexual abuse: (1) the promulgation of comprehensive new safe environment policies; (2) the publication of a list of diocesan priests against whom substantiated allegations of childhood sexual abuse have been reported; and (3) the launch of a diocesan investigation into sexual misconduct by deceased priest Monsignor Leonard Kalin. The details of these initiatives have been published in a separate statement, but there are a few points I would like to highlight.
The revised policies are intended to instill watchfulness and attention to the issue of sexual abuse, grooming behaviors, and keeping our parish and school communities safe environments for children. They make clear that the diocese will enforce a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to child sexual abuse by its clergy and all allegations of sexual abuse of minors will be reported to law enforcement.
We are releasing the names of living and deceased diocesan priests that the task force concluded are the subject of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors. Other names may be added to this list if new information comes to light. We are not the first diocese to take this step and will not be the last, but it is an important step for the diocesan community as a whole to reconcile with the past and acknowledge the pain caused by these men. Victims deserve this public acknowledgment. I also hope that by publishing these names that anyone who has been living in silence and has not come forward will do so—to report to law enforcement and seek victim assistance from the diocese.
We are also publishing a list of priests currently placed on administrative leave or under investigation by the diocese for allegations of sexual misconduct or alleged grooming conduct that may involve minors or young adults.
The investigation of Monsignor Leonard Kalin is critical to our diocese moving forward. Though now deceased, as the vocations director for decades, Monsignor Kalin was well-known and had contact with many of our current clergy and lay leaders in the diocese. When public allegations were made last August that Monsignor Leonard Kalin engaged in sexual misconduct and emotional and physical boundary violations with young adults, it created a dark cloud over his entire legacy within the diocese. By shining this light on Monsignor Leonard Kalin and his past conduct, we hope to better understand the scope of his actions and, if necessary, provide appropriate support to our priests, lay leaders, or anyone else who may have been victimized.
Finally, to those victims of childhood sexual abuse in our diocese, please know that I am willing to meet personally with you and to hear your stories, if doing so would help with your healing. I am deeply sorry for what has happened to you and I want to assure you of my ongoing pastoral care.
I am tremendously grateful to the Task Force and all those who contributed time, energy, knowledge, and experience to this process which has brought us to this point. These announcements are not the end of the process, but a new beginning for the diocese and a renewed commitment to the Faithful that we will be vigilant in our efforts to protect our youth. As your bishop, I am called to be a good shepherd, attentive to the care and needs of all our people, particularly those most vulnerable.
During this season of Lent, we not only pray for the innocent victims of these heinous acts of abuse, but we devote ourselves again to purification through the work of the Holy Spirit—so that the Church can be healed here in Lincoln and across the world.