By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald
You have decided to release the names of priests who over the years have been removed from ministry for the sexual abuse of a minor. What led you to make this decision?
I received many phone calls and emails from people asking me to release the names, and many phone calls and emails from people asking me not to release the names. After much prayer, I believe the just thing is to release the names. I was very much concerned that we would be able to do this accurately and completely. In prayer, it became very clear to me that this is the right thing to do in a spirit of justice and transparency.
What kind of analysis is going on right now?
People may have in their minds this image that we go to this safe, spin the dial and open it up and take out a list, but that’s not an accurate image. A team of people (staff and outside legal professionals) at the present time is going through hundreds of files of priests, from at least 50 years ago, and reviewing the files to see if there were any issues involving abuse of minors that need to come to light, even though it may have been many years ago. Every file will have at least two sets of eyes. For those priests for whom the accusation was made after they were deceased, we will have at least another set of eyes in order to be as accurate and complete as possible.
What will this list look like?
It’s far less complicated to formulate a list from 2002 forward because the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People gave us a very specific process and standard to use. Going back earlier than 2002 presents challenges, especially when we are looking at decades of records. What we intend to do is publish a list of clergy who have had allegations of sexual abuse of a minor and those allegations have led to a removal from ministry.
Will you release the names of those who are deceased?
For those who had been removed from ministry because of allegations of abuse and are now deceased, the names will be released. For those against whom the accusation has come after their death, a very careful examination has to take place in order to justify the release of the person’s name.
When will this happen?
It’s not possible to give an exact date, but I do want to emphasize that it will be sooner rather than later because I believe this is the right thing to do. It’s important to note that we are doing our utmost to make sure that the list is complete and accurately reported. If an accusation is given to us after the list is published, we will immediately look into it and update the list as appropriate. In the midst of this, we must remember that the victims will always be our focus of care. Once again, I extend my prayerful support to all of them and assure them that I remember them in prayer daily that they will know God’s healing. If someone has an allegation of abuse and desires to see me, I remain available to meet to become part of the healing process.
In 2002, there was an examination done regarding this. What have you been told was done in 2002 in terms of our archdiocese?
There was an examination of the files at that time, which led Archbishop Hughes to withdraw some priests from ministry. Archbishop Hughes also issued a report at that time. This report was published in the Clarion Herald and is available as a PDF online.
How is this affecting your priests?
In the midst of acknowledging the sins of some, it would be unfair to neglect the priests who are daily emptying themselves in the ministry of celebrating the Mass and feeding God’s people, hearing confessions, anointing the sick, burying the dead, daily teaching and preaching and meeting with people in pastoral care to help them through dark times. In the archdiocese we have faithful, dedicated, holy priests who day after day in our archdiocese are going about their ministry, shepherding the flock of the Lord and being father to their parishioners.
What is the status of the archdiocese’s compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children Young People?
That charter was established in 2002 and it is in force in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Just last week, an outside auditing firm visited us for several days to check our procedures and to see if we were in compliance. I’m happy to relate that I have met with the auditors and they were very positive and affirming in their analysis of our protection for children, young people and vulnerable adults. 2002 was a significant turning point for the Catholic Church in the United States.
Is that a theme that may be overlooked by the media?
It’s my impression that if you listen to some reports in the media, one could easily come away with the perception that sexual abuse is rampant in our churches, parishes, schools and archdiocesan organizations today. This is false. In my humble opinion, it’s sometimes very unfortunate the way this information has been reported, giving people an inaccurate image of what is taking place. Throughout all dioceses in the United States at the present time, there are very few allegations in a given year. We are sorry for the past and horrified of even a single act of abuse. We must repent and acknowledge our sins. For me, this was another reason to publish this list.
Do you have any closing thoughts or comments?
I think people are genuinely surprised to find out how much has been done since 2002. I truly believe that as this sin and evil are exposed, God is calling us and in particular church leaders, to purification and repentance, which will lead us toward renewal of his church. This is a difficult time but it is good that the sin has come to light so that true healing and renewal can take place. The church will continue. It has for 2,000 years. Our rock foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ. He will not desert his church. One time when there was great confusion as to Jesus’ authenticity, he asked Peter, “Are you going to leave me, too?” And Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Those are my words to the Lord Jesus: “I have nowhere to go. This is your church.” Jesus has the words of eternal life. I invite you to join me in that faith, even in the midst of these times of darkness and challenge.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.