Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Prayers for the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings

I'm just going to share the press release. I think it explains why we need prayers. :(

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It has been brought to our attention that a press conference was held this morning by out of state attorneys focusing on a lawsuit that was just filed dealing with child abuse claims involving clerics and other unnamed priests and nuns previously assigned in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. It appears that some of these claims relate to Jesuit clergy assigned to the Diocese years ago or relate in incidents occurring at St, Thomas Home a non-Diocesan facility previously operated by the Sisters of Providence. This lawsuit is similar to those recently filed against the Diocese of Helena in which plaintiff’s out of state attorneys engaged in the same efforts to publicize claims, make sweeping allegations and then try these claims in a court of public opinion in hopes of generating new potential claimants. Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has not been served with any complaint, and when it is, these claims and any valid defenses afforded the Diocese will be properly handled in the Courts. In the meantime, it seems inappropriate for any involved attorney to comment on the litigation.

What the Diocese can make known is that the Diocese has a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abuse involving minors. To this end, the Diocese implemented in the early 1990’s a sexual abuse policy, which includes the services of a victim assistance coordinator, who is trained to assist victims of sexual abuse and respond to the pastoral and spiritual needs of individuals and families. Further, this policy has provisions for receiving complaints about sexual misconduct on part of anyone associated with the Diocese as a member of the clergy, Catholic Schools, parish employees or volunteers. Churches throughout the Diocese have information posted regarding the process of making a complaint. This information is also regularly published in The Harvest, our diocesan newspaper. Under this widely disseminated policy, anyone wishing to report an allegation of sexual abuse of children is afforded the opportunity to contact the victim assistance coordinator, the Bishop himself or responsible persons of the Chancery Office. Here, with the exception of Fr. Ted Szudera, the Diocese is unaware of any reporting under its sexual abuse policy as it relates to the claims or clerics which we understand were mentioned in the filed complaint and by Plaintiff’s attorneys. As it relates to Fr. Ted Szudera a claim was reported approximately 6 years ago and thoroughly investigated by an independent criminal investigator who concluded that allegations against Fr. Szudera were unfounded and not credible. This conclusion was unanimously affirmed by the Diocesan Independent Review Board when Fr. Szudera was not a member. As to all other asserted allegations, rather than bring these claims to the attention of the Diocese through its publicized reporting procedure so the Diocese could respond and assist any victims, it appears the claimants have instead chosen to file a lawsuit while their attorneys’ engage in inflammatory rhetoric

In addition to the reporting mechanisms afforded under in the sexual abuse policy, we also point out the Diocese in 2003 implemented a Diocesan-wide safe environmental awareness and training program. People associated with the Diocese and who have contact with young people must participate in the awareness training and be subject to background checks as a condition of employment or volunteerism. Moreover, for the last two years, Bishop Warfel has held “Services of Atonement” in various communities in an effort to bring solace and healing for anyone who has been abused in any way at the hand of the Church personnel, volunteers and the institution itself. These services are becoming a tradition for the Lenten season in the Diocese which are scheduled to be held in Havre on February 23 and in Miles City on February 24, both at 7 p.m.

Despite any allegations to the contrary, the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has in place policies and procedures aimed at addressing and preventing abuse of any children under our care and will maintain our continued vigilance to protect these children and care for any victim of abuse. Bishop Warfel further personally expresses his willingness to meet with anyone who requests an opportunity to discuss allegations of sexual misconduct toward minors and continues to urge any victims to reach out to the Diocese for the help they deserve.

+BMW [Bishop Michael Warfel]
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