Church is doing a lot to protect children

Recent revelations from the Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation about child abuse in my faith community have left me devastated, depressed and angry. Abusers thrust into the lives of innocent children nightmarish experiences that no one would choose for their personal history. One calls to mind our Lord’s words about millstones around the neck for those leading astray His little ones (cf. Mt. 18:6; Mk. 9:42). That these perpetrators were clergy and other religious leaders is all the more distressing.

The prophet Ezekiel reminds pastors and those with spiritual responsibility “Should not shepherds pasture the flock?” (Ez. 34:2). God goes on to say through the prophet, “Because my sheep became plunder; because my sheep became food for wild beasts…because my shepherds did not look after my sheep but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep, therefore … I am coming against these shepherds. I will take my sheep out of their hand and put a stop to their shepherding my flock…” (Ez. 34: 8,10).

Although unfortunately delayed in some instances, this is what is finally happening in my Church. Leaders who neglected and violated their responsibilities are being removed. Meanwhile, inspiration and hope come from our Lord’s words, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). As pastors were are called to bring the life of grace to our people, young and old, feeding them the rich fare of Biblical truth that sets them on the road to salvation. For a pastor, that means a life of self-sacrifice, not self-indulgence, remembering that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

At Sacred Heart Church, Lewistown, and St. Jude Thaddeus Church, Mifflintown, strict policies have been in place for years protecting our children, ensuring a safe environment in our parish school, Sunday school, and youth activities, thus helping our little ones to grow in “wisdom, age and grace,” (Lk. 2:52) like the Bible says the boy Jesus did. Quoting in part from the statements of Ronald Gainer, bishop of Harrisburg, we are “aggressive in rooting out abusers in ministry or employment within the Diocese of Harrisburg. If anyone has a proven allegation, they are barred permanently from ministry or employment.”

In addition, all priests, church employees and even volunteers, must view a three-hour training video on preventing child abuse before we work on the property. They must re-take this training on a regular basis. ID badges, issued to those who pass, must be worn in the presence of children at all times. We also screen all employees and volunteers with multiple backround checks. Abusers are ineligible for hire and not permitted to volunteer at all. We also help survivors to heal with our Victims Assistance Coordinator, with counseling available for those who so wish. Accusations are reported to the appropriate authorities immediately, to both police and district attorney; if the report is credible, once again, the accused is removed from employment right away. Full investigation follows, with due process respected, of course, and final resolution (e.g., criminal charges, Megan’s List, etc.) announced in a timely manner.

Hotline numbers for reporting child abuse are posted everywhere on our properties. The PA Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-932-0313. The Diocese of Harrisburg hotline is 1-800-626-1608 or email ReportAbuse@hbgdiocese.org. May all of us, pastors and people, join with our loving Lord God, as He says through Ezekiel, “The lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up and the sick I will heal” (Ez. 34:16).

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Rev. William M. Weary is pastor at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Lewistown and St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church in Mifflintown.

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