By Patricia Mudd, MSW, ACSW
In light of recent media coverage of sexual abuse by clergy, which has caused many to once again reflect on the tragedy of abuse, allow me to offer some insights into the work of the Diocese of Arlington in protecting children and assisting victims/survivors of abuse.
As the Victim Assistance Coordinator for the diocese, I am often the first point of contact for those who call to report abuse. And I know that no matter how difficult it is for me to understand and reflect upon the abuse, it has been infinitely more difficult for the abused to experience this and come forward. I also have the privilege to speak to victims who are making strides in recovery from abuse, who call to thank me for a referral to a good therapist or a helpful priest. They tell me of the progress they are making in healing from sexual abuse and I know that the difficult aspects of my job are all very worthwhile.
Here in the Diocese of Arlington, when we receive an allegation of abuse, we take immediate action, which includes:
- Reporting to civil authorities;
- An offer of outreach to those harmed;
- If it is an allegation against a priest that has been found to be credible, a public announcement of the allegation along with a request that any other victims come forward, and the removal of the priest from ministry pending further investigation by the Review Board.
Everyone should be safe from harm, and all members of communities have a responsibility to help create an environment that promotes that safety. In the Diocese of Arlington, the Office of Child Protection and Safety has facilitated the safe environment training of over 30,000 volunteers and employees and over 65,000 students since 2004. All diocesan employees and volunteers who have substantial contact with children must also complete criminal background checks. The training that volunteers and employees receive is vital to protecting the safety of children. Over $2.7 million has been spent on prevention and protection, including safe environment training, background checks, etc. Recipients of safe environment training are more likely to report abuse and to recognize the warning signs of predator behavior.
In the Office of Victim Assistance we minister to victims/survivors of sexual abuse in many situations – not only those abused by clergy, but also those who have been victims of abuse in the family or in other settings. We provide referrals to trained therapists and priests who can assist and support the survivors on their path to healing. Our office also coordinates regular meetings between Bishop Loverde and victims of sexual abuse at Masses, Support Group Meetings, personal meetings and retreats held throughout the year.
Not only have I heard from some victims/survivors that they have experienced healing through this program, I can see it in their smiles, in their efforts to help others and in their peace coming into a Catholic church. These healing efforts, paired with the work to stop abusers from threatening our schools and parishes, offer a comprehensive approach to the issue of child abuse. This important work must continue and grow, and we have an Advisory Board and a Survivors Planning Group to help consult and guide our work, bringing forth new ideas and best practices for our consideration.
It is the heartfelt prayer of those sharing in the work of Victim Assistance in the Diocese of Arlington that all who come to our doors find comfort in the words of Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you…I will strengthen you, and help you and uphold you….”