BALTIMORE (OSV News) — In a pastoral letter responding to the release of a redacted version of the Maryland attorney general’s report “Clergy Abuse in Maryland: Report on the Investigation of the Archdiocese of Baltimore,” Archbishop William E. Lori said it serves “as a heartbreaking and new reminder of a tragic and shameful time.”
The report, released April 5, details cases of sexual abuse committed by representatives of the church, for the most part from the 1940s to the early 1990s, as well as the way the archdiocese responded to reports of abuse.
In a message delivered via email to members of the archdiocese just after the report was released, the archbishop said, “The detailed accounts of abuse are shocking and soul searing. It is difficult for most to imagine that such evil acts could have actually occurred. For victim-survivors everywhere, they know the hard truth: These evil acts did occur.”
The report includes information on more than 600 victims of child sexual abuse by 156 people affiliated with the church in that time span. The attorney general’s list includes priests, deacons, brothers and laypeople, with 10 names redacted “by order of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, because they were not known to be deceased at the time of the Report and had not previously been listed as credibly accused by the Archdiocese of Baltimore or otherwise publicly identified,” according to a footnote in the report.
Of those cited, the archdiocese has named 152 credibly accused priests or brothers on its list, first made public in September 2002, with additions since that time. The archdiocese was one of the first in the country to make public a list of credibly accused priests.
The attorney general’s report recommended that the archdiocese expand its public accountability to include deacons and lay people, citing notorious cases involving those who are not priests.
In a pastoral letter responding to the report, “Apology, Healing and Action: The Church’s Work to Repair the Sacred Trust of the Faithful,” issued in English and Spanish, Archbishop Lori said there were three reasons for writing it: to express again the sorrow of the church for its failures, to see the failures and the suffering they produced through “the lens of Jesus’ redeeming love,” and to communicate how the church has taken steps over the last several decades to accompany victim survivors and root out the evil of child sexual abuse.”
“My letter to you about this painful subject can only begin with a heartfelt apology. I offer this as my imperfect attempt,” Archbishop Lori said. “To the victim-survivors, their families and all the faithful of the archdiocese: I see the pain and destruction that was perpetrated by representatives of the church and perpetuated by the failures that allowed this evil to fester, and I am deeply sorry.”
He acknowledged the heinous acts of sexual abuse and the untold harm they inflicted. He added that the behavior of the abusers represents the polar opposite of what any representative of the church should be.
He noted that the details in the attorney general’s report generally spanned five decades — from the early 1940s to the 1990s, from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the advent of the World Wide Web.
The archbishop noted that the response of church leaders to abuse was “woefully inadequate,” but not because they wanted children to be harmed.
“We know that during this era what was deemed shameful was often buried and the common response to scandal was to keep it quiet at all costs. This was true in families, in society and, sadly, in the church,” Archbishop Lori wrote. “We also know that there was a woefully inadequate understanding of both the lasting harm of sexual abuse and the rate of recurrence of these crimes.”
The attorney general’s report noted, “The criminalization of child sexual abuse in Maryland has a complicated history, made even more so by evolving understanding of what constitutes abuse and the applicability of statutes of limitation. Legal obligations to report suspected abuse have also evolved over time.”
A chart in the pastoral letter plots the number of incidences of child sexual abuse in the attorney general’s report by five-year time spans. The number doubled from the 1950s to the mid-1960s and then rose precipitously over the next 15 years before beginning to decline.
The chart also notes the evolution of Maryland law regarding reporting child abuse and laws related to criminal child abuse and sexual offenses. The first state law that criminalized child abuse of children under 14 was enacted in 1963. A year later came the first state law requiring doctors to report signs of abuse.
In 1993, after the Office of Attorney General issued an opinion that reporting requirement applies even when a victim is no longer a child, or an abuser is no longer alive, the archdiocese began reporting all allegations of child sexual abuse, regardless of age. That year, the archdiocese also publicized written child protection policies and established an independent review board.
Incidents reported in the attorney general’s report dropped significantly in the late 1990s and in this century, with no new allegations against those related to the church since 2010.
Archbishop Lori wrote in the pastoral letter, “Today, both as a church and as a society, we have a greater understanding than in the past of the horrible impact of child sexual abuse. This, of course, does not lessen the gravity of these past sins. Tragically, the abuse of minors not only impacted members of the church, but it is indeed a societal problem that has inflicted harm upon many individuals worldwide. To repeat, this crime is all the more tragic when present within the church.”
The archbishop noted that on his first day as archbishop of Baltimore, he met with victim-survivors of sexual abuse by clergy.
“Time and time again, victim-survivors have spoken to me personally about their journey of healing. Some have spoken publicly about this journey. I am deeply grateful for their courageous witness,” he wrote.
“The scandal of child sexual abuse is perhaps the greatest lingering wound in our Church today,” Archbishop Lori wrote.
“The wound in the Body of Christ is deep indeed. So too is the need for all of us, most especially bishops and priests, to share in the work of healing this wound.”
The pastoral noted that the archdiocese has made transformative changes over the last 30 years in how it handles allegations of child sexual abuse in the church, including:
— Permanently removing clergy from ministry if even a single credible allegation is reported. Zero tolerance is the foundation for policies on sexual abuse.
— Reporting all accusations of abuse to the Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement authorities. This happens whether the church deems the allegation credible or not, and the archdiocese makes the report no matter when the abuse is said to have occurred.
— Readiness on the part of church leadership to meet with victim-survivors and to accompany them pastorally, if they choose.
— Offers to provide ongoing therapeutic care of victim-survivors, as well as direct payments.
— Enhanced screenings to prevent abusers from working or volunteering in the church.
— Mandated training for employees and volunteers on spotting signs of abuse.
— Strong accountability measures and a commitment to transparency.
The pastoral also detailed the counseling and other compensation provided to victim survivors, including the option for them to select a therapist they trust — not necessarily ones sponsored by the church or Catholic Charities — and continue treatment for as long as it is helpful.
“The Office of Child and Youth Protection also coordinates a financial mediation program, if victim-survivors would prefer monetary compensation instead of coverage for their professional therapeutic care. Since the 1980s, the archdiocese has invested more than $13.2 million into the care and monetary compensation for 301 victim-survivors. This includes $6.8 million toward 105 voluntary settlements under a mediation program led by a retired non-Catholic judge,” the archbishop wrote.
“Regardless of how long ago abuse occurred, our offer to pay for counseling is available to all victim-survivors. Also, since 2007, the archdiocese’s financial mediation program has been available for victim-survivors regardless of legal liability, including for those whose legal claims are barred by the statute of limitations.”
Archbishop Lori added, “My auxiliary bishops and I offer to meet with any victim-survivor who is open to it. We seek to ensure that the strength they show in speaking up is met with compassion, and the courage they display in coming forward is acknowledged and validated.”
Christopher Gunty is associate publisher and editor of Catholic Review Media, publishing arm of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. George P. Matysek Jr., managing editor, contributed to this story.
The Maryland attorney general’s report, issued April 5, recommended lifting the statute of limitations for civil cases by those who have been abused. The report was written before the 2023 Maryland legislative session.
Its release comes as the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation in both houses — as House Bill 001 and Senate Bill 686, known as the Child Victims Act — legislation that would remove the statute of limitations on civil claims for future incidents of child sexual abuse and retroactively revives claims that are currently time-barred, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. Gov. Wes Moore has indicated support for the legislation, although it is expected to face constitutional challenges.
Currently, the law in Maryland allows victims until age 38 to file such claims, an extension — from age 25 — that was supported by the church in 2017.
In a statement about the bills, the Maryland Catholic Conference — which represents the archdioceses of Baltimore and Washington and the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware — expressed concern the legislation “creates blatant disparity in its treatment of victims, with much lower monetary judgements available to victims of abuse in public institutions than those of abuse in private settings.”
Potential civil lawsuits against private institutions, including Catholic schools or parishes, would be capped at $1.5 million; suits against public institutions such as public schools or other governmental entities would be limited to $890,000 (currently $400,000).