The following statement was released today by Albany Bishop Ed Scharfenberger:
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today I am writing to you to talk about something we are announcing this week, a decision that is necessary and ultimately will result in much good but one that is likely to be difficult and incredibly challenging for us for the foreseeable future.
After a lot of prayer and reflection, in the best interest of everyone involved — survivors, clergy, parishioners and our local Church — we have contacted Albany District Attorney David Soares to invite him to review our records and look at how sexual abuse cases have been handled historically in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, to what extent survivors were heard and believed, what processes were followed, and what consequences resulted.
Rest assured, since the Charter in 2002, when the impact and depth of the sex abuse scandal began to emerge, things have vastly improved. Bishops around the country have been cooperating with law enforcement whenever and wherever allegations surface. Wherever the provisions of the Charter were put into practice, the number of new abuse cases thankfully has been diminishing significantly. The protocols in place for reporting to civil authorities, background checks, safe environment training, and more have made the Church of today one of the safest places for children. However, we know that prior to 2002 that was not always the case, and, as we are learning through revelations in other dioceses, true healing cannot occur until the full truth has been told, until the light hits every dark corner and exposes whatever evil remains hidden.
All too often, the onus was on the victims to bring cases forward and to demand investigations. We need to reverse that decisively. In the spirit of transparency and in an effort to restore a sacred trust that has been broken again and again, I believe a fully independent investigation, one coordinated by the District Attorney, is the only way forward. So many people have questions about transparency and about the process. We need a thorough review of our records in order to objectively answer those questions. Our goal is to build trust, demonstrate transparency, and restore confidence that we mean what we say.
Unless the Church as an institution is perceived as credible, we cannot really help victims of sexual abuse. Survivors need to know that we are truly here to accompany them. Inaction has had devastating consequences, as we have witnessed recently. We have to do what is right, even if it is not easy.I ask you to pray for me and for our Diocese as we embark on this effort. Although it may prove to be difficult at times, I believe the Holy Spirit is guiding us and will lead us where we need to go. Thank you for your continued support of your parish and our Diocese. God bless you.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
UPDATE: As fate would have it, shortly after that statement was issued, New York issued subpoenas for every diocese in the state. Details:
The New York attorney general’s office has issued subpoenas to every Catholic diocese in the state, becoming the latest U.S. state to embark on a major investigation of sex crimes committed and covered up by Catholic priests. And New Jersey quickly followed on Thursday, announcing a criminal task force focused on investigating sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
A person familiar with the New York investigation said that the attorney general’s office sent civil subpoenas to the eight Catholic dioceses. The Associated Press first reported the subpoenas.
The subpoenas are part of an ongoing civil investigation by the attorney general’s Charities Bureau, which is looking into whether the nonprofit dioceses covered up sexual abuse of minors. Separately, the criminal division is working with district attorneys in the state who might convene grand juries to investigate crimes committed by priests. On Thursday, Attorney General Barbara Underwood announced a telephone hotline and an online form for victims and witnesses of child abuse committed by clergy in the state of New York to contact investigators.