Following decades of headlines about sexual abuse committed by clergy members in the Catholic Church, a Grant County parish is holding a two-week discussion on the issue.

According to BBC News, a landmark 2004 church-commissioned report said more than 4,000 Roman Catholic priests in the US had faced sexual abuse allegations in the previous 50 years, with numerous allegations, investigations and convictions of clergy reported since then worldwide. More recently, a grand jury report in Pennsylvania substantiated that nearly 300 priests were involved in the sexual abuse of approximately 1,000 children. 

On Jan. 19 and 26 at 11:15 a.m., Marion’s St. Paul Catholic Church will be hosting a book study and discussion about “Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis” by Bishop Robert Barron.

The discussion is open to the public, and participants are not required to have read the book before the discussions to attend.

“(We’re) trying to point Catholics to ways to respond to revelations of misbehavior by Catholic priests and lack of effective action by bishops,” the Rev. Christopher Roberts said.

The discussion, which will last approximately one hour, will be accessible to both English and Spanish speakers. The English session will be facilitated by seminarian Jordan Boone in the McCarthy parish hall at 1009 Kem Road in Marion, directly behind St. Paul Catholic School.

The Spanish session will be facilitated by Roberts in St. Paul Catholic School’s fifth-grade classroom, located on the upstairs level.

Word on Fire Catholic Ministries says “Letter to a Suffering Church” is for Catholics who are “questioning their faith, searching desperately for encouragement and hope,” and explains why now is not the time to leave (the church) but the time to stay and fight.”

Roberts posted a letter to St. Paul Catholic Church’s website on Jan. 5 expressing the importance of taking preventative measures to protect children and reporting all abuse to the police with haste. In his letter, he especially invites people to the book study who are struggling in the wake of the sexual abuse scandals.

“It’s in the news and it’s probably not something that’s appropriately brought up during Sunday service due to the mixed age of those present,” Roberts said. “But it is something Catholics are wanting to have a format to reflect on, ask questions and to be listened to.”

These discussions take place after the Vatican’s announcement on Dec. 17 that Pope Francis officially abolished secrecy rules for cases of sexual abuse, enabling all members of the Catholic Church to share documentation and other information with secular civil authorities.

According to the New York Times, critics of the previous confidentiality policies - also known as “pontifical secrecy” - said it was often used to “shield priests from criminal punishment by the secular authorities.”

The new decree removes this confidentiality in an effort to prevent concealment of sexual abuse crimes in the church. It also allows accusers to be updated on the status of their cases, according to CNN.

The Catholic Church in the US has been able to report to secular authorities since 2002, as the US operates under the Dallas Charter by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. According to Denver Catholic, the Dallas Charter ensures accountability through yearly diocesan audits of compliance with the Charter, immediate and mandatory reporting of any allegations to secular authorities, safe environment training for all church workers having contact with children and efforts to bring healing and reconciliation to survivors.

The Vatican’s abolishment of secrecy policy means the global church will be able to report to secular authorities everywhere, not just in countries with policies similar to the Dallas Charter in the US.

The Diocese in Lafayette-in-Indiana, which oversees the two Catholic parishes in Grant County, has a page on its website dedicated to Protecting God’s Children, a component of the clergy abuse preventative program VITRUS, which was created by the US National Catholic Risk Retention Group.

The page provides resources on sexual abuse cases, including details on how to report abuse incidents, background check policies, child protection training and a list of priests who have served in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana with substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with minors.

The page also offers thorough information on what steps the church has taken to combat this global issue in addition to survivor outreach and support.

According to the website, Indiana law requires any individual who has reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect must report immediately to the local Child Protection Services agency (Hotline: 800-800-5556) or local law enforcement. Under Indiana law, it is a criminal act to refrain from making such a report, as the law applies to all adults without exception.

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