Note: The following letter, by Bishop Frank J. Dewane, was distributed to Parishes of the Diocese of Venice on Aug. 17 and read at all Masses that same weekend.
Aug. 17, 2018
Dear Brother and Sisters, Faithful of the Diocese of Venice,
Bishops and Priests are entrusted with the spiritual care and protection of their flock, particularly of minors and vulnerable adults. As Pastors, they act in the name of Christ and His Church, and so must always heed the Good Shepherd’s warning: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42).
As your Bishop, I understand the grave moral responsibility with which I have been entrusted and that it is my duty to protect the faithful from harm. Recent revelations of profound evil cause me deep distress. The sexual abuse inflicted on so many sons and daughters of the Church is sinful and criminal. Some Church Hierarchy failed to do as they were obligated to do. While we are all sinners, the heinous history of abuse and coverup, such as that detailed by the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania, is utterly appalling and deeply disturbing.
The new disclosures of abuse leave me sorrowful. It is painful that Church Officials contributed to a culture that too easily excused predatory behavior. No words can adequately express my contrition for the horrible sins committed. I wish to offer victims and their families my sincere apology for what was done to them by ministers of the Church. It is my commitment to do personal penance in reparation for these grave sins and to encourage the clergy and faithful of the Diocese to join with me in this penance.
Recent revelations are indeed troubling, yet I feel indebted to the victims who courageously shed the light of truth on the horrific misdeeds and the indifference to the outcry of those abused. It is important to express abiding esteem to those who survived the sinful and criminal conduct of Priests and Bishops. Violating the sacred trust of their ministry, clergy took advantage of the innocent and the vulnerable who sought out and had a right to spiritual care. It is the time for these failures to be admitted and remedied.
On the diocesan website (www.dioceseofvenice.org) there is posted a statement informing the public about those priests named in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report who have had some ties to the Diocese of Venice. It is hoped this transparency will demonstrate my conviction that Church leadership must be vigilant in protecting minors and prevent the same failures from being repeated. In this matter, there is no room for institutional interests. As your Shepherd, it is my pledge to recommit our Diocese to the vigorous efforts to eradicate sexual abuse and further foster a culture of safety. Bishops must demonstrate a willingness to welcome victims of sexual abuse with compassion, hear their allegations with openness and deal effectively with those — regardless of rank or position — who committed abuse of any kind.
My prayer is that recent revelations will shed the light of truth on these troubling matters and show Church leaders the steps that need to be taken to regain the trust of the faithful.
Mary, Mother of the Church, reform the hearts of those who lead your Church. Make us more attentive to the cries of those who suffer abuse and help us show true contrition for our failures. Bring the comfort of your maternal care to all who have been impacted by sexual abuse.
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
+Frank J. Dewane
Bishop of the Diocese
of Venice in Florida