Letter to the People – May 2006

Letter to the People of the Diocese of St. Petersburg

May 2006

As your bishop, I have an obligation to do everything reasonable to protect all children in the care of our parishes and diocesan schools and to protect all vulnerable adults. In fulfilling this sacred trust, I and the diocese promise the following:
(1) Any report of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult reported to any employee or volunteer of the diocese will be reported as required by Florida statute to the appropriate civil authorities. This includes reports of abuse of children or vulnerable adults by anyone: priest, deacon, religious, teacher, employee, volunteer, parent, grandparent, anyone.

(2) We will continue to enforce strictly our policy requiring all employees of the diocese or any of its parishes, schools or other institutions to be subjected to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement/FBI Level 2 Criminal History Background Check based on fingerprinting. This includes priests coming from other dioceses in the country and from elsewhere in the world. All volunteers who work with children and vulnerable adults will also receive a Level 2 Criminal History Background Check.

(3) Training in how to maintain a “safe environment” for all children and vulnerable adults has already begun in the diocese and will continue. Quite frankly, we need the help of all people to be observant always. When questions arise, help should be sought from any of the following resources: local law enforcement, the Florida Abuse Hotline, Diocesan Victim Assistance Minister, Diocesan Safe Environment Program Office, from your pastor or from my office. I promise to act on all complaints that are received.

(4) The full implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Young People, passed in Dallas in June, 2002, will continue. This means that we will actively enforce the policies in the Charter and those recommended by the Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops and be accountable for such enforcement. We will investigate every complaint and report those that are credible to civil authorities and to our independent Diocesan Review Board.

(5) Priests will carefully adhere to the Standards for Professional Conduct which have been in effect for some years and which are currently being updated.

(6) The Diocese will continue to maintain a Victim Assistance Minister to help any victims find the assistance they might need for the healing, help and guidance that they need.

(7) No priest against whom a credible complaint of child abuse has been made and investigated will ever be reassigned or allowed to serve in ministry here or in another diocese. We will continue our policy of making public all allegations which appear to be credible, and in such cases we will make every effort to identify other possible victims. In the case of the non-ordained employee about whom a credible complaint has been made, the same protocols will apply.

(8) Litigation is not the Church’s preferred way to respond to the devastation of child sexual abuse. It is often not a pathway to the truth and it can stand in the way of genuine communication of human needs and human response. Where necessary, however, we may have to defend the diocese, especially if the diocese had no previous knowledge concerning a priest’s behavior and was not negligent in supervision. This does not preclude the offer of pastoral assistance in some manner to the abused which might even be in the form of some financial assistance to reimburse the victim for expenses incurred as a result of the abuse, past, present or future.

(9) As bishop, I renew my pledge to meet with any person who was a victim of sexual misconduct as a minor by a priest or employee of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Our diocese is a great Church with wonderful priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers and laity. We remain on message and on task.

Finally, I wish to express to you, the Catholic people of our diocese, my gratitude and love for remaining steadfast in faith and for believing in the Church and for supporting your parish priests. These same priests time and again have told me stories from your parishes of your fidelity and of your support. It is a privilege for us to serve you. We recognize the sacred trust that you place in the Church, and we renew our promise to serve you with integrity and selflessness. May God continue to bless the Church of west central Florida which is the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch
Bishop of St. Petersburg