In October 2018, the former Florida Attorney General announced an investigation of the State’s seven Catholic Dioceses to determine how allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy have been handled. We welcomed the State’s investigation and we cooperated fully with the process instituted to research past cases of abuse allegations, dating back prior to 1968 when the Diocese of St. Petersburg was established. Investigators have now issued a report of their inquiry, which in large part is a listing of priests statewide who are believed to have been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Since 2008, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has posted to its website a list of priests of the Diocese of St. Petersburg who have admitted to or have been determined to have committed sexual abuse of a minor or minors. These individuals have been permanently removed from ministry or are deceased. Here are some important points I want you to know about our response to the Attorney General’s investigation.
The Church responds to victims with compassion. I want to express my sorrow to all who have been sexually abused, particularly those who suffered abuse within the Diocese of St. Petersburg. It takes great courage to speak about abuse and our hearts go out to anyone who has carried this cross. Our Victim Assistance Minister is here to provide pastoral support, pray with you and assist with the healing process. Also, anyone who has experienced abuse is urged to call law enforcement. Our Victim Assistance Minister, John Lambert, can be reached at 1-866-407-4505 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In our churches, schools and charities, our number one concern is safety. Over the past two decades, we have invested millions of dollars in education and prevention measures. We train all employees, volunteers and clergy on maintaining a safe environment and we teach young people the warning signs of abuse. We also require FDLE/FBI fingerprint background screenings for all church personnel who care for minors and vulnerable adults. In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, a policy for the protection of children and prevention of abuse has been in place since 1996.
Our commitment to protecting youth and vulnerable adults is unwavering. We take allegations very seriously and report them to law enforcement. We undergo independent audits each year to ensure compliance with polices. While no reported abuse has occurred since 1996, we can never tire from our sacred calling to ensure the safety of children. Please be assured of my personal commitment to zero tolerance of abuse. For more information about our policy and our commitment to transparency, visit dosp.org/accountability.
We understand the heartbreak caused by the evil actions of a few priests. We must always remember and learn from past mistakes. I also ask you to remember that these wayward priests do not represent the vast majority of good, holy priests who serve our community as spiritual fathers and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.
At this time, please join me in prayer, both for the healing of abuse survivors and for the efforts of the Church to end abuse in all forms and in all places. Additionally, the Diocese will carefully reflect on the State’s report to determine what other actions ought to be taken to further protect those entrusted to our care.
By faith, may the love and mercy of Jesus Christ lead us to healing and hope.