In light of a scandal involving one of its former bishops, Theodore McCarrick, the Diocese of Metuchen is working to establish an independent avenue for victims to report abuse conducted by Church leaders, including bishops.
"I continue to be saddened and ashamed... by reports of the abhorrent events we have been learning about in regard to Archbishop McCarrick - I know you must be, too. Our efforts to evangelize, and spread the Good News of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities,” Bishop James Checchio of Metuchen said in an Aug. 7 letter.
“I am praying for all those who have been hurt and praying that God’s mercy will bring healing and consolation,” he stated. “I am also working to address how we can ensure that similar abuses, especially of seminarians or young priests, would not happen again, particularly by those in positions of authority over them.”
Archbishop McCarrick was Bishop of Metuchen from 1982 to 1986.
The Archdiocese of New York announced in June that it had concluded an investigation into an allegation that McCarrick had sexually abused a minor in the early 1970s, finding the claim to be “credible and substantiated.”
Since that announcement, media reports have detailed additional allegations, charging that McCarrick sexually abused, assaulted, or coerced seminarians and young priests during his time as a bishop. The Metuchen diocese and the Archdiocese of Newark disclosed that they had received three allegations of sexual misconduct with adults by McCarrick, and had reached settlements in two cases.
McCarrick resigned as a cardinal July 28.
Bishop Checchio said that “the case of Archbishop McCarrick demonstrates that the culture of the Church is changing and that no one is exempt from its censure – regardless of a person’s rank or status, or the number of years that have passed since an incident occurred. As I have done in the past, I continue to urge anyone who has been abused to bring the situation to the attention of law enforcement officials. Also, I want to reiterate that the Diocese stands poised and ready to help any who have been abused.”
The bishop said he is heartbroken “for our faithful people, and the clergy and religious of our Diocese, as we face another tragic situation within the Church that we love. Nonetheless, I am grateful that the processes the Church has in place regarding child sexual abuse have been shown to work.”
To address the abuse of seminarians or young priests “I have begun to bring together a senior team of advisors to examine reporting processes,” he said. “Clearly, the safety of an independent reporting structure that allows for anyone to bring an allegation forward without the fear of retribution of any kind is needed.”
“Accountability on all levels helps to ensure that a healthy, wholesome environment prevails to form and train our future priests. I know that I do not have to reiterate to the people of this Diocese that proper priestly formation is central to renewal in the life of the Church.”
He reflected that the Metuchen diocese is “seeing a new springtime with men studying for the priesthood. We are blessed with the most seminarians we have had in 25 years. They are good men, striving to make over their hearts like the Good Shepherd’s own caring heart.”
While at one time the decision to become a priest would have been lauded by society at large, “that is not the case now,” Bishop Checchio said. “Our young men seek to join in this life of service to God and His people at a time when it would be easy to ignore the call and choose another path. Yet, they choose to listen to the quiet call of the Lord … I thank God for them, as I thank God as well for you, who support these dedicated young men in their response to God's call in these challenging times.”
The bishop asked for prayer “as the Church faces so many challenges in our world today. We know that the Holy Spirit protects the Church by ensuring the truth of the presence of Christ who is its keystone, its heart and its foundation. The Holy Spirit wraps the Church in this protection in spite of our sinfulness.”
“Despite the failings of the past, however, we remain steadfast in hope. This hope anchors our faith in the credibility of this sinful yet holy Assembly of Believers, a living paradox of unity in diversity, as we endeavor to build the Kingdom of God established through the incarnation, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who is 'the same yesterday, today and forever.'”
Bishop Checchio concluded, saying, “In the midst of the trials we currently face, I do not want to miss pointing out that Christ is still at work in His Church!”
“This summer, in addition to my weekend visits to parishes for Mass, I have been taking advantage of the lighter weekday schedule to visit some vacation bible schools, religious communities of sisters, nursing homes, prisons and some parishes for daily Mass. It is an honor to be with you, and it is evident that people everywhere are still yearning to see Christ in us – a willingness to place their hope in the many ministries and initiatives through which the Lord Himself uses our humble humanity to touch us with His grace.”
“We must never forget that, in every age, the antidote to the ills that beset the Church is for men and women everywhere to rise up in sanctity. Let us not lose our vision: to 'keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith.' To Him be glory and praise forever.”