The Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino is responding to the church sex abuse scandal in an unusual way: It published a victim’s firsthand account and is distributing a video to its parishes to raise awareness.
“Victims have said, ‘Don’t tell us that you’re praying for us if you’re not prepared to act,'” said Deacon Mike Jelley, who is coordinating the effort. “We’re trying to put our words into actions.”
The newsletter, printed in Spanish and English, includes the words of a 40-year-old San Bernardino County man who described how a priest from another Southern California diocese molested him as a child. The videotape encourages victims to call a church hot line for help.
Both were made for the diocese’s 110 churches for distribution starting during the weekend.
Since the recent flood of accusations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests began last year, victims’ rights groups have criticized the church for trying to cover up the scandal and for protecting priests accused of abuse in the past.
Jelley said the newsletter and tape are part of an effort to show the diocese is ready to confront the issue.
“We cannot restore confidence without becoming more open and accountable,” he said.
Many dioceses around the country have started awareness campaigns about sexual abuse. Some, including San Bernardino, plan to sponsor discussion groups about sexual abuse and the church during Lent. Jelley said he had received requests from other dioceses for copies of the video.
The San Bernardino diocese was one of the first in California to be tainted by the abuse scandal. The Rev. Paul Shanley, 71, a former Boston priest now charged in Massachusetts with child rape, worked at a parish in San Bernardino in the early 1990s.
Cases involving six San Bernardino priests are pending against the diocese, and the diocese has filed police reports on 32 priests, including some who are now dead, according to its spokesman, Howard Lincoln.
“Unless we can help begin a dialogue, people in families where this happens will be unable to speak about it,” he said. We’re hoping that people who have this experience in their families will be able to talk about it.