Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Youngstown Diocese publicly apologized Monday to anyone harmed by sexual abuse by any member of the Catholic Church.
In a statement, Tobin urged anyone who has been a victim of abuse involving the church to “come forward and report the abuse to the diocese and to public authorities…. You have a right and a duty to do so.”
His remarks came on the heels of a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas last week, where Tobin and nearly 300 other bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” to address the abuse scandal.
While calling the charter “an important milestone,” Tobin said it is no panacea.
“One document cannot solve the problem of sexual abuse in the church in the world. Nor can it overcome the terrible pain that so many people have endured from the crime of sexual abuse. Nor does it absolve the leaders of the church for the poor handling of incidents of sexual abuse in the past.”
Still, Tobin was confident that the charter will provide an important framework to give church leaders the resolve and mandate to deal effectively with sexual abuse.
Tobin promised that he would act promptly on all allegations of abuse.
According to Nancy Yuhasz, chancellor of the diocese, which serves 262,000 Catholics in Ashtabula, Columbiana, Mahoning, Portage, Stark and Trumbull counties, all records of sexual abuse allegations against priests have been turned over to prosecutors.
The diocese has said repeatedly that no abuse has occurred in recent years. Yuhasz said the most recent allegation was 19 years ago and that some complaints go back 50 years.
Tobin said he was pleased that many of the provisions of the Dallas charter are “essential elements” already found in the Youngstown Diocese’s policy, in effect since 1994. Those elements, he said, include outreach to victims and their families; prompt investigation of abuse allegations; prompt reporting to public authorities; and removing priests identified as abusers from ministry.
Tobin, along with Bishop Anthony Pilla of the Cleveland Diocese, said he will implement “as soon as possible” the initiatives outlined in the charter, including the establishment of a diocesan review board.
That board, which will be composed of mainly lay persons, will help Tobin assess allegations of abuse and priests’ fitness for ministry. In addition, the board will regularly review diocesan policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse.
“I will, with the assistance of the Diocesan Review Board, review the status of retired priests accused of past incidents of sexual abuse to be certain that they fully comply with the demands of the charter,” Tobin said.
“Priests who abuse children — past, present or future — will not be permitted to function as priests, ever again. It is a policy I endorse,” he said.
Yuhasz said no timetable for establishing the review board has been set, but “it will be soon.”
Also Monday, the Cleveland Diocese said it intends to apply the commitments pledged at the Dallas meeting.
Pilla will meet with the 12 priests who were placed on administrative leave for abuse allegations to explain how the national directive will affect them, said spokesman Bob Tayek.
The Cleveland Diocese, which serves nearly 1 million Catholics in Cuyahoga, Summit and six other counties, already established a special commission to set up a policy.
The Cuyahoga County prosecutor is investigating allegations against priests in the diocese.
In the Youngstown Diocese, two brothers who sued the diocese say they were abused by Monsignor Robert Reidy. The diocese previously suggested that Reidy admitted those offenses.
Tobin said Monday that Reidy has denied those allegations. The bishop said he could not discuss the specifics of the case.
Reidy, who formerly served in parishes in Alliance and Canton, is retired. He is not allowed to celebrate Mass until the charges against him are resolved.