Editorial: Archdiocese of Detroit right to deal with abuse from start
In the wake of the Pennsylvania clergy abuse scandal, the Archdiocese of Detroit has created a new online resource that compiles all investigation data, news and outreach options to remain transparent and to assist victims of abuse. We commend the archdiocese for this proactive approach.
The Archdiocese of Detroit has long been at the forefront of crafting policy to prevent abuse and this new resource, which went live last month, proves its dedication.
Almost 15 years before the news of the Boston clergy abuse scandal broke in 2002, the archdiocese already had a review board tasked with the formation of policy to deal with sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
When the systemic abuse in Massachusetts came to light, the church here went further in its commitment toward transparency and accountability by signing agreements with prosecutors from all six counties within the diocese and sharing all case files of priests accused of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1940s. The archdiocese publicly posted the names of all accused priests, and in the end, four criminal prosecutions resulted.
After the Boston scandal exploded in the media, Cardinal Adam Maida, who is both a canon and civil lawyer, decided the Detroit archdiocese needed to act quickly to reform the process of review for clergy abuse allegations, even before the Vatican came down with recommendations of its own.
The involvement of churchgoers in responding to abuse allegations and in advising the archbishop on policy formation to guard against a systemic clerical cover up, as came to light earlier this year in Pennsylvania and in 2002 in Boston, could exist in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
The archdiocese now has developed this new resource to better inform the public.
Holly Fournier, media relations manager for the Archdiocese of Detroit, says that though all the information was previously on the website, it was scattered and poorly organized.
“All this information needed to be front and center and easy to find, especially following the Pennsylvania report,” she says.
On the site, protect.aod.org, Archbishop Allen Vigneron has also shared weekly reflections and responses to the clergy abuse to foster open dialogue about a problem which can only be solved through a partnership between laity and clergy.
Retired Judge Michael J. Talbot, who has been chair of the Archdiocesan Review Board since its inception, says that the board has put in place policies for abuse prevention, such as mandatory background checks for anyone who comes into contact with young people through work with the archdiocese and enhanced education for both children and adults.
“The most effective things we can do are deterrents,” Talbot says. “We are actively educating our children to sensitize them to inappropriate conduct whether from a priest family member, or neighbor.
“The only way you are going to build trust is to be absolutely honest."
Other dioceses should follow Detroit’s example.