Local Church Under Investigation
As news of systematic cover up and sexual abuse of over a thousand children by Pennsylvania priests continues to spread, Oklahoma is beginning its own investigation into the local Catholic Church about an abuse case from the 1980s.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro discovered the abuse cases, which span over 70 years and cover-up efforts went all the way up to the Vatican.
The report states that there are probably thousands more victims, but some victims are scared to speak out and also some records have been lost. The grand jury said that not only are some of the church officials who protected the abusive priests still in office, but some have received promotions.
Pope Francis released a letter on Aug. 20 discussing the recent sexual abuse cases.
“The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults,” Francis wrote.
In light of this scandal, Oklahoma religious leaders began their investigation of an abuse case from the 1980s after a former resident came forward.
The archdiocese revealed its plan on Aug. 22 to review and report all past cases of child sex abuse from 1960-2018.
“This is a very dark moment in the history of our beautiful, but wounded, Catholic Church,” Archbishop Paul Coakley said. “We are called to prayer and penance for the purification of the church and our bishops and priests must set the example.”
The goal of the review is to investigate all credible allegations of abuse which were reported, admitted or in anyway communicated to priests in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.
“An internal and independent review of previous allegations is a good place to start,” Coakley said. “No matter how painful this process may become, I am committed to reviewing and sharing the specifics of these cases.”
In about three months the first report will be released and a second one reviewing files prior to 1960 will follow.
The plan for the review was presented to the Archdiocesan Review Board, which was created in 2002 to protect the youth of the Church.
According to the Rev. Stephen Hamilton of St. Monica’s Church, throughout the ongoing investigations, the most important aspects to focus on when addressing this issue are the victims.
“When we’re talking about this very difficult topic, I think the main focus needs to be acknowledging harm done to the victims,” Hamilton said. “We need to seek to assist them and seek to uproot the things that made this possible.”
Since the first major coverage of these incidents in 2002, policies and procedures are in place to protect children and young people. These include a number of background checks, mental health evaluations and safe environment trainings, which Hamilton said has drastically reduced the number of reported cases of abuse.
However, both Hamilton and the Rev. Brian Buettner, vocations director for the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, feel the policies should continue to evolve.
“While I am thankful for these policies today, they do not make up for the scandals that have surfaced,” Buettner said. “The sexual abuse of minors and the cases that were covered up by [those] in the hierarchy highlight the importance for our policies to continue to be adjusted to create a safer place.”
Since the recent news of Pennsylvania and Oklahoma City circulated, Buettner said people have looked upon him with suspicion.
“These events have caused people to look at my vocation with skepticism and distrust,” Buettner said. “The only way that I can really respond is to live out my life with an ever greater fidelity to my priestly promises and to not be ashamed of being a priest.”
Those who practice Catholicism are also negatively affected by these scandals, according to Hamilton.
“I think it has certainly rocked people; it’s made them ask a lot of questions; it’s made them angry; it’s made them hurt,” Hamilton said. “In a certain sense, in a mysterious way of God’s grace, it is also an opportunity for purification.”
While there have been worries and fallout because of the situation, Buettner, Hamilton and other priests of the Archdiocese of OKC are taking action to help the victims and putting their faith in God.
“My prayer is that those that have been abused have the courage to come forward and receive justice for the evil that was inflicted upon them by wolves in sheep’s clothing,” Buettner said. “Satan has no place in my Church.”
To report incidences of abuse in the past or present, contact the Abuse of Minors Pastoral Response Hotline at (405) 720-9878. The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has also established a statewide abuse reporting hotline at (800) 522-3511.