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Bishops issue statement on child sex abuse.

WASHINGTON -- Parishes can play a crucial role in preventing child sexual abuse and healing its wounds, says a statement issued Oct. 26 by two committees of the U.S. bishops.

The statement urges parishes to create an atmosphere of trust and safety that encourages victims, abusers or those who know of abuse to come forward.

Parishes should establish procedures to respond to reports of abuse and develop programs to teach people about sexual abuse issues, it says. It suggests mentioning sexual abuse in homilies when appropriate and regularly printing in parish bulletins the name and phone number of an expert who can be contacted for help in dealing with a situation of child sexual abuse.

The document discusses some of the signs of sexual abuse and some of the characteristics often found in sexual abusers. But it warns, "It is impossible to reliably identify potential abusers." In cases of sexual abuse in families it must be recognized that "it is not always possible to keep the family together."

The statement, titled "Walk in the Light: A Pastoral Response to Child Sexual Abuse," was developed jointly by the bishops' Committee on Women in Society and in the Church and their Committee on Marriage and Family Life. Three years ago the same two committees jointly wrote "When I Call for Help," a widely praised statement addressing domestic violence and urging parishes to assist battered wives.

Publication of the new statement was approved by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Administrative Committee, a body of more than 50 elected bishops.

"Any act of child sexual abuse is morally evil. It is never justified," the statement says. It defines child sexual abuse as any kind of exploitation of a child for the sexual gratification of an adult.

"Because the abuse often occurs in the home and the victims are children, child sexual abuse over the centuries has been cloaked in a conspiracy of silence," it says. It calls on the Christian community "to shatter the walls of loneliness, shame and fear that isolate those who are sexually abused," helping them to tell their story as a first step toward healing.

It says that men commit 90 percent of the abuse and about 70 to 90 percent is committed by persons the child knows. "While we recognize that sexual abuse of boys is significant -- some studies estimate it at 20 to 25 percent of all child victims -- the overwhelming number of sexual abuse victims are girls," the statement says. "We are especially alarmed at the large number of victims who are girls under age 12." The statement follows years of work by the U.S. bishops on the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

"We are compelled to speak even knowing that the church carries a heavy burden of responsibility in the area of sexual abuse. ... We are acutely aware of the havoc and suffering caused by this abuse and we are committed to dealing with these situations responsibly and in all humility.

"The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has established an ad hoc committee on sexual abuse by clergy to help church leaders take appropriate action," it adds. "Our dioceses have developed comprehensive policies concerning sexual abuse, which often apply to employees and volunteers as well as to clergy and religious. We are fully committed to preventing child sexual abuse and to restoring victims to health."

At several points the statement addresses the difficult issue of forgiveness of the perpetrator of sexual abuse. "Justice plays a role in the forgiveness process," it says. "We emphasize that the community, including the family, needs to call the abuser to accountability," it says.

RELATED ARTICLE: By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON - In "Walk in the Light: A Pastoral Response to Child Sexual Abuse," the bishops say the church should:

* "Offer physical safety and help for sexual abuse victims/survivors.

* "Bring about spiritual and emotional healing, forgiveness and reconciliation for victims/survivors and their families, recognizing that it is not always possible t6 keep the family together.

* "Raise awareness about the issue by our preaching and teaching.

* "Offer help and support for abusers, while holding them accountable for their actions.

* "Promote the education of pastors and church workers about the issue and encourage them to provide appropriate assistance.
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Title Annotation:includes related article with excerpts from guidelines
Author:Filteau, Jerry
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Nov 3, 1995
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