Bishop Park on the abuse and protection of children

. 3 min read

“Don’t push the children away.
Don’t ever get between them and me.
These children are at the very center of life in the
10:14 The Message)
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Susquehanna Conference,
Grace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace,
Healer of our Brokenness, and Hope of the World!
Our eyes read and our ears heard the most disturbing report that
came out this week from the Attorney General of Pennsylvania regarding the
findings of child abuse in six of the eight Catholic Dioceses in
Pennsylvania. The news that more than 1,000 children and youth were sexually
abused at the hands of about 300 priests for several decades tore at the
hearts of us all. It is suspected that there are probably thousands more
victims unreported. We weep as God weeps. One abuse is too many. The
emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual abuse that those victims
have had to live with is unimaginable. Abuse of all persons is not only
sinful but devastating. We know that the victims, especially at the hands of
clergy, have difficulty ever having a loving relationship with God again.
When the trust is broken in this way, it is often nearly impossible to see a
loving God.
I invite you and your congregation to be praying for the victims
of sexual abuse. As individuals and as a congregation, may you pray together
especially this Sunday for those who have suffered abuse. Allow God to hear
our spoken prayers for comfort, strength, healing, and hope and for support
of those who were harmed.
As your Bishop, I want to express a word of witness as to how
important and serious we in the Susquehanna Conference take our
responsibility of providing Safe Sanctuaries for our children, youth and
vulnerable adults. I want to assure you that the Cabinet and I take most
seriously the implementation of our policies regarding Safe Sanctuaries. The
ministry of Safe Sanctuary is not simply a form to be filled out for Charge
Conference. It is a way of being The Church of Jesus Christ that assures all
people that we are doing all we can to create and maintain safe places for
all God’s beloved. We take it as imperative in our ministry that with every
ministry, every program, we are preventing the risk of potential abuse for
children, youth, and the vulnerable as much as we can.
We understand the role that all of the clergy, as well as
responsible others, have as mandated reporters. I would be remiss if I didn’t
remind our clergy of the paragraph 340.5 of The Book of Discipline. It
says, “All clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to
maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences,
except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect or in cases where
mandatory reporting is required by civil law.”
There is
absolutely no reason to ever keep suspected child abuse or neglect a secret.
The statute of Pennsylvania is clear as is The Discipline that regardless of
where we are told about child abuse, we must report it. The silence, hiding,
and mishandling of the abuse by the hierarchy of the church is a betrayal at
its worst and is never to be tolerated.
I would invite us to ask for God’s forgiveness for anytime when
we have neglected or pushed children away from God’s love and from the care
of our church. We are to ask for forgiveness when we have not seen children
as the very center of life in the church. Our prayers should also reflect our
resolve to end all kinds of abuse and neglect of our children and our
commitment to offering a secured environment and wholesome ministries for our
children to flourish.
Indeed, this past week has been a difficult time for those
children and youth who have suffered at the hands of clergy and the Church of
Jesus Christ, and the adults who are burdened by childhood memories created
by those who were meant to protect them. However, our God is a God of hope
and healing. God can turn pain, hurt and devastation around. We are to do
whatever we can to let people know that our God is a loving God who cares for
even the least of the harmed for such a time as this. I ask that you join
your heart with mine as we pray that nothing ever again gets between children
and their God.
O God, help us to see our children as “the very center of
life in the kingdom.” May it be so!
In Christ,
Jeremiah J. Park