Last week the bishops of the United States met in Chicago. We voted overwhelmingly to extend the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People for another five years with no significant changes.
The reason is simple. While we've made progress in dealing with sexual abuse within the Church, more needs to be done. Problems that go back four decades don't go away in three years. The wounds caused by child sexual abuse are deep and long lasting. Our work to prevent those wounds in the future needs to be the same.
Back in the 1980s, as the medical community began to realize the nature and scope of child sexual abuse in the United States, then-Archbishop J. Francis Stafford began to develop policies to prevent sexual misconduct by anyone in local Church service " clergy and lay alike. His efforts led to the first comprehensive sexual misconduct policy for the Archdiocese of Denver in 1991.
Laypeople helped create that policy. Under the policy, laypersons have always had a key role in investigating any allegation of clergy sexual misconduct with a minor and providing the archbishop with their counsel. The archdiocese also fully complied with Colorado law on reporting allegations of child sexual abuse to public authorities long before legislation required Churches to do so.
These are all good things. Catholics in northern Colorado can take encouragement from them. But they aren't enough.
Since 2002, we've revised and expanded the archdiocesan sexual misconduct policy to bring it into full accord with the charter. We require criminal background checks for all archdiocesan and parish staff, and all volunteers who have regular contact with minors, as well as all clergy. We've enhanced our seminary selection and formation process to prevent possible clergy problems in advance. We also require ongoing education in identifying and preventing child sexual abuse for our teachers, catechists and other key personnel.
This is a big effort. Volunteers and staff can sometimes find it a burden. But if it helps prevent even one case of child sexual abuse, then it's more than worth it. The Catholic Church isn't the only place where child sexual abuse has occurred. Similar problems plague our public schools and many other professions. But the sexual abuse of a minor in any religious setting is especially ugly and devastating. It's not simply a grave sin but a terrible crime. And that's why, in the years ahead, all of our education and prevention work will continue.
Summer is a time for renewal. It's a great opportunity for all of us in the Church to reflect on the gift of children and the importance of loving families in shaping our future as a community of faith. I want to assure every parent in northern Colorado that our Church is committed to protecting our children and young people; that no sexual misconduct by anyone in Church service will be tolerated; and that our commitment to creating a safe environment for our life of faith will not change.
I want to apologize again for the deep suffering victims and their families have endured for many years. They are in the prayers of all of us who are members of the Church. We can't change the sins and crimes of the past, but we can and will do everything we can to prevent similar suffering in the future.
I also regret the humiliation that the abuse crisis has brought on the wider Catholic community, including the vast majority of priests and deacons who serve their people with sacrificial love.
Finally, I urge anyone who has been abused in the past by anyone in Church service to please come forward so we can try to assist you.
I'm grateful to Catholics across northern Colorado for their love for the Church and their confidence in their priests and deacons. As bishop, in the years ahead, I will do everything I can to ensure that that confidence is well earned.