Bishop Kopacz announces release of list of accused

On the weekend of March 16-17, Bishop Joseph Kopacz sent a letter to parishes in the Diocese of Jackson to inform Catholics that he will release a list of credibly accused clergy and lay ministers. Below is the text of that letter:

Dear Friends in Christ,
This week the Diocese of Jackson will release the names of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse. It is our hope and prayer that releasing these names will confirm our commitment to transparency in the pursuit of our Promise to Protect and our Pledge to Heal the harm caused by abuse in the church. The list will be posted on the diocesan website on Tuesday, March 19, and will be printed inside the Mississippi Catholic set to come out at the end of the week.
We know that this list will cause pain to many individuals and communities and I am truly, deeply sorry for that pain. The crime of abuse of any kind is a sin, but the abuse of children and vulnerable adults is especially egregious. First and foremost, it is a sin against the innocent victims, but also a sin against the Church and our communities. It is a sin that cries out for justice.
The time for trying to keep these cases quiet in the church has come to an end. We now know that this deep wound in the Body of Christ will not heal until we lay bare the sins of the past and work together toward reconciliation. Releasing this list is not the end of a process, it is another step forward in the ongoing effort to reform our church.
In addition to the list, look for additional information about how our Office of Child Protection and Safe Environments is working to screen and educate employees and volunteers as well as educating children and families in self-protection, in hopes of preventing abuse in the future.
The majority of the cases on our list are from the past. This does not make them any less hurtful or significant, but it does indicate that the measures the Church and the Diocese of Jackson have put into place to prevent abuse are having an impact.
We know it can take years for a victim to come forward. We want to hear from those who have been abused by a member of the clergy or an employee of the church. Not only is it our legal duty to report these cases, helping victims find healing and wholeness is our moral imperative. Anyone can contact our Victim’s Assistance Coordinator Valerie McClellan at (601) 326-3728 to seek help.
Again, I apologize from the depths of my heart to those who have been sexually abused by clergy and church personnel, to the families damaged by these crimes and to the Catholic community for the scandal this scourge has brought upon our Church. There is no room for this evil in our society or our churches.
It is my hope that the release of this list during the penitential season of Lent will remind us to pray for all those impacted by abuse and recommit all of us to the Promise to Protect and the Pledge to Heal.
Sincerely yours in Christ,

+ Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop of Jackson

Bishop Kopacz release letter Spanish

A reason for hope: The Diocese of Jackson’s commitment to our children

A reason for hope: The Diocese of Jackson’s commitment to our children

En Espanol: Una razón para la esperanza

A Reason for Hope (released Sept. 7, 2018 in response to Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Updated March, 2019)

The history of abuse in the church has had two key turning points – the adoption of the Charter for the Protection of children and young people in 2002 and the current work being done from the Vatican down to strengthen our response to abuse on every level of church hierarchy. Both of these turning points have come after the painful revelation that the church had not done enough.

We have to be vigilant at all times. We must constantly renew our commitment, strengthen our policies and work in tandem with law enforcement to keep children and vulnerable adults safe in our parishes, schools and centers.

The Diocese of Jackson has a plan and a team in place to prevent and to respond to allegations of sexual abuse against minors. The topic is a fresh wound in our Church since the release of a grand jury report out of Pennsylvania detailing a horrifying pattern of abuse and coverups in six dioceses in that state and revelations of years of abuse at the hands of Theodore McCarrick, former cardinal and bishop.

In response to those meetings as well as the many calls, emails and conversations chancery staff and pastors have had with you, the faithful, we want you to know what has been done, what we continue to do and what’s in store for the future. Bishop Kopacz describes this approach as having four aspects: our safe environment program, victims’ assistance, cooperation with law enforcement and transparency.

To start- an assurance of transparency: A handful of bishops across the U.S. are inviting their state Attorneys General to review their files. The Diocese of Jackson did that back in 2002. In response to both the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pending Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and a contemporary case being presented to the state attorney, diocesan leadership decided the best course of action was to be proactive. A member of the diocesan review board and the vicar general at that time reviewed an accounting of all known cases with staff at the attorney general’s office.

Since that time, all new credible allegations have been turned over to the district attorneys in the counties where the abuse is alleged to have happened.

The bishop has reviewed these cases in-depth in the last few weeks to make sure the diocese has done its due diligence in offering care to victims of abuse, reporting cases to law enforcement and informing local communities about cases. Bishop Kopacz will approach the current Mississippi Attorney General’s Office to offer review of all substantiated cases of the abuse of minors by clergy reported since the 2002 meeting.

Safe Environment:

Anyone who offers to volunteer at any parish, school, or institution affiliated with the Diocese of Jackson will first be asked to submit to a criminal background screening. Some 16,000 employees and volunteers have been vetted in this way since the diocese initiated criminal background screenings in 2003. If the screening is clear, the volunteer or employee will begin to receive training in how to recognize the warning signs of abuse, how to report it and how to protect the children in their care from predators.

The diocese uses a company called VIRTUS for safe environment training. It starts with an initial VIRTUS live training session with a VIRTUS facilitator. The live training session instructs adults on the continuous awareness and vigilance in protecting children. Ongoing adult training continues every month in the form of VIRTUS Online, a state-of-the-art, web-based monthly email platform with an article about the latest research or information on fostering safe environments in the Church, in the home and in society. VIRTUS has developed both the lessons and the database management program used to show who is continuing to take their training and who is not compliant. There are about 4,700 adults currently active, including clergy, religious, and lay employees.

Moreover, children are better informed now than ever before. This year, the diocese has implemented VIRTUS’ curriculum for children in parish religious education programs as well as the Catholic schools. In these lessons, children learn about safe and healthy boundaries and what they can do if someone tries to violate them in Church-sponsored programs, and in their daily lives. The program gives children the tools they need to overcome the advances of someone who intends to do them harm. During the last fiscal year, 7,602 children received an age-appropriate safe environment lesson.

Vickie Carollo, the safe environment coordinator, and Fran Lavelle, director of faith formation, will visit every parish and school during this fiscal year to audit their participation in the Protection of Children program. Carollo has performed these audits since 2003 because we know that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Diocese of Jackson has had a policy to respond to credible allegations of sexual abuse since 1987, long before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released the Charter. The early document was less detailed than today’s version but delineated the commitment of the diocese on responding to abuse, removing offenders, assisting victims, and promoting safe environment. The policy was revised in 1994 when an Independent Fitness Review Board of lay Catholics was established. This is a consultative body that assesses the credibility of all allegations of sexual abuse against minors and advises the bishop accordingly.  This board remains an essential resource for Bishop Kopacz, as it was for Bishop Houck and Bishop Latino. The current one includes social workers, physicians, attorneys parents and community leaders. Victim’s assistance:

When an allegation is made, it triggers a number of responses. First, if the victim is a child – even if the abuse is just a suspicion – the case is turned over to the Mississippi Department of Child Protection Services and then to either Carollo’s office.

In all cases, he or she is offered professional counseling at no cost. A victim does not need to give his or her name to the diocese to receive this service. Valerie McClellan is the victims’ assistance coordinator for the diocese. She can offer counseling based out of Jackson. If the victim lives out of state, she can arrange for a counselor in the victim’s community. The goal is to offer a healing opportunity to the victim and his or her family.

Likewise, McClellan will gather as much information about the abuse as possible and, with the victim’s consent, turn it over to the diocese. The diocese hires a private investigator to begin to look into the case and the accused is removed from active ministry or suspended while the investigator prepares a report for the review board.

The review board meets without the bishop present and votes on what actions to recommend to the bishop.  When the allegation is judged to be credible the abuser is removed from ministry as soon as possible.

Cooperation with Law Enforcement:

If a case is deemed credible, the diocese will inform the district attorney in the county where the abuse happened. The bishop withdraws faculties from an ordained accused abuser at this time.

The diocese prepares a statement to be read at Masses or other parish gatherings in the communities where the alleged abuser has served. The statement will never name a victim, but will name the alleged perpetrator and encourage other victims to come forward. These statements are now also posted to the diocesan website.

Even if there are no active cases of abuse being investigated, each parish must regularly publish a statement encouraging victims to report abuse. A recent study indicates that it can take an average of 34 years for a victim to report abuse. This means the diocese has to constantly offer the invitation for all victims to come forward.

For some perspective, since 2002, the Diocese has received nine credible reports of abuse. In all of these cases, the abuse happened 20 or more years prior to the report. The ministers reported were either deceased or already removed from ministry.

Transparency:

Most importantly, we want you to be assured of the Diocese’s commitment to transparency as we move forward. Since a group of lay journalists in Boston in 2002 exposed a pattern of abuse and cover-ups, the church has undergone a culture shift.  In biblical language, this is metanoia which entails repentance and conversion, a change of heart, mind, and practice.

This horrible scandal prompted new social science research into the psychology of abusers and forced bishops to remove priests who were a danger to their flock.

What we now understand about abuse, it’s devastating impacts on individuals, families and whole communities is dramatically different than it was in the 20th century. Dioceses, parishes, and schools have a new paradigm for caring for those placed in their care, especially those most vulnerable to predators. Those same communities have resources for identifying abusers and protocols for removing them from ministry as quickly as possible.

That’s the good news.

The sad truth is there were predators in the Church. Piled on that is the fact that there were leaders in the church who were willing to protect their fellow clergymen rather than expose them or the Church to scandal. The Church must now face yet another reckoning.

The Diocese of Jackson has a team of people who share your anger, sorrow, concern and commitment to our Church and our children. The diocesan policy, including protocols for responding to allegations, is available on the website (link here) and in printed form by emailing Vickie Carollo at Vickie.carollo@jacksondiocese.org.

We are unflinching in our commitment to our promise to protect and pledge to heal as a serious part of our vocation. With the mind and heart of Jesus Christ we echo his words: “Let the children come to me for to such belong the Kingdom of Heaven.:”

Resources: USCCB Charter

Office for the Protection of Children

Valerie McClellan: 601-326-3728

(Bishop Joseph Kopacz, Vicar General Father Kevin Slattery, Chancellor Mary Woodward, Safe Environment Coordinator Vickie Carollo and Director of Communications Maureen Smith collaborated on this statement. It was posted in Sept. 2018 and revised in March 2019)

Response to Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

Bishop Joseph Kopacz Statement Regarding the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report of Clergy Sexual Abuse:

“The recently released Pennsylvania Grand Jury report detailing cases of sexual abuse going back to the late 1940’s in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses, including Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Allentown, Scranton and Erie brings to light more horrific behavior within our church. The report is a stark reminder to all to whom children and young people are entrusted, starting with me in the Diocese of Jackson, that we must redouble our efforts to create safe environments for all vulnerable children of God, younger and older.  Likewise, we must recommit ourselves to exposing past abuse and encouraging victims to come forward.  We must never tire of healing and reconciling the pain that victims and families have suffered through the behavior of church personnel, especially the ordained.  All perpetrators of sexual abuse must be removed from ministry. Because I served in the Diocese of Scranton during the relevant period and am referenced in connection with my handling of three complaints of abuse, I feel it is essential — in keeping with our commitment to transparency — that you be informed of my role in those cases.

I was the Vicar for Priests for eight years in the Diocese of Scranton from 1998 to 2006 during the time that the sexual abuse crisis exploded on the scene.  As the Vicar, it was my responsibility to respond to all allegations of sexual abuse that involved clergy, along with other diocesan officials. Tragically, during that period, I was called upon to respond far too many times to such allegations.  Of those, the report references three instances where I was tasked with responding to the complaints of parishioners.

In the first reference, the victim initially confided in me that she had been abused but stated that she wanted it to be held in confidence. I kept that confidence and made no report. Though her request to maintain the confidentiality of her report was documented in a prepared memo that was available to the Grand Jury, the Grand Jury report excludes this fact.  The report does however confirm that once she removed the restriction of confidentiality, I and other diocesan officials quickly acted to report the abuse to civil authorities and remove the offending priest from ministry.  In the second reference, which involved a deceased priest who had been removed from ministry, the victim requested counseling and I arranged for him to receive counseling. In the third reference, I questioned the offending former priest and despite his denials (and the fact that he had previously been removed from ministry), reported this additional allegation to local authorities.

Forged in the fire of the abuse crisis, the vast majority of dioceses in the United States, including the Diocese of Jackson, have worked hard during the past 16 years to be faithful to the Promise to Protect and the Pledge to Heal, the document we know as the Dallas Charter. The fostering of safe environments in our ministries is now the norm, and the steadfast support for victims of sexual abuse who struggle for healing and hope in their lives, has been an unflagging commitment.

The full document is available through the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website. The Charter directs action in all the following matters:

  • Creating a safe environment for children and young people;
  • Healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors;
  • Making prompt and effective response to allegations;
  • Cooperating with civil authorities;
  • Disciplining offenders;
  • Providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board.

It is my great hope that anyone who has been abused by a member of the clergy or an employee or volunteer of a church come forward. Our victim’s assistance coordinator, Valerie McClelland, a licensed social worker, is available to assist in making a report. You can contact her at (601) 326-3728. Suffering has no statute of limitations.  Sexual abuse is an evil and a crime that wreaks havoc, destruction and despair, and the enemy, the Evil One, loves it, because it is shrouded in darkness, lies and shame. It unleashes the power of hell upon victims and their families and it often spreads from one generation to the next unless the cycle is broken by the light of truth, healing and reconciliation.

With my brother bishops, I offer my apology for the grave sin of sexual abuse and I pledge to continue the needed work to create and maintain a safe environment within our parishes, schools and service centers.”

Most Rev. Joseph R. Kopacz
Bishop, Diocese of Jackson

Statement regarding death of Cardinal Law

JACKSON – The Diocese of Jackson acknowledges the death of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, Wednesday, Dec. 20, in Rome. He was 86-years-old. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced, but will likely take place in Rome.

Cardinal Law served as a priest in the Diocese of then Natchez-Jackson from 1961 – 1973. During his time here, he was a tireless and ardent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement. “While many will criticize his harmful decisions while he was Archbishop in Boston, others, especially here in Mississippi, remember his work as a pastor and an advocate for social justice,” said Bishop Joseph Kopacz, bishop of the Diocese of Jackson.

Cardinal Law was ordained for the priesthood on May 21, 1961, after having completed his seminary training at St. Joseph Seminary in St. Benedict, La., and at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, OH.

He was assigned as associate pastor of St. Paul Parish in Vicksburg where he served for two years. In January 1963, Law was appointed as associate pastor of St. Therese parish in Jackson and in addition to his pastoral duties he began studying to become editor and business manager of the diocesan newspaper – The Mississippi Register. He assumed these duties in March of 1963.

During his five-year tenure at the newspaper, Law used his editorial column to address a myriad of issues and topics in society and the church. Most notably he wrote forcefully in opposition to segregation and racial injustices. His March 1964 editorial entitle “Legal Segregation is Dying” won Editorial of the Year from the National Catholic Press Association.

Law also used local TV to conduct an eight-night on-air evangelization mission. Law reached more than 100,000 viewers each night.

He was very active in interracial, interfaith and ecumenical committees and action groups. This earned him the opportunity to be under the watchful eye of the KKK, the Citizens’ Council and the State Sovereignty Committee. It also earned him the opportunity to serve as executive director of the U.S. Bishops’ secretariat on ecumenical and interreligious affairs in Washington, D.C., from 1968-1971. Upon his return, Law was appointed vicar general of the diocese by Bishop Joseph B. Brunini. He served in this capacity until his appointment as Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau in Missouri on Oct. 23, 1973. He was ordained and installed there on December 5, 1973.

On January 11, 1984, he was appointed Archbishop of Boston and was installed March 23 of that same year. He was elevated to the College of Cardinals on May 25, 1985.

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Media Contact:
Maureen Smith
Director of Communications
Catholic Diocese of Jackson
601-969-3581 (office)
251-753-6917 (cell)
Maureen.smith@jacksondiocese.org

The Catholic Diocese of Jackson covers 65 counties in Mississippi and includes 96 parishes and missions, 12 schools and more than 25 service programs administered through Catholic Charities of Jackson, Inc. Bishop Joseph Kopacz is the 11th bishop for the diocese.