Bishop Loverde faced crisis with ‘transparency, integrity’

"I am sorry, profoundly sorry, for the terrible pain you have experienced because of sexual abuse," said Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde more than 11 years ago at the diocese's first healing Mass for victims and survivors of abuse. "Forgive us for not seeing more deeply and fully the horrendous evil such abuse is and does."

Such words of apology - along with encouragement and a willingness to listen - are at the heart of Bishop Loverde's response to sexual abuse.

Not long after arriving in Arlington, the bishop found himself in the middle of the clergy sex abuse scandal of the early 2000s. Revelations that bishops moved guilty priests among parishes without informing police or parents caused an eruption of anger and pain, and compelled all U.S. dioceses to reflect upon their own practices and policies.

In 2002, U.S. bishops met in Dallas to discuss how to address the crisis and assist victims. The gathering produced the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," and Bishop Loverde immediately went to work implementing it in the Arlington Diocese.

The bishop's efforts over the years "have restored the trust of so many," said Deacon Marques Silva, director of the diocesan Office of Child Protection and Safety, one of two offices established in response to the charter. The second is the Victim Assistance Office, headed by Pat Mudd.

A review board also was formed to make recommendations to the bishop regarding allegations of abuse by diocesan clergy. The nine-person board currently includes an abuse survivor, social worker and attorney.

Deacon Silva said his office has three primary components: education, background checks, and assisting the bishop with implementing the diocesan code of conduct and sexual misconduct policy.

The foundation of its safe-environment education efforts is VIRTUS' "Protecting God's Children." The training program is for all diocesan employees and volunteers who have substantial contact with minors and works to prevent child sexual abuse in the church and society at large. The office also provides training for students in grades K-12. With a focus on Christian chastity, curricula are taught through religious education, youth ministry or the Catholic schools.

Deacon Silva said one way Bishop Loverde has shown his commitment to child protection and victim assistance is by allotting ample staff to both diocesan offices. Whereas some dioceses have one person overseeing both efforts, Arlington has four people working with Deacon Silva and two with Mudd.

Bishop Loverde "went above and beyond what we had to do," said Mudd.

"There are always scandals in the church at different times," Deacon Silva said. But Bishop Loverde "has responded to the most recent one with transparency, integrity and commitment."

It's a commitment not only to protect children but also to offer healing to victims.

"He's been willing to meet with victims from the beginning," said Mudd, victim assistance coordinator for more than a decade. "The bishop has heard them talk about the pain of their abuse … and listened to their efforts to heal. He has been very moved by them."

Since its founding in 2003, the Victim Assistance Office has assisted more than 530 survivors of abuse. Mudd said the vast majority were abused by family members or through violence on the street.

The office initially had an advisory board, made up of victims/survivors, to help shape the ministry's programs and policies. It helped create the current annual schedule, which includes three healing Masses celebrated by Bishop Loverde, three prayer services, three support group evenings with the bishop and a spiritual retreat.

The bishop has attended nearly every event planned by the office. But it is not only a ministry of presence, said Mudd. He also provides "attentiveness to their pain" and "his sincere apology."

"To have the bishop apologize to them is powerful," she said.

"The bishop has a gift of listening and supporting victims," Mudd added. "And that means so much."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015