Just three days after the dioceses of Texas identified 286 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors since 1941, Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, MSpS, presided at a pair of Masses at San Fernando Cathedral Feb. 3 to ask for forgiveness for past actions taken by church leadership and to recommit himself, along with all priests and deacons in the archdiocese, to their ministry in parish communities.
“Change to conform to the will of God is a challenge for every generation, including ours today,” said the archbishop. “It is primarily a call to the leaders of our church to respond appropriately to the sexual abuse of minors by some priests and deacons.”
On Jan. 31 the bishops of the 15 dioceses of Texas published the lists of priests and deacons who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors; an action taken after much prayerful discernment and consultation, said the San Antonio prelate.
“As archbishop, I want the archdiocese to be fully transparent in our account of this painful chapter in our history from 1940 to the present. We express our deep regret and apologize for the failings of those who have held leadership positions in the church,” he said. “We offer public support to those who have survived clergy sexual abuse as minors. We share the painful truth in this report in order to invite the entire church to a more authentic holiness – a life lived in accord with the Gospel, entrusted with Jesus’ own mission and ministry.”
The Archdiocese of San Antonio report covers more than 75 years and contains a little more than 50 names, about half of whom are religious priests or priests on loan who worked in the archdiocese for only a limited time. During this same period about 2,950 priests served the church here. “That puts our report into clear perspective even as we commit ourselves to ensuring that this sin and crime is eradicated,” emphasized the Missionary of the Holy Spirit.
In 2002, the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted the Dallas Charter for the protection of minors in the church. In the past 10 years the report shows that since 2010 there have been no reported allegations of abuse which might have occurred during this decade. Between 2000 and 2009 only two allegations were reported and the two clergy were removed from ministry and reported to civil authorities.
“Forgiveness and true change in individuals and the church cannot take place until a clear understanding of the depth of the problem is both accepted and addressed,” said an emotional Archbishop Gustavo. “The sin of these events, the pain of the survivors, and we who are angry, embarrassed, and ashamed of some of our church’s leaders can only be healed if we acknowledge and reflect on the causes and neglect that allowed these tragic stories.”
Prior to leading the prayer for healing the wounds of sexual abuse in the church, the archbishop asked the congregation, “Please join us in prayer that this action taken by the bishops of Texas will lead to the healing of the survivors of abuse as minors. Let us listen attentively to the Word of God who calls us to faithful ministry as missionary disciples of the risen Lord. Help us to bring God’s mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and healing to our community of faith. Our Lady of Guadalupe, embrace all of us with your maternal love.”
He then led the prayer of contrition and pray of commitment for clergy as well as the renewal of baptismal promises for all in the sanctuary.