November 25, 2018

The news from the U.S. Bishops meeting last week, as well as the news from our own Archdiocese was surprising and concerning. As you may know, the Vatican intervened at the Bishops’ meeting and asked the U.S. Bishops not to vote on any concrete actions regarding clergy sexual abuse until after the February meeting in Rome of the presidents of all the bishops’ conferences throughout the world.

This request came as a surprise to the bishops. As you know, we have been praying for the bishops and their gathering this month. Our own archbishop engaged priests in the archdiocese, and encouraged us to engage parishioners, in a conversation about how to address the issue of clergy sexual abuse and its cover-up by bishops.

There could be very good reasons that the Vatican asked that the bishops not proceed with a vote. St. Ignatius of Loyola encourages us to put the best possible interpretation on the actions of others. That has been my prayer over these past days.

But, we must admit that this delay is difficult to handle. To many of us it already felt like we had waited too long from the revelations of last summer and the bishops meeting in November. And now we are asked to wait until after February for concrete action. Given the credibility gap that exists for bishops right now, it is hard to trust putting the best possible interpretation on this delay.

In addition to this difficult news, we learned last week that the Archdiocese of Seattle has reached settlements over the past two months in 7 individual cases involving allegations of clergy sexual abuse. In releasing this information, the Archdiocese noted that, “In each of these cases, the alleged abuse occurred between 30 and 60 years ago. The Archdiocese has attempted to arrive at fair and just settlements to assist victims with healing and to achieve some measure of closure. The members of the clergy involved in all of these cases are either deceased or have been permanently removed from ministry. All of their names appear among those on the archdiocesan public disclosure list published in 2016.” There is a link to that list on our websites.

Particularly painful for those of us in Southwest Washington is that one of the abusing priests is the founding pastor at St. Joseph, Thomas Pitsch, and another, James McGreal, served at St. James from 1950 to 1954. Since 2016, we have been aware of the accusations against Fr. Pitsch and have tried to respond as sensitively as possible to victims. I have met personally with victims and family members of victims of Fr. Pitsch, as has the archbishop.

This is a challenging time for our Church, both the wider Church and our parishes in Southwest Washington. I want to once again reiterate that no funds contributed by parishioners to our Stewardship of Treasure campaign are sent to the Archdiocese for settling or defending sexual abuse claims against clergy.

We also know that we have made progress in the last decade and a half in creating safer environments for our children. As a result of our knowledge of abuse, we now operate under policies and procedures that have made our parishes and schools safer places for children and vulnerable adults. And while we can never take away the pain of those who have been abused by clergy, we are encouraged by the fact that there have been no credible accusations of abuse by clergy in our archdiocese for more than ten years.

This weekend, as we celebrate the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, we pray that Christ’s reign of justice and peace may come to our Church. We pray that our leaders may listen well to the people of God who are calling for a real conversion that results in greater accountability in the Church, especially among bishops. We pray especially for the victims of sexual abuse, and for their families and friends.

As we look forward to the beginning of Advent next weekend, may we also give thanks for the many ways we are blessed by the vast majority of priests, religious and lay ministers who work tirelessly and with integrity to draw people closer to Christ.

May God bless you, and may God bless and heal our Church.

Fr. Gary Lazzeroni