Bishop’s charter marks 20 years, church desires hope and healing

By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
This year in the Catholic Church marks the 20th anniversary of the Dallas Charter, when the American Catholic Bishops through the charter document and its essential norms “promised to protect and pledged to heal,” committing the church to safe environments for our children, young people and their families.
Because of our sins and crimes, justly, as an organization, the church has been in the crucible, and the purification continues. Yet, the experience of the past twenty years has shown that an organization’s culture can be transformed when best practices are put in place and all in the organization are required to abide by them. In the church, this includes all the ordained, professed and baptized who work with children.

Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.

Over the past twenty years new allegations and actual proven cases of abuse are far and few between. Even one case is one too many, but we have learned how to protect in our church programs and gatherings. Moreover, the pledge to heal comes from the heart of Jesus Christ because we are his body, far more than an organization, who hunger and thirst for healing and peace for all who have been so unjustly harmed by wolves in sheep’s clothing. This Gospel imperative must be at the center of all that the church does on the road back to the abundant life Jesus promised to all believers.

For all in the church and in the world who are steadfast in their love for children’s safety and flourishing, we can rejoice in the recent declaration of the United Nations.

On Nov. 10, 2022, the General Assembly declared Nov. 18 as the World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence. The resolution, which was sponsored by Sierra Leone and Nigeria and co-sponsored by more than 120 countries, was adopted by consensus and a bang of the gavel by the assembly’s acting president, which was greeted with loud applause. Following the action, H.E., Archbishop Gabriele Giordano Caccia, Permanent Observer of the Holy See United Nations, New York addressed the Assembly expressing appreciation for the UN’s action, and the full support of the Vatican State for the newly adopted World Day.

Over 50 individuals including leaders of prominent child welfare and advocacy organizations, and survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA), including several who experienced abuse by clergy, joined H.E. Fatima Maada Bio, the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, a survivor of child marriage, as she addressed the General Assembly urging action. “Child sexual abuse is a global public health crisis. We must acknowledge this problem, and take every necessary action to protect our children, especially our girls, from this tragic human condition.” Her eloquent, impassioned speech was greeted with a round of applause, and cheers from survivors in the gallery.

Mark Joseph Williams, an abuse survivor, speaks during a Nov. 15, 2022, session of the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

“Child sexual abuse is one of the greatest violations to human dignity, one can suffer,” said H.E. Ambassador Alhaji Fanday Turay. “The World Day for the Prevention of, and Healing from Child Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Violence is a critical step in bringing institutional recognition to this horrific childhood trauma. Too many victims of child sexual abuse are suffering in shame and silence. Many live anguished lives. By adopting this Resolution, we can provide a platform for all nations and civil society to mobilize and take actions to protect children from this tragedy.”

“We promoted the World Day to increase awareness of the actions all governments can take to prevent abuse and bring healing to survivors,” said Dr. Jennifer Wortham, a researcher at Harvard who founded the Global Collaborative, the survivor led network that led the international advocacy campaign to launch the world day. Wortham’s brothers are clergy abuse survivors, and Wortham shared that they have struggled with the effects of their abuse for their entire lives. “The World Day will help my brothers and all survivors of child sexual violence to know that the world cares about them, that they matter, that what they experienced was unjust, and that healing is possible,” said Wortham.

Finally, the world has spoken, and this is a victory for us all,” said Mark Williams, clergy abuse survivor, and advisor to the Archdiocese of Newark. “This day has been extraordinary, I am filled with awe, and peace.” At the Bishop’s recent meeting in Baltimore, Williams addressed the assembled body along with Cardinal Joseph Tobin, his Archbishop of Newark, N.J. to encourage the bishops that the Lord can make a way where there is no way. Healing, hope, and a new dawn are God’s desire for all in the church, especially the victims of sexual abuse.

Williams and Cardinal Tobin’s witness and friendship from the center of the church, the United Nations declaration, and a growing world-wide commitment to human flourishing on behalf of children and young people make this Thanksgiving an extra special day of gratitude in our nation and in our world.