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March 24, 2023

Diocese of Savannah Responds to Release of Report Investigating Handling of Allegations of Abuse

Savannah, GA — The Most Reverend Stephen D. Parkes, Bishop of Savannah, released the following statement in response to the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council (PAC) review of files related to the handling of past cases of suspected child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy in Georgia.

The sexual abuse crisis has been a blight on the Church and a source of profound suffering. While the sins of the past cannot be overlooked – and indeed must be acknowledged – I assure you that the Church of today is firmly committed to the safety and protection of children.

My heart aches for those who have been affected by the scandal of abuse in any way, from the victims and their families to those who have had their faith shaken by priests who betrayed the love of Christ. Please know that there is always an opportunity for healing and that the Church herself longs to console all who suffer.

Please join me in praying for all victims of abuse and for the efforts of the Church to end abuse in all forms and in all places. Let us pray also for the good priests damaged by the actions of others, and for the repentance of abusers.

May the Lord grant us his healing and his peace.

The report released today by the PAC represents a voluntary effort on the part of the Catholic Church in Georgia to be transparent about the past and to hope for continued healing for survivors of abuse.

All are invited to the Annual Diocesan Hour for Healing at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Augusta on April 14 at 7 pm.

Summary Notes in Response to the PAC Report

  • Regarding the scope of the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council (PAC) investigation:

    “The review did not uncover ongoing or active allegations of sexual abuse that could be criminally pursued. Confirming that no prosecutable cases existed, the attention of the evaluation turned to the historical sexual abuse of children within the church and the church’s response to allegations.” (p 11)

  • The PAC recognized the continual work of the Georgia dioceses to create and maintain safe environments and provide care and support to victim survivors:

    “The Archdiocese of Atlanta and Diocese of Savannah appear sincere in their efforts to right past wrongs by providing pastoral care to victims and complying fully and timely with Georgia’s mandated reporter statute.” (p 255)

  • The Diocese of Savannah cooperates with law enforcement to ensure proper conductions of investigations:

    “Based on records reviewed, since 2002, the Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah have been notifying the appropriate authorities either by contacting the Department of Family and Children Services or law enforcement of child abuse allegations reported to their organizations. The Archdiocese of Atlanta and Diocese of Savannah maintain information on their websites regarding instructions on how to contact local and state authorities in order to report abuse.” (p 251)

    “…when an adult survivor over 18 years of age reports an allegation of abuse to either the Archdiocese or Diocese, there is no reporting requirement. However, the file review showed that the Archdiocese and Diocese have policies and procedures requiring staff to inform the adult survivor that they must contact law enforcement if they wish to pursue charges. The Diocese of Savannah provides adult victims with a document informing them that they have a right to contact law enforcement.” (p 255)

  • More than ten years before the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Diocese of Savannah was addressing the issue:

    “In 1987, Bishop Raymond W. Lessard of Savannah initiated research for the establishment of a formal policy regarding child abuse. The Diocese of Savannah has had a formal Policy on Child Sexual Abuse in place since 1988 which also called for an ad hoc Board of Advisors to consult with the Bishop when an allegation occurred.” (p 19)

    “Under the direction of Bishop J. Kevin Boland, in 2003 the Diocese of Savannah implemented an updated policy…On June 28, 2012, in response to the passage of Georgia House Bill 117, (Arch)Bishop Gregory J. Hartmayer, OFM. Conv., implemented a change to the 2003 policy that expanded upon the personnel who were required to meet Policy compliance, namely to include that every adult age 18 or older who works or volunteers in any capacity.” (p 19)

    “The Diocese of Savannah adopted the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’ in 2002.” (p 251)

  • Today, the Office of Safe Environment takes a two-fold approach to preventing abuse, performing background checks on those who wish to work or volunteer in schools and churches, along with training children and adults in how to spot and report abuse. Since beginning the VIRTUS program in 2003, over 26,000 adults have received Protecting God’s Children training in the Diocese of Savannah.
  • The Archdiocese of Atlanta and the Diocese of Savannah undergo an annual third-party audit of their Safe Environment programs. Both have passed that audit every year.
  • The Bishops of Georgia are confident that they are doing everything reasonably necessary to protect the children who come into contact with our schools, churches, parishes and ministries.
  • The PAC report is consistent with the list of those who have been credibly accused of abuse already available on the Diocesan website, first posted in November 2018 and updated as necessary.

Additional Resources

Hotline/How to Report
If you are a victim of abuse by clergy, an employee, or a volunteer in the Diocese of Savannah, or if you know of anyone who has been a victim of such misconduct, please contact civil authorities and the Diocesan Abuse Reporting Line at 1-888-357-5330.
Diocesan Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors

List of Credibly Accused Clergy
Since November 8, 2018, the Diocese of Savannah has maintained on its website a list of priests who served in the Diocese and were credibly accused of the sexual abuse of a minor.
List of credibly accused clergy
Lista de miembros del clero con acusaciones creíbles

 

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