Archbishop Gregory: Weary of 'cloud of shame' shrouding church leaders

IMAGE: CNS photo/Bob Roller


ATLANTA (CNS) — Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory
issued a print and video statement Aug. 9 on the website of The Georgia
Bulletin, archdiocesan newspaper, expressing his “profound anger, sadness
and distress concerning sexual abuse by church leaders of children, young
people and those over whom they exercised authority.”

anger and disappointment, shared by Catholics and others, are only heightened
by the reality that leaders who have engaged in or neglected to protect others
from such damaging and deviant behavior have for many years failed to be held
accountable — and have even risen in leadership positions,” he said. “We must do better
— for the sake of all victims and survivors of sexual abuse and for the sake
of everyone whom we serve.”

Archbishop Gregory said Catholics everywhere, including him, “are stunned and
justifiably angry at shameful, unrelenting recent revelations of bishops
accused of abuse or mishandling allegations of abuse — behavior that offends
and scandalizes the people of God entrusted to our care.”

He said
Catholics are specifically “enraged” about allegations of abuse by Archbishop
Theodore E. McCarrick and find “any pastoral negligence in protecting our
people is similarly grievous.”

are weary of this cloud of shame that continues to shroud church leadership and
compromise our mission,” he said, adding that he is “personally
disheartened” because in 2002, as president of the U.S. Conference of
Catholic Bishops, he made assurances that this crisis was over and would not be

sincerely believed that the unprecedented steps we took at that time would help
to heal this wound in the body of Christ. And so they have, ” he added,
“though obviously not completely or even sufficiently.”

archbishop said he was saddened because many good priests are again “seen
as suspect not because they have done anything wrong” and he was hurt that
his respect and fraternal esteem for Archbishop McCarrick “were clearly

He said
he never personally worked with Archbishop McCarrick in any pastoral context
and said he also “never knew or suspected the hidden side of a man whose
admired public persona concealed that of a violator of foundational Christian
morality and of young people who trusted him.”

any individual who discovers far too late that a friend has a history of moral
misconduct, I now stand dumbfounded that I was so unaware and naive,” he
said, adding that he knows many other bishops feel the same way.

are angry, as well they should be, that our church is once again viewed as a
haven for criminal deviant behavior,” he said, adding that priests also are
hurt and Catholics are disappointed with bishops in general “who seemingly
cannot or will not act decisively to heal this festering wound.”

Catholics are “perplexed
and sickened,” he said, “that the Holy See may well have dismissed multiple warning signs”
that should have stopped Archbishop McCarrick and others earlier in their
careers. He also said Catholics are disheartened that situations here and in
other countries continue to “call into question everything the church has
done to safeguard children and adults from manipulation and violation.”

Gregory said he recently met with archdiocesan seminarians and told them
directly “that if any person in any context made advances or exhibited
behavior that made them feel uncomfortable or threatened, they are to notify
the director of vocations, one of the auxiliary bishops or me personally so
that we may take swift and appropriate action — pastoral and legal.

parents and family members should know that these young men are in safe and
respectful environments and that, as their archbishop, I will not tolerate any
activity that threatens to harm or intimidate them.”

He said
that while the USCCB’s current leadership considers its next steps, he strongly
urges these leaders to “engage the laity in reviewing and recommending courses of
action that will assure the faithful that we are serious in curing this blight
from our church and from episcopal governance once and for all.”

pointed out that when the USCCB established a national lay review board in
2002, there was some pushback because some people felt they were “improperly
ceding control of the ministry of bishops” but given the current situation,
he said, oversight by laity “may well provide the only credible assurance
that real and decisive actions are being taken.”

trustworthiness as bishops has been so seriously compromised that acting alone
— even with the best of intentions and the highest principles, policies and
plans –may not move the hearts of the faithful to believe,” he added.

archbishop said he prays that this moment and the days, weeks, and months
ahead will be an opportunity for light to break through the darkness; for victims
and survivors of sexual abuse to come forward and receive the help, support and
healing they need; and for church leadership to be renewed and have the courage
to take the necessary next steps.

so many of you I am angry, but I am not overcome by despair. I hope and I pray
that the Holy Spirit will cleanse and strengthen the church,” Archbishop Gregory said. “My anger has not
led me to hopelessness; I pray yours has not either. I am grateful for your
witness of faith and hope, even in difficult times.”

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Editor’s Note: Archbishop Gregory’s print and video statement can be found at

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