The theme of the National Safe Environment/Victim Assistance Coordinators Conference in Omaha, Neb., that I attended the week of Aug. 13 was “Chosen to Heal and Protect” Over five days participants from dioceses across the nation learned from one another and renewed our commitment to protecting children and helping victims of clergy sexual abuse to heal.
During opening remarks we learned that in John 15:16, Jesus said, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you….”
This was especially significant to me as I reflected on my journey to this ministry and my first year with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Often we go through life making choices and not realizing that there was a greater power behind that choice. I am reminded every day by those who I work to help heal and protect and by those who I work with that this is a true calling. It is not in the praise and thanks received that we understand the good work that we are doing. It is in the silent phones when people no longer need to call for assistance or call to report abuse. Only when the phone stops ringing will we know that we have succeeded.
During this conference, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, we reflected on the 10th anniversary of theBishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and our promise to keep those who were harmed at the center of our ministries. The charter includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of future acts of abuse.
Because of our safe environment policies and actions that we have taken, children are now safer, however we still have work to do to protect children and restore trust. We continue to have a moral obligation under the charter as well as a legal responsibility.
In 2011 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia trained more than 34,000 clergy, employees and volunteers in parishes on how to create safe environments, prevention of child sexual abuse and how to report suspected child abuse. More than 34,000 background checks were conducted. We educated over 100,000 children to recognize abuse and protect themselves. The prevention of child sexual abuse is becoming part of parish life.
In Bishop William J. Dedinger’s letter to conference participants he remarked that our “ministries are a tangible sign of the ongoing commitment to address the tragedy of child sexual abuse in our Church and in our society.” It was in these words that we were challenged to continue our work.
We must continue to recognize that people who were abused years ago are still hurting. We must treat victims with dignity, compassion and respect. We must be open and transparent with parishes and parishioners. We must not stop our efforts until every victim is heard and we must continue to work toward a society in which children are no longer harmed.
In the past year I have met many people who have shared their journey toward healing as well as the long-lasting pain that their victimization has caused for them and their loved ones. I have also spent the past year hearing from victims and the faithful about their hurt, pain, shame, feelings of betrayal and anger.
As I move into my “sophomore” year with the Office for Child and Youth Protection, I hope to take all the things I have learned from the people of this Archdiocese and grow our outreach and efforts to protect children and heal those that have been hurt. It is only then that we will restore trust and faith.
Leslie Davila is the director of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Child and Youth Protection. Formerly with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, she has more than 15 years’ experience in working with victims of crime, including victims of sexual assault.