SAN DIEGO — “The monstrous crime of the sexual abuse of children and young people,” as the pope calls it, is arguably the most painful issue the Catholic Church confronts today.
Bishop Robert McElroy has responded to this issue in extraordinary ways.
In the summer of 2018, a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a searing report detailing decades of child abuse by clergy there. The report, along with other revelations of abuse involving the Church’s highest ranks, reignited the outrage over past scandals.
In response, the bishop took to the road to personally meet with the faithful at parishes in San Diego and Imperial counties. The diocese held eight sessions where members of the community could ask the bishop questions and he could listen to their concerns. The participants expressed disappointment, sadness, at times anger.
“We’re in a terrible, wrenching moment in the life of our Church,” the bishop told the participants at the first one, at Our Mother of Confidence Parish. At these meetings, he acknowledged past failures by the Church hierarchy to protect children. And he explained what the diocese had been doing for 20 years to protect children in schools and parishes. The bishop told them that there had not been any credible allegation of such abuse at the diocese since he had arrived in 2015, which still holds true today.
The following May, Pope Francis demanded a response from the entire Church to root out the scourge of sex abuse.
In response, Bishop McElroy did something that had never been done in the history of the diocese. On Aug. 13, 2019, he brought all employees together for the first time — more than 2,500. He did so to raise awareness of the devastating impact of child abuse and to call on every single staff member to report abuse anywhere they suspected it might be happening, not just those mandated to do so.
And he announced two measures the diocese was undertaking to further assist victims in their healing.
He said the diocese would participate in an Independent Compensation Program, giving victims a fresh opportunity to present a claim, regardless of when the abuse may have occurred or their immigration status. The program would assess claims fairly, quickly, and totally independent of the diocese.
The diocese launched the program the following month. (By its end two years later, the diocese had paid $7,655,000 to 59 people who accepted offers to settle their claims.)
And the bishop also announced that he had recently expanded the scope of the diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator. This staff member would not only receive the reports of potential abuse but also help form healing groups for survivors and their families and develop educational programs for parishes.
“We cannot erase the horror of this history, nor can we restore the shattered souls and hearts and lives of those who have been victimized,” Bishop McElroy told staff members. “But we can move forward, as Pope Francis calls us to, utterly resolved to continually expel the sexual abuse of minors from the internal life of the Church, and equally resolved to help transform families and society to purge the epidemic of sexual abuse that rages in our midst.”