In the last decade, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson fired 10 employees because of allegations of sexual misconduct, Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger said Tuesday.
The diocese also rescinded clearances for 12 unpaid workers — likely volunteers — in the same period, also because of sexual misconduct allegations, he said.
Weisenburger said he couldn’t elaborate on the details of those instances. But those individuals most likely cleared the initial screening process, he said, and an issue was identified either during the clearance renewal process that happens every five years, or because of a separate incident.
The Diocese of Tucson has “no known allegations of sexual misconduct with minors against any of our priests in active ministry today,” the bishop said.
Weisenburger’s statement outlining the diocese’s procedures to prevent sexual abuse came as a response to a Pennsylvania grand jury report earlier this year revealing child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The abuse — and its cover-up — spanned decades.
“Once again, the gut-wrenching Pennsylvania report has reopened painful wounds,” Weisenburger said in his statement. “I accept its data as accurate and am grateful for those who did the critically important work of processing and compiling it.”
He added, however, that he does not see the report as “an accurate snapshot of the Church today,” noting, “Of the 301 (Pennsylvania) perpetrators, only two are from the last 10 years.” The drop in allegations in the last decade mirrors the Tucson diocese’s experience, he wrote.
Tucson’s diocese has its own scars, the bishop acknowledged. Those include a $14 million settlement in 2002 with 10 men who described clergy abuse in the 1960s through 1980s and 22 lawsuits that drove the diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2004 and create a $22 million settlement pool, Arizona Daily Star archives show.
“What happened in the past brought us to this point, and from here, we move forward and will always do it correctly,” Weisenburger said Tuesday at a news conference.
In the last 10 years, the Diocese of Tucson has rejected 754 requests by individuals to serve in a school or parish due to sexual misconduct, violence, drug use or other issues.
That’s about 2 percent of the total requests to serve in any capacity, Weisenburger said.
As for the 10 employees fired over the last decade for sexual misconduct allegations, he said they amounted to just over 1 percent of diocesan or parish employees.
Weisenburger’s six-page statement was made available to the diocese’s parishes and is online at diocesetucson.org
Tim Lennon, the president of the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the organization is asking all state attorneys general to call for a grand jury like Pennsylvania’s, which uncovered many abusers.
“This statement is remarkably similar to two other statements I’ve read in other dioceses,” he said. “Compared to most dioceses in the United States, Tucson does well in the sense that when you go there to report child abuse, many of the dioceses say contact the church first, but if you go to Tucson’s diocese’s website, their first point says to call 911. ... The second thing is they release the names of known abusers, which provides an opportunity for survivors to come forward and seek help.”
Coming forward about abuse involves cultural barriers, Lennon said.
“There are too many stories of children getting mouths washed out with soap because they accused a neighbor, uncle, grandfather, teacher or priest,” he said. “And that’s the kind of culture we need to change.”
In his statement, Weisenburger connected misconduct in the church with the “so-called ‘sexual revolution.’”
“It would be way too simplistic to blame a cultural movement for what individuals have done, but I also think it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge its role,” he said Tuesday, pointing to a “deterioration of family life” and marriage and an attitude that “sexual actions have no real intrinsic meaning.”
He added later that “the horrible sin of the Catholic Church in the middle and late 20th century is not that we dealt with sexual abuse of minors differently from the rest of the world. Rather, the horrible sin of the Catholic Church is that we dealt with sexual abuse of minors exactly the same way the secular world and other institutions dealt with it.”
Lynne Cadigan, a Tucson attorney who represented many of the claimants against the diocese in the late 1990s and the 2000s, found those similarities unfortunate.
“It’s unfortunate that their excuse is that they were the same as secular organizations,” she said Tuesday.
“Secular organizations are about money and profit. The Catholic Church should be about the souls of children.”
In the past 15 years, the diocese has done much to enforce procedures and policies that protect children, Weisenburger said, adding that the number of allegations dropped as a result.
That includes reporting all suspected abuse to the Pima County Attorney’s Office, including lay members on parish and diocese boards of directors, auditing parishes every 18 months to ensure compliance with “safe environment” protocol, undergoing an external audit every year and requiring volunteers, clergy and employees to go through rigorous background checks, training and certification, the statement said.
The diocese also encourages victims to step forward. Counseling is available to those who do.
“They say this is all in the past, and I would love to hear that, but you have to make amends for the harm that they’ve done,” Lennon said. “They can apologize and prostate themselves. Some have washed feet. Some have built gardens ... but these are all gestures, and it doesn’t help a survivor. It doesn’t protect a kid.”
As for the diocese and the church at large, Weisenburger acknowledged and apologized for the wrong done.
“The Church’s response in the past was inadequate, misguided, inept and failed victims in most every way,” he wrote. “The Church of more recent years has a zero-tolerance policy that holds perpetrators and their enablers far more accountable.”
Contact reporter Johanna Willett at email@example.com or 573-4357. On Twitter: @JohannaWillett