Last year, Pope Francis stated, “The crimes of sexual abuse offend Our Lord, cause physical, psychological and spiritual damage to the victims and harm the community of the faithful. In order that these phenomena, in all their forms, never happen again, a continuous and profound conversion of hearts is needed, attested by concrete and effective actions that involve everyone in the Church, so that personal sanctity and moral commitment can contribute to promoting the full credibility of the Gospel message and the effectiveness of the Church’s mission.” (Pope Francis, Motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, 7 May 2019)
I write to offer my prayers and consolation as you confront the painful news, that was made public when a Hamilton County judge refused to dismiss charges against the former pastor of St. Ignatius. A report by Fox19 provides details which evoke shock, hurt, anger, pain and frustration among the members of our parish and school community, who had no knowledge of complaints about him prior to his appointment.
People are presumed innocent until proven guilty. A civil trial is now on the horizon, and the judicial process must run its course. While it does, undoubtedly wounds, which include but are not limited to the threat posed to the young and vulnerable members of our community, as well as the way the crisis was handled institutionally, will be re-opened. We cannot predict what other revelations will come forth.
Many things are beyond our control. What is within our control is to remain vigilant in the fight against the sexual abuse of minors. We must state unequivocally that the protection of minors from abuse is a top priority for our parish. Some measures we have taken to make St. Ignatius safer along with establishing a Parish Safe Environment Committee, include:
Undergoing an audit to check parish compliance with the Decree on Child Protection;
Holding seminars on issues like cyber-bullying and internet bullying;
Requiring two VIRTUS-trained individuals for events that involve minors; and
Promoting EthicsPoint and informing parishioners of it during VIRTUS-training.
Additionally, we have held several Holy Hours of Reparation to atone for the sin of sexual abuse of minors and to pray for the healing of victims and for our parish. And, little by little, we are beginning to heal. Despite the pandemic, gradually Mass attendance is beginning to grow. School enrollment is at an all-time high, and the pre-school experienced enormous growth and will soon be integrated into the school. Our youth groups are flourishing. St. Ignatius is a resilient community, where young people grow in faith, but this growth requires trust and transparency. I join with the leadership of St. Ignatius School in renewing our commitment to this trust and transparency.
Although I was not your pastor when this ordeal began, as a priest, I express my heartfelt sorrow at the pain you are experiencing. I will make myself readily available to meet with or speak to any parishioner about this matter. As I said upon my arrival, I pledge to do all in my power, with the strength that God gives me, to protect and defend your children from anyone who will harm them. They – and you – deserve no less, and you should expect nothing less from your clergy.
The Holy Father invites us to a profound conversion of heart, accompanied by concrete action. Join me in praying for this grace of conversion, so that as we journey together, we may truly experience the joy of the Gospel that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Earl K. Fernandes