President of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Delivers Opening Address at Start of 2018 General Assembly in Baltimore, Nov. 12-14

November 12, 2018

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the body of bishops at the opening sessions today in Baltimore for the General Assembly taking place in Baltimore.

Cardinal DiNardo’s full address follows:

“Saint Augustine wrote, ‘In order that weakness might become strong, strength became weak.’ My dear brothers, in light of this morning’s news, the nature of my address changes. We remain committed to the specific program of greater episcopal accountability that we will discuss these days. Consultations will take place. Votes will not this week. But we will prepare ourselves to move forward.

Allow me to now address the survivors of abuse directly.  

Where I have not been watchful or alert to your needs, wherever I have failed, I am deeply sorry. The command of our Lord and Savior was clear. ‘What I say to you, I say to all: watch!’ In our weakness, we fell asleep. Now, we must humbly beg God’s strength for the vigil ahead.

St Augustine also warned that there are two extremes we all can fall into – despair or presumption.

We, and the faithful, can fall into despair – believing that there is no hope for the Church or good change in the Church. We can also believe there no hope for healing of these sins. But we must always remember there is a thing called trusting faith and it leads us on our current journey. This trusting faith provides us roots for a living memory. Our people need this living memory of hope.
We must also remember the other extreme: presumption. We can be lulled into inactivity by presuming that this will blow over, that things simply return to normal on their own. Some would say this is entirely a crisis of the past. It is not. We must never victimize survivors over again by demanding they heal on our timeline. It is true to say the vast majority of abuse cases occurred decades ago. But the pain is daily.  

The number of new allegations today are a small fraction of what they were. But Jesus poses a question, ‘what man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the 99 in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?’ In justice, we must search for every child of God whose innocence is lost to a horrific predator at any time, decades ago or this very day.

Healing can come, if there is forgiveness. ‘How many there are who know that they have sinned against their brother or sister and yet are unwilling to say: forgive me.’ Let us not only be willing but also ready and eager to ask for forgiveness. To the survivors I have let down by what I have failed to do, please forgive me. To those who have lost faith in the Church, please forgive us for our failures.

Combatting the evil of sexual assault within the Church will require all our spiritual and physical resources. We must draw near to Christ in all sorrow, humility and contrition, to better hear his voice and discern his will. It is only after listening we can carry out the changes needed. The changes that the People of God rightly demand.  

Our work must honor the ongoing work of so many across the country to protect children and others from the fear of violation. Tens of thousands of people – including clergy, religious, and laity -- working or volunteering at Catholic ministries submit themselves to extensive safe environment training and background checks. Hundreds of parents, social workers, law enforcement and other professionals serve on review boards to ensure an impartial review of all allegations. Victim’s assistance coordinators stand ready in every diocese to assist survivors of abuse. And since 2002, our priests and others serving the Church work under a policy of zero tolerance after an allegation of abusing a child is admitted to or proven.  

Brother bishops, to exempt ourselves from these high standards of accountability is unacceptable and cannot stand. In fact, we, as successors to the apostles, must hold ourselves to the highest possible standard. Doing anything less insults those working to protect and heal from the scourge of abuse.  

As, however, the events of this year have so clearly revealed, we must expand our understanding of protection and vigilance. Sexual misconduct must be more intensely dealt with in our dioceses and in our policies. The sense of justice founded on the people’s genuine instinct of faith will hold us accountable.

The Church founded by Jesus Christ is one of hope and life. My dear brother bishops, we must take every precaution that our example not lead a single person away from the Lord. Whether we will be remembered as guardians of the abused or the abuser will be determined by our actions beginning this week. Let us draw near to Christ today, sacrifice to Him our own ambitions, and humbly submit ourselves totally to what He demands of us in love and justice.

The Church has always been and will always be the Body of Christ — His Church. He merely asks us to serve as best we can. And where we fail, let us submit to the Holy Father and to one another in a spirit of fraternal correction.

I quoted St. Augustine at the beginning of this talk. He also writes, ‘for on whatever place one has fallen, on that place he must find support that he may rise again.’ Brothers, we have fallen into a place of great weakness. We need to pray and act right now in this very place to begin rising to a new integrity.

We must always remember that in order for us, who are weak, to become strong, Christ became weak. ‘Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.’ Through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, may we become strong – not for own consolation, but to better serve our sisters and brothers.

Let us, then, be an example of how the sinner humbles himself before the Lord so that he may receive God’s mercy. In this way, we can begin to clean and heal the lacerations in the Body of Christ. May God bless you.”