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Emphasizing a commitment

Announcement of a new system by which abuse and harassment linked to the Roman Catholic Church can be reported was one more step in the church’s effort to rebuild trust. But a reminder included with that news may have been even more important.

Last week, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced it is working with a third-party partner on a new reporting system. An Oregon firm, Navex Global, has a mechanism “intended to report suspected financial, professional and personal misconduct of a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee of the diocese, parish, or Catholic school in West Virginia.”

Already in place are two other reporting systems. One is the national Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service. The other, here in the Mountain State, is the Diocesan Office of Safe Environment.

Adding the Oregon company’s program will provide “a safe, honest channel for reporting and expressing concerns,” the diocese noted in a press release.

But Bishop Mark Brennan added something else: “The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston encourages reporting to civil authorities first and foremost if a crime has been committed.”

Precisely. For too long, too many in the church discouraged reporting abuse to the authorities. The church would handle it, they maintained.

But in many cases, predator priests were merely transferred out of parishes where they had been caught in abuse, and to new places where they could continue their wrongdoing.

Brennan’s emphasis on reporting first and foremost to law enforcement authorities is critically important. Above any other step being taken by church leaders, it is a signal to not just Roman Catholics, but to everyone, that this time, the church is serious about reform. Good for Bishop Brennan for continuing to emphasize that.

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