Doing the Right Thing: An Apology

The following was published in WestFriars:

 

[Brothers: During the recent regional meetings, I gave you a thorough explanation of how we as Friars Minor brought to conclusion the twenty-five lawsuits against the Province as a result of the sexual abuse of minors by some of our brothers. Many friars asked that I publish the Apology I gave to fourteen of the survivors. I share this with you with the hope that this event in our Province is never erased from our collective memory. —Melvin A. Jurisich, OFM, Min. Prov.] 
 

Doing the Right Thing: An Apology

Melvin A. Jurisich, OFM 

First, let me explain who I am. I am the present Provincial Minister of the Province of St. Barbara of the Order of Friars Minor. We have approximately two hundred friars in our Province which covers five of the western states plus missionaries in Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and Russia. 

I want to express my gratitude to Judge Charles McCoy for making this opportunity available to us. What we are doing is not usually done in a civil courtroom, but Judge McCoy has had the conviction that this was the right thing to do. I also want to express my gratitude to you and your attorney for your willingness to sit down with me; you did not have to do this and therefore, the opportunity is very much appreciated. Up to this time our lawyers have been speaking to each other, but if there is going to be any healing, then we have to begin talking to each other.  

I would like to recognize the great deal of courage you have to come forward and speak about what has happened to you. It takes courage not only to speak but then to face this situation every day of your life. I admire the courage that you have. 

I also want to recognize the pain that you have suffered because of the abuse. I also recognize the pain that your family (parents, spouses, children, siblings) have gone through; I have become very aware that everyone is touched with this pain, and it is overwhelming. I learned this first-hand when very good friends of mine in Santa Barbara had two of their sons abused by friars. I sat with them and listened to the family pain. What happened to you and your family goes against everything we friars stand for as human beings, as Christians, and as Franciscans. Most of us friars did not enter religious life to bring pain to others. We became friars for lofty ideals: to serve God, to help the poor, to preach and to reconcile, to mission. This is what attracted us to this way of life. To have a friar bring so much pain to you is beyond our belief and understanding. 

I also want to recognize the betrayal of trust. When I was Rector of St. Anthony’s Seminar, I would speak to the faculty at the beginning of each year about the sacred trust put in our hands by the parents of our students. Well, your trust was betrayed as was your parents’. I must tell you that our trust in the friar who abused you was also betrayed. Our betrayal will never match yours. But it is still a betrayal of trust. 

Because of the pain that has been inflicted on you by a member of our Order and Province and because of this betrayal of trust, I want to apologize to you on behalf of all the Friars of the Province. We have no right to expect that you will forgive us our sins but if our apology will help you heal, I will apologize as often as I have to. Joseph Chinnici, OFM, who was Provincial when this scandal broke, made a public apology in 1993 and promised that we would do all in our power to seek out victims and help them. We have done that. He also promised that we would do penance, and we have. Finian McGinn, OFM, who succeeded Joseph, met with several victims and offered an apology. I made a public apology in the Seminary Chapel in July 2003 with SAS alumni, survivors and their parents, the press, and the Santa Barbara community all present. I too have met individually with survivors to apologize and ask for forgiveness. 

Judge McCoy has told me that the Church must become more humble and more simple as a result of the abuse crisis. We friars could not agree more. I can’t speak for the whole Church, but I can speak to my own experience of being humbled and the experience of our Province. When I left SAS as Rector in 1985, I thought I was the greatest educator in the western world. We had done so much during those years. Then the abuse crisis came along and I was crushed and thrown from my own pedestal. When the Board of Inquiry report came out, the friars were very humbled as we learned about the extensive abuse that took place at SAS and the Santa Barbara Boys’ Choir and then other places. St. Francis’ early followers were called the Order of Penitents; we should not be afraid to do penance for our wrongdoing and to make a firm purpose of amendment to change what was wrong. We tried to change what was wrong by setting up an Independent Response Team, by removing the offending friars from ministry, by setting up an aftercare program with strict monitoring guidelines, by providing therapy for victims and families, by making financial settlements. 

This effort to do the right thing brought us only criticism from the Church and members of our Order from around the world who were angry because we were so public. We took criticism because we knew we were doing the right thing. We admit that we did not always get it right, but we did develop procedures to make sure that the public was safe. When we were wrong, we refined the procedures. 

I want you to know that we are working very hard to give you what we can financially; we are not afraid to make sacrifices. Our situation is that we not only have a personal vow of poverty, but the Province of St. Barbara has practiced corporate poverty for many decades; this means that we just have not built up a lot of assets. In addition, we do not have a lot of insurance. Since 1989, we have already spent $12 million because of this crisis: therapy for victims, review boards, aftercare for the friars, settlements, retreats, legal fees. We have sold SAS to help with the funding; we have also sold all of our property that is not aligned to some ministry or formation of new friars. To complicate matters, we have over 100 friars who are 65 years of age and older. We have to provide for their care since they have no other means. They took the vow of poverty and in return the Order promised to take care of them until they died.  

How are we going to do this? We are still committed to do the best we can too meet your needs as well as the needs of the 11 claimants we have in the Northwest. 

I want to conclude by telling you that not all the friars are bad people; the great majority of men are good men doing good work. You probably know many of them who did not hurt you. But we all carry the sin of our brothers. St. Francis was first and foremost a reconciler. He went about brining healing to all those who needed it. As followers of St. Francis, we want to do the same for you. Again, I apologize to you and I beg your forgiveness.