New hotline to report abuse in churches

Local News
The Catholic Dioceses of Arlington and Richmond are reacting to the news of the ongoing investigation by the Attorney General’s office, to determine if clergy in Virginia committed abuses against children and if there were efforts to cover it.
The investigation comes on the heels of the grand jury report finding more than a 1,000 child victims of sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.
It broke my heart to see the extent of the damage done,” Herring said in a press conference. “There is nothing more important than protecting our children.”
Attorney General Mark Herring says the church is cooperating with the investigation.
The Dioceses of Arlington and Richmond says before being contacted by the Attorney General, both dioceses began internal investigations were independent investigators were tasked to review all clergy files. They also “promised to publish a list of all priests and deacons against whom credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been made.”
In a joint statement, the bishops of both dioceses said “Any instance of child sexual abuse is intolerable and gravely immoral. We hope that this process will bring healing for all victims and confirm our commitment to accountability and justice.”
Herring says a number of survivors have already come forward. Many of whom were close to their perpetrator.
“About 90 percent of children who are abused know their abuser,” he said.
There’s hope more survivors of child sexual abuse will come forward. Herring is launching a clergy abuse hotline so callers can report cases of abuse and talk about their experiences with trained professionals. This hotline is for anyone who has experienced abuse from a leader in a faith community, survivors don’t have to be specifically Catholic. There is also an online forum survivors can fill out too.
Charmaine Francois is the outreach coordinator for statewide hotlines. She says a lot of the time when survivors call, it’s the first time they’ve talked.
“They walk around with this pain and this hurt and a lot of times they do not talk to anyone,” she explained.
Francois assures that it’s okay to not share your name too when you’re on the phone.
“But they can call us anytime, with anyone with no one knowing who they are. They don’t even have to give their identity,” she said. “A lot of times people are not ready, so this at least helps them get things off their chest.”
For survivors, Herring said it’s okay to come forward years after abuse.
“It may take a survivor years to come to grips with what they’ve experienced or to identify what they experienced as abuse. But that doesn’t mean their experience is any less important and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take it seriously,” Herring said. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You did not deserve what happened to you and you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your experience and your story are important. And you will be in charge of how that story is shared.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call the clergy abuse hotline at 1-(833)-454-9064 or you can fill out the forum online at www.virginiaclergyhotline.com.

STATEMENT FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL MARK HERRING:

Attorney General Mark R. Herring today launched the Virginia Clergy Abuse Hotline and www.VirginiaClergyHotline.com as part of an ongoing investigation into whether criminal sexual abuse of children may have occurred in Virginia’s Catholic dioceses, and whether leadership in the dioceses may have covered up or abetted any such crimes. The hotline and online reporting form are being launched in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that documented decades of sexual abuse and cover-up by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania. “Like so many Americans, I read the grand jury report on clergy abuse in the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, and I felt sick. It made me sick to see the extent of the damage done, the efforts to cover it up, and the complicity and enabling that went on by powerful people who should have known better and should have done more to protect vulnerable children,” said Attorney General Herring. “We shouldn’t assume the behavior and the problems are limited just to Pennsylvania or to one diocese. If there has been abuse or cover-up in Virginia like there was in Pennsylvania I want to know about it, I want to root it out, and I want to help survivors get justice and get on a path to healing.” The Virginia Clergy Abuse Hotline and www.VirginiaClergyHotline.com will be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to receive reports of abuse by clergy or faith leaders. The toll-free hotline will allow for anonymous reporting and will be staffed by Virginia State Police investigators during regular business hours.

STATEMENT FROM DIOCESE OF RICHMOND & ARLINGTON:

Today, Attorney General Mark Herring publicly announced his office’s investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy in Virginia.  The Diocese of Arlington and the Diocese of Richmond assure the faithful and the public that we are cooperating with the Attorney General’s office. Any instance of child sexual abuse is intolerable and gravely immoral. We hope that this process will bring healing for all victims and confirm our commitment to accountability and justice.

Having met with victims, we know that such abuse is unforgettable and many carry that burden with them throughout their lives. We continue to welcome the opportunity to meet personally with victims, to hear their stories, and to support them in their journey toward healing.

Prior to being contacted by the Attorney General, both dioceses began internal investigative processes using independent investigators tasked with reviewing all diocesan clergy files. We promised to publish a list of all priests and deacons against whom credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor have been made, and we renew that promise. We will continue these efforts and ensure it does not impede the Attorney General’s investigation.

In keeping with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, established in 2002, we report every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor to legal authorities. Each accusation is also brought before a diocesan Review Board, composed mostly of lay people. We thoroughly vet clergy and staff and train them to identify suspicious behavior and report any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. Volunteers who interact with children also go through this process.

We encourage anyone aware of misconduct or abuse on the part of clergy or staff of either diocese to notify legal authorities and utilize the hotline established by the Attorney General: http://www.virginiaclergyhotline.com/  In addition, victims of sexual abuse in the Diocese of Arlington or the Diocese of Richmond are invited to contact the respective diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator who is available to help victims/survivors make a formal complaint of abuse to the diocese, arrange a personal meeting with the bishop or his representative, and to obtain support for the needs of the individual and families.

The diocesan child protection policies are online at:

arlingtondiocese.org/childprotection

https://richmonddiocese.org/child_protection_virtus/

Richmond’s Victim Assistance Coordinator

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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