Virginia dioceses pledge to cooperate with attorney general

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Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. Credit: SeanPavone/Shutterstock

In a statement released last Wednesday and repeated at Masses over the weekend, Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington and Bishop Barry C. Knestout of the Diocese of Richmond pledged that they would cooperate with an investigation into clerical sexual abuse of minors in the state.


Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced the investigation Wednesday, Oct. 24, together with a state police hotline and web form for the public to report accusations of abuse.


“Any instance of child sexual abuse is intolerable and gravely immoral,” read the statement from the Catholic bishops of Virginia.


“We hope that this process will bring healing for all victims and confirm our commitment to accountability and justice.”


Burbidge and Knestout said they had both met with victims and seen the effect “unforgettable” abuse had throughout a person’s life. Both bishops said that they valued the opportunity to meet with survivors and to “support them in their journey toward healing.”


In September, prior to the announcement of Herring’s investigation, both the Diocese of Arlington and the Diocese of Richmond issued press releases saying they would conduct a review of all diocesan clergy files. Additionally, the bishops said that they would be releasing a list of all clergy with “credible and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse against a minor” made against them.


While this process remains ongoing, the bishops said they would “ensure it does not impede the attorney general’s investigation.”


Currently, policy in both dioceses requires allegations of the sexual abuse of minors to be reported to the police. The allegations are also presented to a majority-lay diocesan review boards in both dioceses.


Clergy, along with parish staff and volunteers who work with children, are now trained on how to identify “suspicious behavior” and how to report allegations of abuse.


The two bishops encouraged anyone aware of any sort of misconduct or abuse invovling either a member of the clergy or staff associated with the dioceses to both call the police and call the state’s clerical abuse hotline.


Victims of abuse were asked to contact their diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator to arrange a meeting with their bishop, to make a formal complaint against their abuser, and to receive pastoral and emotional support.


Priests across the two dioceses read a statement at all Masses over the weekend about both the investigation as well as the dioceses’ promises to cooperate in full.

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