Fr. Mark Statement on the Illinois Attorney General Report

Dear Notre Dame family:

The Illinois Attorney General report was released this week. The report shows the wickedness and atrocity laid out by leaders in the Church. I remember when the Pennsylvania AG report came out back in 2018. I had been just ordained a priest and remember preaching on the abuse at all the Masses the weekend following the report.  I remember feeling the pain that was inflicted upon so many as I did my best to reaffirm the need for the Church to continue to root out this evil as best as she could.

The Illinois report covered the clergy sexual abuse of minors in the six Catholic dioceses in the state. The people of God, who trusted their priests to be good shepherds like Christ, saw that some of their leaders were wolves in priests’ clothing. I want to once again reaffirm to the people of God, especially all of you here at Notre Dame, that the Diocese of Joliet, along with myself as your pastor, will always do our best to protect the people of God—most importantly our children and vulnerable adults.

I direct you to Bishop Hicks’ statement as well as his video. In Bishop’s statement, he talks about the steps taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and our own diocese to eradicate sexual abuse within our churches.  These steps include making all clergy, parish staff, and volunteers undergo criminal background checks, train as mandated reporters, and learn how to be able to prevent, identify, and report sexual abuse.  All allegations are required to be reported directly to civil authorities and credible, substantiated claims lead to the immediate removal of all from active ministry, including priests. The number of credible allegations reported against clergy nationwide has decreased from a high of 162 in the five-year period from 1970-1974 to four in 2021. Here in Joliet, there have only been two substantiated cases in the past 17 years.

Two cases are still too many, but I believe that the Church is continuing to make great strides in eradicating child sex abuse within her leadership. From the time I went through seminary to now, the Church has continued to improve and strengthen its measures in protecting the Church from further abuses.  Currently, any man considering a vocation to the priesthood must undergo an extensive psychological evaluation before even being accepted, with another evaluation being conducted during his time in seminary. On top of that, each seminarian receives yearly evaluations which look in-depth not only into his academic and spiritual life, but also into his human and pastoral relationships. These measures, along with many others, have the capacity to quickly flag any potential issues in a candidate for the priesthood.  

Let us continue to pray for the Church and her success to eradicate such sin within her leadership; let us pray for those who have been abused by leaders of the Church; and, as hard as it is to say, but as Christ compels us, let us pray also for those who have committed or sought to cover up these heinous acts of abuse—that our Church may be freed from the scourge of such scandals and be flooded with the healing and selfless love of Christ.  

In Christ, 

Rev. Mark J. Bernhard