RICHMOND, Va. — 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.