Clergy sex abuse victims are heard and helped in Omaha archdiocese
April 18, 2019
Victims of clergy sexual abuse can find help and healing in the Archdiocese of Omaha.
They have a faith-filled, compassionate and safe place to turn.
“My first and primary thing, I want them to be heard,” said Mary Beth Hanus, manager of the archdiocese’s Victim Outreach and Prevention Office.
“I always invite them to meet in person. I want to understand what happened, and find ways to help.”
Sometimes victims just want to talk. Others seek counseling, and Hanus has a list of counselors they can choose from, if they wish. The archdiocese pays for the counseling sessions.
Those with an allegation against anyone currently in ministry are encouraged to call police first, or Child Protective Services at 800-652-1999. And every allegation received by the archdiocese, no matter how many years in the past it may have occurred, is reported to law enforcement. If a preliminary investigation by the archdiocese finds an allegation to be credible, any alleged perpetrator still in ministry is removed from ministry until the matter is fully investigated. The preliminary investigation includes an 11-member board of law enforcement, counseling and other professionals reviewing each case and offering recommendations to Archbishop George J. Lucas.
The last time a priest of the archdiocese was removed from ministry was five years ago.
But recent reports of sexual abuse and church cover-ups in Pennsylvania, Australia, Germany, Chile, and other parts of the world have re-opened wounds first exposed in the church’s 2002 sex abuse scandal.
Archbishop Lucas addressed the matter in a letter read at weekend Masses Aug. 25-26, and later in a podcast he spoke at length about the crisis. He acknowledged the scandal and assured people that the archdiocese has a zero-tolerance policy and no priest or deacon currently serving in ministry has had a credible allegation of abusing a minor leveled against him. He encouraged people with concerns to report them, and he included Hanus’ contact information. She can be reached at 402-827-3798 or 888-808-9055.
“Since the archbishop’s letter I have received multiple calls,” Hanus said. Those calling had been hurt by someone in the archdiocese who has died or already been removed from ministry, she said.
“They want to be heard,” she said of the victims. “Some don’t want anything else.”
Two people Hanus helped in the past also contacted her.
“They thanked me for my support and said they were praying for me,” Hanus said, her eyes brimming with tears. “The victim is consoling the advocate.”
The worldwide scandal, which has implicated bishops and cardinals as well as priests, has been tremendously sad, Hanus said.
“I have great sorrow,” she said. “But my faith is unshaken. The sorrow is a recognition that the Body of Christ is hurting so.”
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” she said. “I think the ramifications of this kind of sin are huge. It affects generations of faith. It affects the person who is hurt. If that person is not able to be in full communion with the faith because of what happened to them, what about their children, and their children’s children?”
It also affects the perpetrator’s family, and people who knew and trusted the perpetrator, she said.
The archdiocese has been a national leader in child protection efforts, and every year meets all requirements of the 2002 U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Those requirements include reporting and investigating complaints and ongoing efforts to protect young people through training of youths, clergy, teachers, volunteers and others.
Every year, more than 20,000 children and youth receive safe environment training. Clergy, seminarians, deacon candidates, teachers, archdiocesan employees and volunteers who have contact with children also have safe environment training, are certified under that training and when necessary undergo background checks. Every five years people must be recertified.
The archdiocese’s safe environment training for youths and adults has been adopted by 41 dioceses around the country, and about 10 more are considering it.
But the Pennsylvania grand jury report prompted Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to request archdiocesan clergy records that go back to Jan. 1, 1978. Archdiocesan officials said they will cooperate with the request. Similar requests have been made of the Lincoln and Grand Island dioceses.
Hanus said that kind of accountability is important.
“It’s a difficult but holy ministry,” she said. “We’re not perfect. But I’m confident we’ve done everything we can to protect kids. I wouldn’t stay (here) if I didn’t feel that way.”