We Have Heard You, We Believe You, We Affirm You

April 24th 2019
Bishop Robert F. Vasa


We Have Heard You, We Believe You, We Affirm You  

I noted in my January article, which included a long list of priests accused of sexual misconduct with youth, that I would give a periodic update. While the topic of the sexual abuse of children is painful it cannot be avoided. As I noted then: “My primary goal in releasing the names of accused priests and deacons who served in Santa Rosa in this public fashion is to give to all the victims of clerical sexual abuse the assurance that they have been heard and that the Church is very much concerned for their well-being and healing. It is my deepest prayer and hope that this release of names in a consolidated fashion says to any of you who are victims, we have heard you, we believe you, we affirm you in your trauma and we want to help with a healing process.”

            Since that release of names in January there have been two additions and one change. After the January listing an accusation was brought against Wilfred L. Sheehy who died in 2014. There had been no previous allegations against him. Also added was Joseph (Jesse) Gutierrez, who was formerly a Religious Brother, but at the time of the accusation had already left his religious community. He was not included in our files as an employed Religious. These two additions are coupled with a change regarding Celestine Quinlan who died in 1970. In January we reported that there were no allegations against Quinlan but, following the revelation of his name an accusation was brought forward for the time he served in the Diocese of Santa Rosa. Additional victims have come forward as a result of seeing the names of accused priests listed in January and this is a sign to us that the desired effect, that is, providing a path to healing, is actually occurring.

            A number of Dioceses in the United States have retained the services of Professional Firms to design, implement and administer Victims’ Compensation Programs to facilitate the submission, evaluation, and settlement of individual claims of sexual abuse of a minor. After consultation with the Diocesan Review Board and other Diocesan Committees it has been decided that the Diocese of Santa Rosa will oversee its own “in-house” Victims’ Compensation Program. The Professional Firms rely on the Diocese to provide initial victim information. Since we already have some form of connection with those who will be served by such an outreach and since we have often provided counseling and compensation to those who have come forward, an “in-house” approach was preferred. The Diocese will work with victims and counselors to review the eligibility of individual claims and, if applicable, the determination of an appropriate compensation.

            While the Diocese has consistently provided counseling and compensation for victims, even when the statute of limitations has expired, this Program is intended to provide an ordered pathway by which counseling and compensation can be requested and provided. It is a sign of the ongoing willingness of the Diocese of Santa Rosa to deal with the serious problems which have occurred in the past. At the same time the ongoing outreach to victims of child abuse by Church personnel serves as a constant reminder for us in the Church that we cannot and will not diminish our vigilance in regard to the present safety of children. It is my founded hope that the Protocol prepared by the Diocese will strengthen the message to victims of childhood sexual abuse that: we have heard you, we believe you, we affirm you in your trauma and we want to help with a healing process.

            Victims who desire to receive an explanatory packet are asked to call: Julie Sparacio, Victim Assistance Coordinator, Diocese of Santa Rosa (707) 566-3308 or email to JSparacio@SRDiocese.org.

            The Easter Season, like the Lenten Season, spans a period of seven weeks, forty days between the Resurrection and the Ascension and an additional ten from the Ascension to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. During these days of rejoicing and hope, I pray that the many victims of childhood sexual abuse may find in the Church a safe refuge and through the Church a path to healing and peace. We continue to hold the intention of healing and reconciliation in our daily prayers throughout the entire Diocese of Santa Rosa.