San Diego Bishop Expands Diocese’s fight against the Sexual Abuse of Children

SAN DIEGO, Aug. 13, 2019 – Bishop Robert W. McElroy gathered all 2,500-plus employees of the San Diego Catholic Diocese for the first time since it was formed in 1936 to announce an expansion of the fight against the sexual abuse of children not just within the local Church but in the greater society, where most of it occurs.

Reforms the U.S. Catholic Church adopted in the early 2000s have contributed to a dramatic decline in cases of child abuse by clergy. The San Diego diocese has not had a confirmed incident of sexual abuse of a minor by any of its priests in the last 20 years, records show to date.

But much more remains to be done to confront abuse, the Bishop told the employees at the meeting, which was held at the University of San Diego and included presentations by the diocese’s Chancellor, María Olivia Galván, and District Attorney Summer Stephan

The Bishop said that Pope Francis, in a directive issued in May, had challenged bishops worldwide to not merely change procedures, but to personal and institutional transformation to eradicate abuse. He then outlined his plan to drive that transformation at the San Diego diocese.

The Pope challenges “us today to recognize that while the Church’s mission to eliminate sexual abuse must begin with the internal life of the Church and the sin and scandal of clergy sexual abuse, our efforts as disciples of Jesus Christ must also reach into those structures of societal and family life that generate and protect the sexual victimization of minors,” the Bishop said.

The Bishop:

  • Called on every employee of the diocese to report child abuse they suspected was occurring, not just so-called mandated reporters obligated by law to do so, such as teachers and priests.
  • Extended the effort to fight sexual child abuse beyond the Church, calling on all employees to report abuse wherever they suspected it was occurring in the greater society, where most of the crime occurs.
  • Announced the formation of a task force to develop programming to raise awareness among the diocese’s families at schools and parishes of the epidemic of child abuse and what they could do to prevent it and to help its victims to heal.
  • Announced two new policies regarding communication and social media to advance the protection of minors at the diocese. One prohibits all employees, including clergy, from communicating privately with minors they met through their work in the Church without copying their parents or guardians. The other prohibits all employees, also including clergy, to have direct interaction on any personal social media account with any individual minor they met through their work.

These are the latest measures taken by Bishop McElroy in the last year in the wake of investigations in Pennsylvania and New York, as well as revelations in countries around the world, of devastating patterns of clergy sexual abuse of children and a systematic cover-up by bishops for decades.

At the meeting, the Bishop highlighted the moral responsibility each staff member had to fight abuse. He said “one of the most tragic dimensions of our history of sexual abuse” by priests is that when the cases finally were investigated, many coworkers admitted that they had seen very troubling indications of abuse but had kept silent, not wanting to get involved.

“The epidemic of sexual abuse of minors thrives because it operates in the shadows,” he said. “If any of us stand by and do nothing, then the evil of victimization triumphs.”

He noted that sexual abuse of minors overwhelmingly occurs in family and societal life. And that’s why he was calling for employees of the diocese to report abuse regardless of where they suspected it was occurring. And he called for outreach to the families in the diocese to educate them about the scope of the problem, empowering them to act to prevent it and heal the wounds of its victims.

“We cannot erase the horror of the Church’s history, nor can we restore the shattered souls and hearts and lives of those we have been victimized,” the Bishop said. “But we can move forward as Pope Francis calls us to, utterly resolved to continually expel the sexual abuse of minors from he internal life of the Church, and equally resolved to help transform families and society to purge the epidemic of sexual abuse that rages in our midst.”

The full text of Bishop McElroy’s remarks to the employees of the diocese is found at