FAIRBANKS - The bishop of the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese published an open letter apologizing to victims of sexual abuse by church representatives.
In a full-page advertisement in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on Sunday, Bishop Donald Kettler offered to bring healing to those harmed by child sexual abuse and to update the diocese efforts to prevent abuse from happening again.
"For any actions contrary to the mission of the Catholic Church by representatives of the Diocese of Fairbanks, I am sincerely sorry and will pray and work for the emotional and spiritual healing of those affected," Kettler wrote in the letter.
Kettler said Monday he wrote the letter because the diocese wanted to tell people about educational efforts being made to prevent future abuse.
Kettler said he also wanted to let any victims know that he is still open to work toward healing.
"I reiterate my promise to offer counseling to anybody who would seek it," he said.
More than 90 claims of child sexual abuse have been made against priests or volunteers of the Fairbanks diocese in the past three years. Victims accuse the church knowingly placing abusive staff out of sight in western Alaska.
Kettler said his letter was not prompted by a resolution passed at Alaska Federation of Natives convention in October. The resolution demanded that church leaders of all religious institutions acknowledge the harm of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy and acknowledge the failure to protect children.
The resolution also asked that the church stop hindering the criminal and civil prosecution of men who abused children and people who covered up the crimes.
The resolution was written by Elsie Boudreau of Anchorage, who in March reached a $1 million settlement in a child sexual abuse lawsuit against the Rev. Jim Poole, a Jesuit priest who founded radio station KNOM in Nome.
Defendants also included the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese and the Jesuits of Alaska and the Oregon Province.
Kettler acknowledged the concerns.
"Certainly that touched me," he said. "We want to have healing for victims of sexual abuse."
Kettler said his letter had been planned long before the AFN convention.
Kettler said the diocese also is developing protective policies for people age 60 and above and other vulnerable adults.
The letter explains the development of the diocese's child sexual abuse policy and the establishment of an advisory review board.
The letter said priests, deacons, religious, volunteers and employees, have received ongoing education for the prevention of child abuse and have submitted to criminal background checks.
Kettler said 998 young people have received safe environment training in church programs and the Catholic schools.
Boudreau said it was good that Kettler was responding to issues brought up at the AFN convention.
"All of this is nice words, but I know they (clergy) have a way of dealing with this in-house as they have for centuries," she said.
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