LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - A disturbing grand jury report out of Pennsylvania is hitting close to home for the Diocese of Lexington. The recent report involves hundreds of priests, and more than 1,000 victims of alleged sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
The former leader of the Diocese of Lexington, Bishop Ronald Gainer, surfaced in the abuse findings, and is accused of asking the Vatican to protect two accused priests.
"The efforts to protect the institution were widespread," explained Lexington Bishop John Stowe, who says he hasn't had recent contact with his predecessor.
"No I have not had a chance to talk to Bishop Gainer," said Stowe, "Our first concern is for the victims. We also go around with the shame of knowing that leadership in our church has failed to respond adequately to victims and allowed abuse to go on."
However, Stowe has reached out to Lexington parishioners, condemning both the abuse and cover-ups that followed.
"Our church is bigger than just the sins of some of its members. So, we have to focus on the good that we're doing and hear the cries of the victims, and respond to those as best as we can," said Stowe.
That response, and ones like it from other church leaders in Kentucky, is falling short for some in the Catholic community, like members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. A leader with the Kentucky chapter tells WKYT that if the church wants to stop the abuse,
it has to change the language used to describe it.
"They mischaracterize actions of these priests. They call them, sometimes, as an 'inappropriate contact or talk about boundary issues," said Cal Pfeiffer with the victim's advocacy group. "As opposed to what's happening, which is raping and sodomizing young children."
Pfeiffer says he believes church leaders continue to promote a culture of cover-ups by moving accused priests to rural parts of Kentucky after allegations emerge. While the scope of church related abuse in Kentucky is hard to understand, Pfeiffer says a website keeps track of many allegations. According to the website, more than 100 Kentucky church leaders have been linked to abuse allegations, which dates back over several decades.
When it comes to building trust and transparency, Bishop Stowe guarantees parishioners that he will never aid in the cover-up of abuse. "Absolutely, that's a promise on my part," he said. "It does keep popping up and sadly we're facing it once again, but ever since 2002 we've had safe environment procedures in place."
Stowe says those procedures include a screening process for priests and anyone involved in church ministries. He says the Lexington Dioceses also regularly require workshops for church leaders and administrators on spotting signs of abuse.
They also have a victim's assistance line to report abuse, that was set up in 2002 and is still operating. Stowe says the church will contact law enforcement, and allegations will not be a matter handled solely withing church leadership.
The Lexington Diocese has also been instructed to report older cases to law enforcement in addition to any new allegations.