Archbishop of Omaha speaks about safety, transparency amid recent abuse scandals

Nebraska News

OMAHA, Neb. (KETV) – Seated in his office at the Archdiocese of Omaha chancery, Archbishop George Lucas called this a time for clarity in the direction of the Catholic Church.

“It’s a moment of sorrow for the sins of the past,” Lucas said, “but it’s also a moment of grace. It’s a moment to be more clear about not only what’s happened in the past but also the responsibilities we have, the opportunities we have in the present.”

Lucas said it has been important over the past year for him to find opportunities to listen to parishioners amid recent abuse scandals in the state’s Catholic community.

“What I’m hearing very clearly from people is that they want a level of transparency,” Lucas said.

That transparency came into question over the past year.

In September 2018, the Nebraska attorney general asked the dioceses in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island to hand over records related to abuse from the past four decades.

Subsequently, the Archdiocese of Omaha publicly released information on dozens of clergy accused of alleged abuse and misconduct, sending shock waves through some metro area parishes.

Then in February, the attorney general subpoenaed information from the Omaha and Lincoln dioceses.

Lucas said the Archdiocese of Omaha had already turned over thousands of pages of information to the attorney general’s office. He said the Archdiocese of Omaha believes some of the information requested, such as medical records and confidential files, cannot legally be released.

“The dioceses and the Attorney General have been working with the court here in Nebraska to come to a resolution of this,” Lucas said, “and so if the court tells us that it’s OK to turn those things over, then we’re prepared to do that immediately.”

Lucas said he understands that people expect clergy to be held to a higher standard of conduct.

“We’re becoming more conscious, I think the whole society is, that there are other kinds of behavior that are either offensive or really hurtful that may not be criminal, may not rise to the level of a crime,” Lucas said, “So I think our people are telling us…it’s not enough to say, ‘Well that’s not criminal. The person’s not guilty of criminal behavior, and so that as a result, he’s suitable for ministry’,” Lucas said.

In his own day-to-day work, Lucas said he looks to balance his role as a leader with his pastoral calling.

“I think there’s been criticism in the past of leaders in the church who have been more focused on structures and on policies and not listening to people, especially those who have been hurt. And there’s no reason why we can’t do both,” Lucas said.

According to Lucas, the Archdiocese of Omaha will very soon publish a new, more detailed code of conduct.

Lucas also pointed to the safe environment training that all clergy and employees and some church volunteers complete.

His message to parishioners now is simple.

“It’s an opportunity for me to apologize in the name of the church to someone who has been hurt, and it’s an incentive for me and other church leaders to really commit ourselves to creating safe environments,” Lucas said.

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