Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., is seen during the annual 2016 fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore. Bishop Checchio announced Aug. 7 he is bringing together a senior team of advisers to examine the diocese's processes for reporting abuse. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)
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METUCHEN, N.J. (CNS) -- Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio told Catholics in his diocese Aug. 7 he continues "to be saddened and ashamed" by reports of "the abhorrent events we have been learning about in regard to Archbishop McCarrick -- and I know you must be, too."
He was referring to allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct lodged at Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, a former cardinal and retired archbishop of Washington, who was named the first bishop of the newly created Metuchen Diocese in 1981.
Bishop Checchio, who has been Metuchen's bishop for just over two years, made the comments in an open letter posted on his diocese's website.
"Our efforts to evangelize, and spread the good news of Christ, have been hobbled by these atrocities," he said. "I am praying for all those who have been hurt and praying that God's mercy will bring healing and consolation. My heart also breaks for our faithful people, and the clergy and religious of our diocese, as we face another tragic situation within the church that we love.
"Nonetheless, I am grateful that the processes the church has in place regarding child sexual abuse have been shown to work."
Bishop Checchio said the case of Archbishop McCarrick "demonstrates that the culture of the church is changing and that no one is exempt from its censure -- regardless of a person's rank or status, or the number of years that have passed since an incident occurred."
He emphasized that he continues to anyone who has been abused to report the situation to law enforcement officials. "The diocese stands poised and ready to help any who have been abused," the bishop added.
He said he is also working to address "how we can ensure that similar abuses, especially of seminarians or young priests, would not happen again, particularly by those in positions of authority over them." Former seminarians have accessed Archbishop McCarrick of sexual abuse and harassment.
Bishop Checchio said he has begun "to bring together a senior team of advisers to examine reporting processes."
"Clearly, the safety of an independent reporting structure that allows for anyone to bring an allegation forward without the fear of retribution of any kind is needed," he said. "Accountability on all levels helps to ensure that a healthy, wholesome environment prevails to form and train our future priests.
"I know that I do not have to reiterate to the people of this diocese that proper priestly formation is central to renewal in the life of the church."
He noted that the Metuchen Diocese is "seeing a new springtime with men studying for the priesthood."
"We are blessed with the most seminarians we have had in 25 years. They are good men, striving to make over their hearts like the Good Shepherd's own caring heart," he said.
These young men "seek to join in this life of service to God and his people at a time when it would be easy to ignore the call and choose another path," the bishop continued. "Yet, they choose to listen to the quiet call of the Lord, asking them to 'follow me' just as our Lord asked the apostles two thousand years ago."
He thanked God and diocesan Catholics for their support of "these dedicated young men in their response to God's call in these challenging times."
Bishop Checchio opened his letter by calling the people of the Metuchen Diocese "an inspiration" and he is strengthened by their generosity to help build up the church and "meet so many needs."
He asked for their prayers "as the church faces so many challenges in our world today." But he added: "In the midst of the trials we currently face ... Christ is still at work in his church!"