“Survivors first” was the overriding theme of the first meeting of the Sex-Abuse Task Force established by Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger to focus on ways to support survivors and review and reform diocesan policy and protocols. The meeting, held May 16 at Siena College, set the groundwork for how the Task Force will operate in the months to come and the overarching goals and challenges.

The 11-member Task Force was joined by Bishop Scharfenberger as well as two diocesan directors who offered presentations on key topics: updating the diocesan Code of Conduct and reviewing diocesan protocols for announcing sex abuse allegations and/or the removal of a priest. Those two discussions spurred the establishment of the Task Force’s first two committees: Code of Conduct Committee and the Survivors First: Support and Response Committee.

Giovanni Virgiglio, diocesan chancellor and superintendent of schools, facilitated the meeting, which focused on core values such as truth, justice, honesty, gratitude, trust, healing, collaboration and more. The Task Force includes survivors who bring a critical perspective to the work of the group.

Bishop Scharfenberger told the group that he sees survivors as the “suffering face of Christ,” an integral part of our community, and knows that these wounded healers can help lead us forward.

“What I’m learning is how many people have suffered in silence. Any time I talk to a group of people, I’m aware that about 30% have been directly impacted by some kind of abuse,” he said. “People are suffering. We have an opportunity to identify that suffering, to speak its name — as ugly and as evil as it is — and to make ways of restoring connections.”

Restorative justice is a major focus of the work to be done by the Task Force, along with ongoing support for survivors. Bishop Scharfenberger stressed that in any allegation and investigation, “we are dealing with a real person who has come forward courageously and whose needs go far beyond due process.”

The Task Force is scheduled to meet again in late June. Committees will begin their work immediately. Anyone who has questions about the work of the Task Force should email taskforce@rcda.org.