National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  January 16, 2004

At a Jan. 6 news conference in Washington, auditor William A. Gavin explains the results of a nationwide review of diocesan practices and policies mandated by the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People." Looking on is Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection.
-- CNS/Nancy Wiechec
Audit measures activities, not results

Ninety percent of dioceses found compliant with Dallas charter


The first of three church-commissioned reports dealing with clergy sex abuse was almost universally acknowledged to be a positive step, though critics warned that the telephone-book-thick audit of 191 dioceses could engender complacency rather than additional action.

Two additional reports commissioned by the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People will be released in late February.

The first, on the “nature and scope” of the crisis, is being conducted by researchers from New York’s John Jay School of Criminal Justice. Another study, on the “causes of the crisis,” is being prepared by a National Review Board committee chaired by Washington attorney Robert Bennett.

“The audit report released today is a milestone no one should overlook,” author William Gavin told a crowded Jan. 6 Washington news conference.

The audit describes diocesan efforts to meet the objectives of 14 of the “articles” adopted by the bishops in June 2002 as part of their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The bishops pledged to establish diocesan offices to conduct outreach to abuse victims, develop procedures to deal with abuse allegations (including the establishment of local review boards), promote “standards of conduct” for those “who have regular contact with children and young people,” and implement diocesan-wide “safe environment programs.”

Further, the charter committed the bishops to institute background checks for all diocesan employees and volunteers and to restrict transfers of suspected clerical abusers.

The audit results, said Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the bishops’ conference, “represent solid progress on the journey toward fulfilling the vision set out” by the bishops at their June 2002 meeting. “I believe that these findings show that we bishops are keeping our word,” said Gregory.

“The fact that the audit was completed is noteworthy in itself, since it represents the first time bishops and dioceses have opened their doors to the scrutiny of outsiders,” said Sue Archibald, president of Linkup, a victims’ advocacy organization. “This is a commendable step toward accountability -- and a process that we hope will expand and continue.”

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, was critical of the effort, but termed the report a “small step forward.”

National church leaders cautioned that the limited scope of the audit -- the report enumerates diocesan anti-abuse efforts but does not measure their effectiveness -- provides a useful but incomplete tool. “While many people would like to have seen a full accounting of how all bishops dealt with instances of sexual abuse in the past, that was not the focus of this audit,” said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.

“There is no intention to give the impression,” Gregory told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer following the report’s release, that the bishops have “solved the problem.”

Back in their dioceses, however, that was just the impression some were giving. After two years on the defensive, church public relations professionals finally had something with which to work -- a document, one that had the imprimatur of “independence,” that generally lauded the bishops’ efforts.

Two examples from many: “Independent Audit Finds Diocese of Bridgeport in ‘Total Compliance’ with Dallas Charter” is how that Connecticut diocese headlined the findings, though the word “total” is absent from the report. Atlanta church officials, meanwhile, heralded “Full Compliance and Commendation Result from Gavin Group Audit,” though the archdiocese also received a less flattering “recommendation” from the auditors and the adjective “full” was not a modifier employed by the auditors.

Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), speaks at a Jan. 5 news conference in Washington on the eve of the release of the audit of dioceses' compliance with the U.S. bishops' policies on sexual abuse. Behind Blaine is David Clohessy, founder and executive director of SNAP.
-- Rick Reinhard

Victims’ advocates worried the report would be overplayed. “We fear that some bishops will relax their efforts, having now been deemed ‘compliant’ by a couple of retired bureaucrats,” said Blaine. “Having policies and following policies are distinctly different,” she told a Jan. 5 news conference. “It’s crucial to remember that for the past decade or more, almost every Catholic diocese in America had written sex abuse policies. The problem was that they were continually ignored.”

To conduct the audit, more than 50 investigators employed by the Boston-based Gavin Group (many of them former FBI agents) visited 191 of the country’s 195 dioceses. The auditors interviewed local bishops and chancery officials, as well as law enforcement officials, diocesan review board members and some parishioners. A small number of victims and accused clergy also met with investigators.

The audit dealt only with issues that have arisen since the June 2002 approval of the charter.

Bottom line: Ninety percent of U.S. dioceses (171) are in compliance with the charter, while the remaining 10 percent haven’t met all the objectives but generally get good marks for their efforts. More than 180 “commendations” were issued, typically to dioceses that had developed model programs or demonstrated exceptional transparency, while nearly 300 “recommendations” were made. In addition, 131 “instructions” were issued, of which 81 were addressed by the time of the report’s release. (See below.)

“The areas in which dioceses … were most successful in implementing the charter were in selecting competent victims’ assistance coordinators, establishing diocesan review boards, in reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, and not entering into confidentiality agreements with victims unless requested by the victims,” said McChesney.

The areas of “most difficulty,” she continued, were “in conducting meetings with victims-survivors and their families, in identifying and implementing safe-environment training programs, and in establishing codes of conduct for those who have regular contact with youth.” An “external study” will be undertaken “for the purpose of identifying better methods for responding to complaints of sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel,” said McChesney.

Gavin said the auditors were unhindered in their investigation. “We had free rein as to where we could look to find answers to our questions.” Still, on the question of transfers of known abusers, the report noted that auditors were “unable to review personnel files to verify that no priests or deacons in this category had been transferred for ministry, but relied primarily on the information provided by the diocese/eparchy.” Gavin said auditors did not review personnel files due to concerns about privacy.

Meanwhile, in the 18 months since the U.S. bishops adopted broad-based child-protection policies, no one -- not even the authors or underwriters of the $1.8 million audit of diocesan compliance released Jan. 6 -- is certain how many priests have been suspended or removed from ministry due to “credible accusations” of sexual abuse.

McChesney acknowledged that figures on priest suspensions and removals “are something that people want to know” and regretted that “there are no numbers like that.” Future audits, McChesney told the news conference at which the audit report was released, should include information on the number of accused priests and alleged victims as well as the financial costs associated with sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is

Review board's report includes recommendations

The audit of the church’s child protection efforts commissioned by the U.S. bishops contains more than 50 recommendations for additional action. The report said that church leaders should:

  • Implement the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth at the parish level.
  • Increase outreach to victims who have yet to come forward. The church “has a long way to go in that area,” said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops’ Office for Child and Youth Protection.
  • Rate the effectiveness of diocesan “safe environment programs” and provide information on “the number of allegations of sexual abuse reported during that year and the disposition of such cases.”
  • Provide training to local review board members and victims’ assistance coordinators.
  • Repeat the audit process conducted in 2003 this year.
  • Sponsor a study of abuse victims to identify “better methods for responding to complaints of sexual abuse by clergy or other church personnel.”

“We urge the bishops to embrace these recommendations, offered as they are in the spirit of helpfulness, and not to impede the signal progress that has been made,” said Ray Siegfried, chairman of the National Review Board’s audit committee.

-- Joe Feuerherd

Some dioceses lag

The primary cause of noncompliance for the 20 dioceses and eparchies that got a failing grade from the auditors was failure to implement “safe environment programs” -- educational and training initiatives designed to educate children and church personnel on ways to prevent abuse -- or to conduct background checks on church personnel. Among those who flunked one or both of these criteria were the archdioceses of New York, Anchorage, Alaska, and Omaha, Neb., and the dioceses of Arlington, Va., Memphis, Tenn., Richmond, Va., Steubenville, Ohio, and Lincoln, Neb.

Ongoing litigation issues exempted the Davenport, Iowa, diocese from the audit, while “scheduling difficulties” prevented auditors from reviewing the efforts of the diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands and the Armenian Exarchate of New York.

Lincoln diocesan officials released a statement in which they defended their refusal to participate in a study commissioned by the National Review Board to determine the “nature and scope” of the sexual abuse crisis. “That study has been found … to contain inherent flaws that make it an inaccurate instrument, and this is harmful, not helpful, to the proper dealing with the problem of sexual misconduct,” said the statement. The study is being conducted by researchers from New York’s John Jay School of Criminal Justice and will be released in late February.

Five other dioceses, including Fresno, Calif., are not participating in the John Jay study, according to the audit report.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, January 16, 2004

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