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Issue Date:  March 4, 2005

Bishops' report shows widespread diocesan compliance

Victims question effectiveness of child protection programs


In the two-and-a-half years since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called upon its members to implement sex-abuse prevention programs in their local churches, nearly every diocese has done so, but questions about the effectiveness of those efforts remain unanswered.

The Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, released Feb. 18 by the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection, noted that 96 percent of the nation’s 195 dioceses and Eastern Rite eparchies were compliant with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the bishops at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in June 2002.

Between July 26 and mid-December of 2004, the dioceses were visited by representatives of the Gavin Group, a Boston-based firm hired by the bishops’ conference to rate diocesan compliance with the charter. All but one diocese -- Lincoln, Neb. -- participated in the survey.

Three Eastern Rite eparchies and the dioceses of Burlington, Vt., Fresno, Calif., Wheeling-Charleston, W.Va., and Youngstown, Ohio, were found out of compliance with the charter, largely because they either failed to conduct background checks on church employees and volunteers or had not instituted “safe environment programs.”

Among the report’s findings:

  • More than 3,000 victims and their family members received diocesan-sponsored “outreach services” in 2004 and “counseling and spiritual assistance [were] offered by all dioceses.”
  • All audited dioceses “have mechanisms in place” to reports acts of sexual abuse, have a “victim assistance coordinator” on staff, and have established review boards to oversee diocesan handling of sex abuse policies.
  • More than 1.4 million adults and 3.1 million children have received “safe environment training” since June 2002, though nearly 8,000 priests and deacons have yet to receive such training. Background checks on 8 percent of the 34,874 priests subject to them have not been completed.

Compliance with the charter “does not measure the quality of the programs audited,” Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops’ Child and Youth Protection office told the media at the Feb. 18 news conference. Such an evaluation is something the office “is attempting to implement” within the next year, said McChesney.

“Keep in mind that it wasn’t a lack of paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases that caused thousands of priests to rape and sodomize tens of thousands of kids,” said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “So it won’t be paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases that solve this crisis.”

Continued Clohessy, “We owe it to innocent children and vulnerable adults to remember that motion doesn’t equal progress, and that activity doesn’t equal change.”

Meanwhile, the survey of diocesan child-protection policies planned for 2005 will include substantially fewer in-person visits and will rely largely on diocesan self-reporting to measure compliance with the charter. These new procedures were instituted in June 2004, after dozens of bishops privately complained that the surveys were intrusive and costly and that the National Review Board overseeing the process had repeatedly overstepped its bounds (NCR, April 16, 2004).

The new restrictions will not result in less thoroughness, said William Gavin, principal of the Gavin Group. “Every single diocese and eparchy will be audited and the completeness with which it will be done will not be diminished from the past,” said Gavin. “On-site audits will be conducted in some dioceses and eparchies that had unremediated required actions in 2004,” he said, and “a focused on-site audit will take place in dioceses and eparchies where required actions were remediated.” Further, said Gavin, “Verified self-audits will occur in other dioceses and eparchies.”

A copy of the report, and a breakdown of diocesan compliance, can be found on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Web site at

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

Allegations against clergy reported in 2004

Nearly 1,300 allegations of sexual abuse against more than 700 priests and deacons were reported to church officials last year, even as U.S. dioceses and religious orders spent nearly $160 million to settle claims, pay lawyers, train workers in child-abuse prevention and provide services to victims.

Those were among the finding of a survey of dioceses conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). Ninety-three percent of dioceses and eparchies responded to the survey, while 71 percent of orders holding membership in the Conference of Major Superiors of Men did so. The CARA findings were included in the Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Feb. 18.

Most of the allegations concern abuse that occurred decades ago -- with the largest concentration of cases in the late 1960s and early-to-mid 1970s. Half of the diocesan priests and deacons accused in 2004 had been subject to previous accusations, while less than half of those belonging to religious orders had previously been accused. The vast majority of accused clergy were either dead or had been removed from ministry, though 42 priests and deacons remained in active ministry “pending a preliminary investigation of an allegation.” Two percent of the accusations against diocesan clergy were made by children under the age of 18 in 2004, according to CARA, while 6 percent of the allegations were found to be false.

More than three-quarters of the victims were male, while more than half were between the ages of 10 and 14 when the alleged abuse began.

“The crisis of sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic church is not over,” said Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection. “We know this crisis is not over because over 300 reports received in 2004 identified alleged abuses not previously known,” said McChesney. “What is over is the denial that this problem exists and … the reluctance of the church to deal openly with the public about the nature and extent of the problem.”

McChesney urged victims of clergy sex abuse who had yet to come forward to do so, “particularly if your offender might still be in ministry.”

Since 1950, more than 5,000 U.S. priests and deacons faced credible accusations of abuse against nearly 12,000 minors, and the church has paid out more than $730 million in settlements, legal fees and child protection programs.

-- Joe Feuerherd

National Catholic Reporter, March 4, 2005

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