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Archive of January 6, 2004

Audit says significant improvement in sex abuse cases, but more changes are needed

Washington D.C., Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - The results of the audit of the dioceses and eparchies of the United States, which was called for by the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, was released on Tuesday at 10:00 AM (Eastern Time), during a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

The review found 90% of the 195 U.S. dioceses were fully complying with the plan drafted by the bishops in Dallas on June, 2002, but made several recommendations regarding how to improve the prevention of child abuse by priests and Church personnel.

The audit was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection and was performed by the Gavin Group of Boston, a firm led by a former FBI official.

Present at the press conference were Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Kathleen McChesney, Executive Director of the USCCB's Office of Child and Youth Protection; William Gavin, President of the Gavin Group; as well as William R. Burleigh and Ray H. Siegfried II, both members of the National Review Board.

McChesney defended the independence and accuracy of the audit, saying investigators spoke with people outside the Church. 54 auditors, most of them former FBI investigators, visited 191 Catholic dioceses and eparchies throughout the United States from June through November, in teams of two to six auditors for on-sight visits of approximately one week.

According to Gavin, 131 instructions and 297 recommendations were issued. At the time all of the information was sent for printing, 157 of the 191 dioceses and eparchies had addressed all outstanding recommendations and instructions. 34 dioceses and eparchies still have instructions and recommendations in the process of remediation, among them the Archdioceses of New York, Anchorage and Omaha.

Improvements and Weaknesses

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

In addition, 95 percent of the dioceses and eparchies have participated in the research study on the “nature and scope” of the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

But the areas in which dioceses and eparchies seemed to have the most difficulty 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.

“The reasons for these weaknesses are attributed to the difficulties in providing outreach to victims-survivors who are involved in Litigation, the identification of suitable training programs and instructors, and, in many instances, limited personnel, resources or training,” she explained.

The 388-page document contains a brief summary report of each diocese and eparchy audited as well as general recommendations in 9 areas, and 52 recommendations specifically related to the implementation of the Charter.

The first of them is that a mechanism be established and implemented to audit the participation of the 19,000 parishes in the implementation of the charter because children and young people are most involved in church activities at the parish level.

The bishops' response

During his intervention, Bishop Gregory said that in the Charter “the Bishops enacted not only the steps to confront the tragic and terrible problem of sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy. We also created the means to assure its implementation. The audit results represent solid progress on the journey toward fulfilling the vision set out in the Charter. I believe that these findings show that we bishops are keeping our word.”

“However,” he added, “the completion of the audit and this report does not tempt us to be complacent. The Report now becomes a source of learning about how to build on what we are already doing well and about what more we need to do to protect children and young people.”

“In the memorable words of history’s most eloquent statesman, we have not reached the end, or even the beginning of the end, but ‘perhaps, the end of the beginning’,” he concluded.

A second study, also commissioned by the bishops, is scheduled to be released February 27. It will attempt to tally every church abuse case in the country since 1950.

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Christianity gazes upon the world with great affection, Pope says on feast of the Epiphany

Vatican City, Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - Recalling his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II said today, during the feast of the Epiphany, that Christianity does not feel estranged from the world even if the world feels estranged from Christianity.

Speaking during the Angelus prayer, Pope John Paul said: “The star, which guides the Magi to Christ, recalls the rich symbolism of the light, very present at Christmas. God is light and the Word become man is the ‘light of the world’, the light that guides the people’s path: Lumen gentium.”

The Pope recalled Pope Paul VI’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land 40 years ago and the words of peace, which he proclaimed there on Jan. 6, 1964, in Bethlehem, in the Basilica of the Nativity.

“‘We gaze upon the world with great affection. If the world feels estranged from Christianity, Christianity does not feel estranged from the world’,” he said, quoting Paul VI.  “And he added that the mission of Christianity for humanity is a mission of friendship, of understanding, of encouragement… a mission, namely, of salvation,” the 83-year-old pontiff summarized.

It is from this place, where the Prince of Peace was born, that Paul VI “exhorted the leaders of nations to work in ever closer collaboration ‘to establish peace in truth, in justice, in liberty and in fraternal love’,” he added. It is with great affection, the Pope said, that he has taken Paul VI’s words as his own on this feast of the Epiphany.

The Pope then invoked the intercession of Mary, whom he called “the star of the pilgrim people of our time.”

“With the maternal help of the Virgin, may each man meet Christ, Light of the truth, and may the world advance on the way to justice and peace,” he concluded.

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Denver in full compliance, commended by national review officers

Denver, Colo., Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - The Archdiocese of Denver announced today that audit-investigators found the archdiocese not only to be in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, but also progressive in their actions regarding sexual abuse. 

“We are encouraged by the three commendations the Archdiocese of Denver received from the audit-team investigators,” said the official statement, issued by the archdiocese by the day of the release of a national report that examines how well each of the 195 U.S. dioceses are handling the issue. 

The commendations were awarded for an updated and comprehensive sexual misconduct policy, dating back to 1991; for the appointment of a senior advisor to the archbishop and liaison to the national Office of Child and Youth Protection; for the archdiocese’s proactive handling of background checks and evaluations, and for an effective diocesan system of communicating about sexual abuse issues.

Despite its perfect evaluation, the archdiocese said it would continue to actively address the grave issue of sexual abuse in the Church.  It intends to expand its Safe Environment Training Program, which it began in the fall, throughout the archdiocese to help clergy, lay employees, volunteers and parents identify, prevent and report child sexual abuse. 

“This program will be an important part of our Church’s life into the future,” said the statement.

For more information about the audit and the Archdiocese of Denver Code of Conduct, go to www.archden.org/childyouthprotection

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Philadelphia archdiocese to implement audit recommendations "immediately"

Philadelphia, Pa., Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - In a recently released pastoral letter, Cardinal Justin Rigali said the Archdiocese of Philadelphia “immediately initiated steps to fulfill the recommendations” regarding sexual abuse by priests made by auditors, who visited the archdiocese last September. A letter from the auditors, dated Nov. 12, confirmed that the archdiocese took the necessary steps and "is now in full compliance” with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, reported the Associated Press.

The auditors’ visit was part of a review conducted across the U.S. in all Catholic dioceses to determine how well bishops have been implementing the new policies regarding sexual abuse by priests, adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002.

Auditors had recommended that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia keep track of priests, who have been removed from ministry, and provide sex-abuse training and materials "in the various languages of parishioners." In addition, it recommended that it work with a seven-member board "to expedite resolution of remaining procedural issues to satisfy its commitment to bring prompt and just closure to outstanding allegations."

However, in his pastoral letter, Cardinal Rigali underlined that auditors found the archdiocese to be in "basic compliance" with the charter in having sex-abuse review boards, formal procedures for responding to abuse complaints, background checks on clergy and lay workers, and staff training on identifying abuse.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released today the full results of the audit of all 195 U.S. dioceses. The audit only evaluated actions taken since U.S. bishops adopted the sex-abuse charter in June 2002. Philadelphia released its audit in advance, as did other dioceses.

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'Catholic Almanac' turns 100

Denver, Colo., Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - The Catholic Almanac is marking its 100th anniversary this year with the publication of its 2004 edition.

Edited by “Our Sunday Visitor”, the Catholic Almanac has come a long way since its first issue in 1904, which featured 64 pages, including a calendar and articles on prayer and devotion. Then called St. Anthony’s Almanac, its primary purpose was to teach about the 13th-century Franciscan, St. Anthony of Padua.

It became more of a general-purpose Church almanac in 1931, when the editors decided to publish "a factual handbook of basic and current information on matters pertaining to the Catholic Church and its members."

Today, the almanac provides extensive facts and figures about the universal Church. It includes a lengthy history of Catholicism, information on each pope, biographies of U.S. bishops and cardinals, data on all U.S. dioceses, explanations of Church doctrine, a Catholic glossary, and contact information for Catholic colleges, universities, retreat houses and organizations.

The almanac has been under the editorial leadership of Dr. Matthew Bunson since 1998. He succeeded Fr. Felician Foy, who had been editor for 45 years.

In the 2004 edition, readers will be interested to learn that the U.S. Catholic population grew by more than 1.1 million people in 2003. Catholics now total 66,407,105, representing 22.8 percent of the U.S. population. In addition, more than one million babies were baptized in the U.S. and 449 priests were ordained last year. 

About 10,000 copies of the almanac are published annually. The 2004 issue sells for $24.95 USD.

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Chilean diocese saddened by brutal murder of two women during Mass

Santiago, Chile, Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - The Bishop of Valparaíso expressed his grief and condolences to the families of two women who were killed last Friday while they were attending Mass in a local parish.

In a press release the diocese described the attack which took place in the parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Quilpué.   Gabriel Páez, a local police officer, entered the church as Mass was being celebrated and shot his ex-wife Jennifer Araya and her mother, Leonor Viot.  He then attempted to kill himself but parishioners wrestled him to the ground and held him until authorities arrived.

“We are filled with anguish by what has occurred, and we especially wish to express our closeness to the families of the victims, the faithful, and the people of the city of Quilpué in their grief, assuring them of our prayers,” said the statement.

The Bishop also expressed his concern for the family of the policeman.

“We are certain, trusting in the mercy of God, that these sisters of ours, after having participated in Holy Mass, were welcomed into the arms of our Eternal Father,” the text concludes.

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Moving Christmas message by Catholic Cuban dissident made public

Havana, Cuba, Jan 6, 2004 (CNA) - The national coordinator of the Varela Project and president of the Christian Liberation Movement, Oswaldo Payá, published a message to his fellow countrymen asking them to return to the commemoration of Christmas as a celebration of faith in Jesus.

Payá recalled that the Christmas holiday was restored in the country five years ago, but he lamented that the Christian spirit of the holiday is still absent from many Cuban homes.

According to the well-known dissident, after years of repression Cubans are still fearful of openly expressing Christmas wishes to one another, but fear is not “the only factor in this omission.” 

“The true meaning of Christmas can only be understood when it is celebrated and lived from the fullness of the faith,” Payá said, pointing to the large numbers of faithful that attended Christmas Eve Mass.

He said that many Cubans feel Jesus, “born in poverty in Bethlehem,” is saying something to them.

“Most certainly the churches were crowded with people looking for something different than the diversion of rum and beer.  People were waiting to hear words of hope and love.  The great dilemma is whether or not they encountered that word which would make them change the direction of their lives,” Payá said.

In this sense, he said that “if people are afraid, it is because they have not encountered Jesus, and it would be difficult for them to wish someone a Merry Christmas.  If they claim to be celebrating Christmas as Christians and they just focus on the special meal, the tree, or the disappointment of not having these things, then the true meaning of the celebration will be equally missing and Jesus will still be absent from the lives of these people.”

He echoed the words of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana, who told the faithful that “whoever tragically says that on this occasion he or she cannot express joy or happiness does not know the fullness of the Christian message, much less what Jesus comes to bring us.”

Payá said “Christmas will always exist” and “it doesn’t need to be authorized by official decree, because even though laws are passed which allow for its celebration, it is a feast that comes from the heart and not from legislation.”

“If one’s heart is empty, full of despair, estranged from God and full of banality, then there cannot be a true celebration of Christmas.  It’s not fear that prevents one from expressing Christmas greetings, but rather not knowing the God who is love, forgiveness and freedom.  He that knows Jesus and is committed to following Him will not easily be kept from living Christmas and wishing a Merry Christmas to all,” he concluded.

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