The release of three news studies in priestly sexual abuse in early 2004 means the U.S. bishops will face “hard and sad times ahead,” said Bishop Wilton Gregory of Chicago, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishop made this comment on the closing day of the USCCB semi-annual general meeting yesterday.
The first study by the National Review Board, due Jan. 6, is an audit of how each diocese has fared in its compliance with the charter to protect children and youth, which the bishops adopted in June 2002.
The second study, to be released Feb. 27, is causing the most anxiety among the bishops. It was conducted by criminologists at John Jay College, based on interviews with bishops, victims and offenders and it includes all of the known allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests in the past 50 years.
Bishops have expressed concern that false accusations would be lumped in with real ones, that no distinction would be made between sex crimes and conduct that was inappropriate but not illegal, and that the responses of 50 years ago would be judged by the standards of today.
Anne Burke, an Illinois appellate court judge who is interim chair of the review board, praised the bishops' co-operation, saying that 82 per cent of 195 dioceses had completed their surveys by mid-September.
Archbishop Harry Flynn, chair of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, said grants are being sought for a much deeper $4-million scientific study of the causes and context of the abuse and a national databank of priests who were known offenders. The ad hoc committee also released "a guide for bishops on best practices in pastoral care of victim-survivors" yesterday.