The National Review Board (NRB) on Thursday made public its five-year report on the American church’s handling of clergy sexual abuse of minors. The board found that the bishops’ overall approach has been “strong”, but that there still remains much work to be done.
The report, addressed to U.S. Catholics, describes itself as “a record of accomplishments, unfinished work, and challenges that lie ahead.”
The National Review Board is a lay body that was established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in response to the sexual abuse crisis among clergy.
The report found praiseworthy the USCCB audit process that examines dioceses and eparchies to ensure that they are following the standards of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the bishops created in 2002. “Those audits provide substantial evidence of the bishops’ efforts to protect children and respond to the abuses of the past and present,” the report said.
As of 2006, 98 percent of the dioceses and eparchies are participating in the audits. According to the report, those audited are in “full compliance” with auditing standards.
Judge Michael R. Merz, National Review Board chair, commented on the report.
“Church efforts for prevention, healing, and vigilance will be demanded for the rest of our days,” Judge Merz said. “The price of this crime is steep both in the pain felt by victims and the shadow cast on the reputation of innocent Catholic priests. Most priests never have abused a child or even someone’s trust in them, but they bear shame by association. It’s not right, but that’s the fact.”
“Bishops have taken a strong approach to dealing with this crisis,” Judge Merz said. “Sexual abuse of children is not a problem in the church alone, but bishops as moral leaders must stand in the forefront of protecting children. The NRB is proud to collaborate with the bishops in the protection of children and young people.”
The report cited six “extremely complex issues” that needed to be addressed.
Citing discussions with victims, the report stressed the need for greater understanding of victimization and its consequences. Parishioners do not know how to respond to victims and their families. Parishes themselves even become secondary victims of sexual abuse, since their members feel outraged or betrayed over sexual abuse accusations.
Priests “feel alienated from both the bishops and the laity” because of the scandal, and lack appropriate protection and processes for restoration if they are accused and later found innocent.
According to the report, greater speed is needed in determining both the credibility of allegations and the consequent responses. The appropriate role for the Church in the supervision of offenders is still undetermined.
The NRB said church members needed to be kept better informed on the positive responses the bishops had made, and more active observers of anti-abuse programs were needed. The NRB also said its work was strengthened by “vigilant parents and parishioners” who investigate the quality of parish and diocesan programs.
To this end, the report reminded Catholics that their help was necessary: “The obligation to provide safe environments that prevent damage to children, young people, families, parishes, dioceses, and the Church rests with all Catholics.”