Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said the pandemic might have had some effects on abuse reporting.
“Behavioral patterns changed, such as wearing face masks and frequent hand washing, and because everyone was home, the opportunity for children and those who were vulnerable to report instances of abuse became difficult,” he said in a letter included in the report.
At the same time, Nojadera said the report shows that charter abuse prevention measures are “working on a national level.”
“Though the Church’s efforts are admirable, constant vigilance is still required and the commitment of the clergy and lay faithful remains necessary,” he said. “The efforts of the Church will hopefully change the culture, and this will only work if everyone follows the rules.”
“The ministries of Safe Environments and Victim Assistance are here to stay,” he added. “The protocols and procedures for letters of suitability, background checks, and safe environment training are the norm. By the grace of God, the Church is working towards being accessible, accountable, and safe.”
Despite improvements in abuse prevention efforts, past instances of clergy abuse continue to be reported by victims.
Of the 4,250 new allegations against clergy tallied in the latest report, only 173 were considered unsubstantiated. 838 were substantiated, 991 were under investigation, and 825 were unable to be proven. Some 1,423 fell into another category, such as referral to a provincial, a diocese, or a compensation fund for evaluation. The allegations came from 3,924 adults and 22 minors.
In 2019, 4,434 total allegations were received, compared to 1,451 in 2018 and 693 in 2017.
The number of allegations reported in 2019 was “significantly high” due in part to some states’ changes in their statute of limitations, a trend that continued in 2020. Allegations were also received as a result of lawsuits, compensation programs, and bankruptcies, the report said. Colorado and Missouri released their own reports on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy last year.
“It should be noted that the vast majority of these reports were historical in nature,” said the report. Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continue to show a bell curve that peaks in the 1970s.
The Rochester, New York-based consulting firm StoneBridge Business Partners conducted the audit. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate conducted a survey included in the report.
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Healey, the National Review Board chair, said the board was able to be effective in its work amid the “extreme crisis and turmoil” of the pandemic only because of God’s grace.
The audit process moved to a virtual format “but the essence of the audit remained unchanged,” said Healey. The report noted that chanceries and parishes were closed to help mitigate the spread of coronavirus, background checks were interrupted, staff turnover and reduced staffing levels worsened, and safe environment training of children and adults was at times suspended. At the same time, new methods of child protection training came to be used.
Total costs to dioceses and eparchies increased by about $33 million, including some $19 million in settlements and $14 million in attorneys’ fees. Since 2014, total costs are close to $312 million.
In the year ending June 30, 2020, some 2,771 clergy were accused. Of these, 2,458 were priests and 1,900 of these were diocesan priests. Among all priests accused that year, 87 were in active ministry. Of the accused, 1,501 had died, 264 had been permanently removed from ministry, 158 had been dismissed from the clerical state, and 75 had been temporarily removed from ministry. Fifty-four had resigned, and 186 were categorized as “other,” including retirees.
Almost all of the 33,469 Catholic clergy tallied in the report had gone through child protection training and background checks. Child protection training rates ranged from 98-99% among the 6,662 candidates for ordination, the 164,279 educators, and over 2.1 million volunteers at Catholic institutions.
The National Review Board’s Research and Trends Committee is evaluating safe environment education programs for adults and youth “to determine which elements or combination of elements of these training programs is most effective in mitigating the occurrence of child abuse,” Healey said.