Report finds success, urges continued vigilance in sex abuse prevention

Al Notzon chair of the National Review Board speaking on Dallas Charter update CNA US Catholic News 6 13 12 Al Notzon, chair of the National Review Board, gives an update on the Dallas Charter June 13, 2012.

The Catholic Church in the U.S. has made significant improvements in preventing and addressing clergy sexual abuse and should continue its work to increase transparency, trust and accountability, according to a new report.

Al Notzon III, chair of the National Review Board that has helped advise the U.S. bishops on clergy sex abuse, said that there has been "striking improvement" and "children are safer now" than they were several years ago. However, there is still work to do in order to "protect children and restore trust," he said.

Notzon spoke to the U.S. bishops gathered at their spring meeting in Atlanta, Ga. on June 13.

He delivered a 10 year progress report on the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted by the bishops in Dallas in 2002 as part of their response to the sexual abuse scandal.

He also offered recommendations based on a recent study conducted by the independent research institution John Jay College of Criminal Justice, entitled "The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010."

The Church has taken "serious steps towards understanding and reducing" sexual abuse of minors by priests, Notzon said.

He noted that there has been a steady decline in new cases of abuse and that all 195 U.S. dioceses and eparchies now have policies and procedures in place to prevent and handle abuse, as well as a Victim Assistance Coordinator to help in responding to allegations.

Dioceses across the country have instituted review boards comprised of both laity and clergy to advise on alleged abuse cases and are actively cooperating with legal authorities when such accusations arise, he said.

Additionally, confidentiality agreements have been abolished, except when requested by victims.

Efforts have also been made to offer pastoral assistance to victims, and written codes of conduct have been implemented for clergy and other adults who work around children, Notzon added.

Despite these significant improvements, dioceses must continue working to restore trust, he said, emphasizing that the work "is not finished and may never be."

"We must never let our guard down," he stated, cautioning against "complacency" or reduced vigilance.

He offered recommendations for the future based on the independently-conducted "causes and context" study, which he observed may be useful for other organizations, since child sexual abuse is a problem in the broader community and not just the Catholic Church.

Education is one important factor in working to improve the protection of young people in the U.S., said Notzon.

He encouraged dioceses to train "all segments of parish life," including diocesan personnel, parents, children and school staff members.

Notzon also stressed the need for situational prevention. He encouraged bishops to measure, monitor and report on the effectiveness of safe environment programs in their dioceses, as well as to develop a system of clergy evaluations.

Bishops should maintain regular personal contact with priests and should work to address their need to develop fraternal bonds through small clergy faith groups, he said.

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Notzon also recommended developing programs to help international priests adjust, because certain behaviors may be culturally acceptable in one country but not in another.

In addition to continuing work to respond promptly to allegations, relieve offenders, comply with civil law and reach out to victims, adopting these recommendations will help "ensure confidence and transparency," Notzon said.

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