U.S. bishops’ report on clergy abuse: ‘Encouraging’ trends underscore need for reform

Archbishop Broglio Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio leads the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, and is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. | Credit: EWTN News In Depth

The number of abuse allegations against Church officials has declined again according to a new report from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with the encouraging numbers underscoring what the bishops say is a need for reform and justice. 

The July 2023 Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, issued by the USCCB’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, revealed the results of the audit year of 2021-2022, with the report saying the data were indicative of “cultural changes in our Church.”

An audit of several dozen dioceses throughout the country, performed by Stonebridge Business Partners, found “2,704 allegations … reported by 1,998 victims/survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy throughout 194 Catholic dioceses and eparchies that reported information.” The allegations concerned abuse “alleged to have occurred from the 1930s to the present.”

Those numbers are down from over 4,440 allegations in 2019, 4,250 in 2020, and 3,103 in 2021, continuing what is now a four-year downward trend of abuse claims leveled against clergy. 

A little more than half of accused clerics in the survey year were deceased, the report found, with others having resigned or been removed from active ministry; a small number were still engaging in ministerial duties. 

Though the abuse allegations continue to fall year over year, Stonebridge noted that numerous dioceses came up short in how they manage mandated safe-environment programs. 

Among those shortfalls were “dysfunction” in review board procedures, a lack of promulgation of reporting procedures, a lack of plans to “monitor the whereabouts or activities of clergy removed from active ministry,” and a failure to ensure that individuals were subject to background checks before contact with minors.

Nevertheless, the report states that the declining abuse allegations “are indicative of the cultural changes in our Church” and that the year-over-year trends “are encouraging as the number of current minor allegations within the Church in the U.S.A. remains low.”

Still, “the changes occurring within the Catholic Church are encouraging but are not the sole solution,” the report states, noting that the “failure to be vigilant leads to errors that could leave yet another child in harm’s way.”

The USCCB’s Office of Child and Youth Protection was launched following the 2002 promulgation of the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. That measure is meant to serve as “a comprehensive set of procedures … for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.”

The charter also includes “guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse.”

Earlier this year, Pope Francis declared permanent the norms and regulations of Vos Estis Lux Mundi (“You are the light of the world”), the 2019 motu proprio that mandated new guidelines for addressing sexual abuse in the Church and ensuring accountability for bishops and clergy who commit those acts.

In making the decree permanent, Francis also added several updates to the measure, including a requirement that dioceses ensure open access to an office or organization that receives reports of abuse, as well as new requirements for certain Church lay leaders. 

USCCB president Archbishop Timothy Broglio said in this year’s report that the 2002 charter forms “the basis for the protection, healing, and accompaniment of our children and youth.”

“[I]t is a core value, responsibility, and obligation, that the Church remains vigilant,” Broglio wrote. “It is also important that we learn from our mistakes and experiences.” 

“We must adapt and learn to improvise as needed to make sure that the needs of our sisters and brothers who have been harmed are being met with competence, compassion, and consistency,” he added.

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