Audit says significant improvement in sex abuse cases, but more changes are needed

The results of the audit of the dioceses and eparchies of the United States, which was called for by the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, was released on Tuesday at 10:00 AM (Eastern Time), during a press conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

The review found 90% of the 195 U.S. dioceses were fully complying with the plan drafted by the bishops in Dallas on June, 2002, but made several recommendations regarding how to improve the prevention of child abuse by priests and Church personnel.

The audit was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection and was performed by the Gavin Group of Boston, a firm led by a former FBI official.

Present at the press conference were Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Kathleen McChesney, Executive Director of the USCCB's Office of Child and Youth Protection; William Gavin, President of the Gavin Group; as well as William R. Burleigh and Ray H. Siegfried II, both members of the National Review Board.

McChesney defended the independence and accuracy of the audit, saying investigators spoke with people outside the Church. 54 auditors, most of them former FBI investigators, visited 191 Catholic dioceses and eparchies throughout the United States from June through November, in teams of two to six auditors for on-sight visits of approximately one week.

According to Gavin, 131 instructions and 297 recommendations were issued. At the time all of the information was sent for printing, 157 of the 191 dioceses and eparchies had addressed all outstanding recommendations and instructions. 34 dioceses and eparchies still have instructions and recommendations in the process of remediation, among them the Archdioceses of New York, Anchorage and Omaha.

Improvements and Weaknesses

McChesney said that the areas in which dioceses and eparchies were most successful in implementing the Charter were in selecting competent victim’s assistance coordinators, establishing diocesan review boards, reporting cases of abuse to civil authorities, and not entering into confidentiality agreements with victims unless requested by the victims.

In addition, 95 percent of the dioceses and eparchies have participated in the research study on the “nature and scope” of the problem of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.

But the areas in which dioceses and eparchies seemed to have the most difficulty were in conducting meetings with victims-survivors and their families, in identifying and implementing safe-environment training programs, and in establishing codes of conduct for those who have regular contact with youth.

“The reasons for these weaknesses are attributed to the difficulties in providing outreach to victims-survivors who are involved in Litigation, the identification of suitable training programs and instructors, and, in many instances, limited personnel, resources or training,” she explained.

The 388-page document contains a brief summary report of each diocese and eparchy audited as well as general recommendations in 9 areas, and 52 recommendations specifically related to the implementation of the Charter.

The first of them is that a mechanism be established and implemented to audit the participation of the 19,000 parishes in the implementation of the charter because children and young people are most involved in church activities at the parish level.

The bishops' response

During his intervention, Bishop Gregory said that in the Charter “the Bishops enacted not only the steps to confront the tragic and terrible problem of sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy. We also created the means to assure its implementation. The audit results represent solid progress on the journey toward fulfilling the vision set out in the Charter. I believe that these findings show that we bishops are keeping our word.”

“However,” he added, “the completion of the audit and this report does not tempt us to be complacent. The Report now becomes a source of learning about how to build on what we are already doing well and about what more we need to do to protect children and young people.”

“In the memorable words of history’s most eloquent statesman, we have not reached the end, or even the beginning of the end, but ‘perhaps, the end of the beginning’,” he concluded.

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A second study, also commissioned by the bishops, is scheduled to be released February 27. It will attempt to tally every church abuse case in the country since 1950.

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