National Five-Year Report On Child Protection Released; Atlanta Archdiocese Found In Compliance After Audit
Published: December 20, 2007
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Although the church has taken positive steps in its response to the clergy abuse crisis, more needs to be done, according to a five-year report on the crisis released Dec. 13 by the National Review Board, the lay group that oversees the U.S. Catholic bishops’ compliance with child protection policies.
The report, addressed to U.S. Catholics on the fifth anniversary of the board’s establishment, called the church’s response to the abuse crisis “impressive” but also noted that its “work is only beginning.”
It said church officials must do a better job of providing victims with the help they need and should also help Catholics at the parish level understand how best to respond to victims and their families. It also recommended church leaders provide “protection and restoration” for priests accused of abuse who are later found innocent and called for “greater speed” in investigating and responding to abuse allegations.
The report gave high marks to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ audit process, which monitors how dioceses are complying with the church’s national standards for child protection programs, prevention of sexual abuse and response to abuse allegations.
“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. It noted that, as of 2006, 98 percent of dioceses and eparchies—the name for dioceses in the Eastern Catholic churches—have participated in the audits and have been found to be in full compliance.
On Nov. 29, after an analysis of the results of a full audit of the Archdiocese of Atlanta in 2007, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was notified by the Gavin Group, Inc. that the archdiocese was found to be in compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The review board’s report said the audits have been published by the USCCB in annual reports in an “effort to maintain transparency.”
Although the review board commended the audit process, it also said the audits were not enough and suggested that they be expanded to measure the “quality of the work that the dioceses and parishes are doing.” To that end, the report recommended that the USCCB conduct random audits of parishes, which could help establish “best practices in educational programs, victim care, background checks and investigation of allegations.”
In its section on the church’s accomplishments, the report noted that more than 6 million children have participated in education programs and 1.6 million background investigations have taken place as part of diocesan safe-environment programs. It also said dioceses have established procedures to respond promptly to abuse allegations.
The review board stressed that educational programs and response procedures “cannot ensure that abuse will not take place” but can make certain that abuse is “less likely to occur” and will also address the needs of victims and their families.
The report also mentioned two studies on clerical sexual abuse commissioned by the U.S. bishops in their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
The studies were conducted by the New York-based John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first study, completed in 2004, looked at the nature and scope of the abuse crisis in the church. The second study, set for completion in 2009, will look at the causes and context of clerical sexual abuse.
The review board said it hoped the results of the ongoing study would provide “needed insights and recommendations.”
In citing future challenges the church will face as it continues to respond to the abuse crisis, the report said some issues are “not easily resolved” because they are so complex.
“One of the most significant issues is the need for greater understanding of victimization and its consequences,” the report said. “Discussions with victims provide evidence of serious needs that still need to be addressed in order for victims and their families to find the healing that they need.”
Another challenge highlighted in the report is the relationship of the church to its priests, “the vast majority of whom,” it pointed out, “are not involved in scandal, but many of whom feel alienated from both the bishops and the laity.” The report also stressed that the church needs to “provide appropriate protection and restoration for those accused but later found innocent.”
The report called for “greater speed in the process of determining credibility of allegations and consequent responses, as well as determination of an appropriate role for the church in the supervision of offenders.”
It also pointed out that parishes can be “victims of sexual abuse” since parishioners often experience a sense of betrayal or outrage over accusations that lead to the removal of a pastor or associate. The report stressed that more attention should be given to parishioners who often do not know how to respond to abuse victims and their families.
The review board also cited the need to keep church members better informed on the positive responses the bishops have made and help them become more active observers of the programs and processes in their parishes and dioceses.
“Such communication is vitally important since the work of the National Review Board is strengthened by vigilant parents and parishioners who investigate the presence and quality of the programs in their parishes and dioceses,” the report said.
It also made it clear that the responsibility to prevent abuse belonged to everyone. “The obligation to provide safe environments that prevent damage to children, young people, families, parishes, dioceses and the church rests with all Catholics,” it added.
Judge Michael Merz, chairman of the National Review Board, said the church’s response to the abuse crisis will be ongoing.
“Church efforts for prevention, healing and vigilance will be demanded for the rest of our days,” he said in a Dec. 13 statement.
“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,” he added. “Most priests never have abused a child or even someone’s trust in them, but they bear shame by association.”
Merz noted the bishops have taken a strong approach to dealing with the abuse crisis and he also stressed that sexual abuse of children is not a problem in the church alone. He said the bishops, as moral leaders, “must stand in the forefront of protecting children.”
The full report may be accessed online at: www.usccb.org/nrb/nrbreport2007.pdf. Contributing to this story was Mary Anne Castranio.