Bishops' Report Shows Widespread Diocesan Compliance; Victims Question Effectiveness of Child Protection Programs

By Feuerherd, Joe | National Catholic Reporter, March 4, 2005 | Go to article overview

Bishops' Report Shows Widespread Diocesan Compliance; Victims Question Effectiveness of Child Protection Programs


Feuerherd, Joe, National Catholic Reporter


In the two-and-a-half years since the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called upon its members to implement sex-abuse prevention programs in their local churches, nearly every diocese has done so, but questions about the effectiveness of those efforts remain unanswered.

The Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, released Feb. 18 by the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, noted that 96 percent of the nation's 195 dioceses and Eastern Rite eparchies were compliant with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the bishops at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal in June 2002.

Between July 26 and mid-December of 2004, the dioceses were visited by representatives of the Gavin Group, a Boston-based firm hired by the bishops' conference to rate diocesan compliance with the charter. All but one diocese--Lincoln, Neb.--participated in the survey.

Three Eastern Rite eparchies and the dioceses of Burlington, Vt., Fresno, Calif., Wheeling-Charleston, W.V., and Youngstown, Ohio, were found out of compliance with the charter, largely because they either failed to conduct background checks on church employees and volunteers or had not instituted "safe environment programs."

Among the report's findings:

* More than 3,000 victims and their family members received diocesan-sponsored "outreach services" in 2004 and "counseling and spiritual assistance [were] offered by all dioceses."

* All audited dioceses "have mechanisms in place" to reports acts of sexual abuse, have a "victim assistance coordinator" on staff, and have established review boards to oversee diocesan handling of sex abuse policies.

* More than 1.4 million adults and 3.1 million children have received "safe environment training" since June 2002, though nearly 8,000 priests and deacons have yet to receive such training. Background checks on 8 percent of the 34,874 priests subject to them have not been completed.

Compliance with the charter "does not measure the quality of the programs audited," Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops' Child and Youth Protection office told the media at the Feb. 18 news conference. Such an evaluation is something the office "is attempting to implement" within the next year, said McChesney.

"Keep in mind that it wasn't a lack of paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases that caused thousands of priests to rape and sodomize tens of thousands of kids," said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "So it won't be paperwork, policies, procedures and press releases that solve this crisis."

Continued Clohessy, "We owe it to innocent children and vulnerable adults to remember that motion doesn't equal progress, and that activity doesn't equal change."

Meanwhile, the survey of diocesan child-protection policies planned for 2005 will include substantially fewer in-person visits and will rely largely on diocesan self-reporting to measure compliance with the charter. These new procedures were instituted in June 2004, after dozens of bishops privately complained that the surveys were intrusive and costly and that the National Review Board overseeing the process had repeatedly overstepped its bounds (NCR, April 16, 2004).

The new restrictions will not result in less thoroughness, said William Gavin, principal of the Gavin Group. …

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