New Steps to Protect the Children
In an unprecedented undertaking, from June 3 through Oct. 31, 2003, independent auditors reviewed the management actions taken by 191 Catholic dioceses in the United States to comply with the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter, adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002, is the blueprint for the way the bishops and eparchs (Eastern rite bishops) must respond to allegations of sexual abuse of minors committed by priests or deacons. It also provides direction for dioceses and eparchies to create safe environments within church settings and mandates procedures designed to prevent such acts from occurring in the future.
The provisions of the charter fit into four categories: 1) to promote healing and reconciliation, 2) to guarantee an effective response to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, 3) to ensure the accountability of our procedures and 4) to protect the faithful in the future. Within each of the 17 articles of the charterare actions that must be undertaken to accomplish those goals.
There is no canonical obligation for a bishop or eparch to comply with the charter. But when they drafted the charter, the members of the U.S.C.C.B. included a requirement that their adherence to its policies be measured and publicly reported annually. Furthermore, the members included a pledge by the bishops confirming their commitment to implement the charter.
The compliance audits were conducted by teams from the Gavin Group of Boston, Mass. The auditors were mature men and women with experience in investigations and reporting. While many were Catholic, some were not, and no one was allowed to conduct an audit in his or her own diocese. Special training in church structure, terminology and business practice was provided.
Audit teams visited each diocese and eparchy and conducted internal and external interviews. Prosecuting attorneys, diocesan review board members, some victims and accused clergy and all bishops and eparchs were interviewed. Appropriate documents, policies and procedures were reviewed, and input was received from interested parties who chose to write to the Gavin Group. Despite the voluntary nature of the compliance audits, all bishops and eparchs were cooperative and all materials requested were provided. In some instances dioceses and eparchies were directed to complete a task by a certain date. Information was then provided to the Gavin Group as proof that all articles of thecharter had been appropriately addressed.
At the completion of the audit cycle in October 2003, the results of the audits were incorporated into the first Annual Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This document contains a summary report for each audited diocese and eparchy and an analysis of the findings. It also contains over 60 recommendations for more effective implementation of the charter and for addressing the problem of sexual abuse of children by some members of the Catholic clergy. These recommendations were reviewed and endorsed by the National Review Board established to monitor implementation of the charter.
Most dioceses and eparchies were found to have implemented all of the actions delineated in the charter.The areas least likely to be fully implemented were those that required additional resources or time. Establishing codes of conduct, setting up safe environment programs and conducting background investigations presented the greatest challenges. This was especially true for dioceses whose funds were limited or that had large numbers of individuals requiring training. In certain dioceses and eparchies, slowness in implementing the charter was due to lack of guidance and training.
Dioceses and eparchies did well in selecting victim assistance coordinators and competent diocesan review board members, as well as in ensuring that no confidentiality agreements were entered into unless requested by the victim. Some dioceses were commended for their openness and transparency regarding the issues of sexual abuse of children and for the ways they communicated the number of incidents of abuse that had occurred within the diocese and the resolution of those cases. Investigative processes need refining and clarification, for the victims as well as the accused. Confusion still remains regarding the relationship between the Essential Norms, approved by the Vatican, and the charter.
What Remains to Be Done?
The completion of the first round of audits did not produce a grade A report card for all the bishops and eparchs. While there are excellent examples of innovative and progressive implementation of the charter, there remains much to be done. Litigation still stands in the way of pastoral outreach and spiritual healing for those victims/survivors and their families who seek such assistance. Clarification of the standards of openness and transparency needs immediate attention, and the confusion regarding the Essential Norms and the charter must be addressed.
Various U.S.C.C.B. committees, the National Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection have a continuing responsibility to ensure an effective response to the crisis of abuse in the years to come. The bishops and eparchs must remain vigilant in their efforts to prevent abuse of children if they are to regain the credibility lost during the past two years.
The unprecedented audits demonstrate that large, complex organizations can change. Some suspect that the flurry of activity to implement the provisions of the charter did not come from the heart, but from the fear of public embarrassment. But Iam hopeful that these initial efforts to protect and heal truly reflect the beginning of a new era within the churchan era of genuine caring and compassion for those who have been hurt by these incidents. All must fight the temptation to become complacent, so as not to undermine the significant steps made by the clergy and laity together since June 2002.