Signs of the Times

Audit Finds Nearly Total Compliance With Bishops’ Policies on Sexual Abuse

An independent audit released on Feb. 18 in Washington, D.C., reported that as of Dec. 31, 2004, 96 percent of the 195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies were implementing every applicable article of the U.S. bishops’ policies to prevent sexual abuse of minors by members of the clergy. Despite this nearly total compliance, continued external oversight and evaluation [are] essential, since compliance may improve or diminish over time, said the audit report for 2004 prepared by the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection. An audit does not ensure that all offenders or potential offenders have been appropriately removed from ministry, it added.

The 50-page report said that in 2004 there were 1,092 new allegations of sexual abuse made against 756 diocesan and religious priests and deacons, with most of the alleged abuse taking place in 1965-74. It said 80 percent of the accused have been previously removed from ministry or are deceased, laicized or missing. Half the new allegations were against clergy who had been previously accused. Males accounted for 78 percent of the 1,083 accusers.


During 2004, the U.S. church spent $158 million on matters related to sexual abuse, with more than $106 million paid in settlements to victims, the report said. The figures include money spent by religious orders. When added to other published figures, the U.S. church has now spent about $1 billion in abuse-related costs since the beginning of 1950.

There is undoubtedly progress still to be made, said Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., U.S.C.C.B. president, in a cover letter to the report. Much of what dioceses face today is the result of past abusive behavioroften long pastand procedures are in place to deal with and put a stop to new instances of abuse that may be reported, he said.

During the news conference on Feb. 18 at which the report was released, Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the child protection office, said that only 22 of the allegations reported in 2004 were made by boys and girls still under the age of 18, and each of those cases was reported to law enforcement officials. The number of sex abuse incidents seems to be diminishing, she said, noting that many of the allegations concerned events that took place in the period from 1965 to 1974.

There were 148 members of the clergy dismissed from ministry in 2004 because of allegations made during that year or earlier, she said. Also, 305 clergy were temporarily removed from ministry pending resolution of their cases because of allegations made during or before 2004, but some of these cases overlap with the 148 already dismissed from ministry, said McChesney.

We know that the crisis is not over because over 300 reports received in 2004 identified alleged abusers not previously known, she said. The data on new allegations and on spending came from a separately commissioned study done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, known as CARA, based at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The report also includes recommendations for improving policies. These include developing a mediation system for the resolution of allegations and an annual report by each diocese with information about new allegations and costs.

Other figures from the report include:

3,277 victims and some of their relatives received outreach services from dioceses;

43 priests were laicized;

66 priests and two deacons were directed to lead a life of prayer and penance;

56 allegations received before 2004 were judged false in 2004;

57 of the allegations made in 2004 were judged false.

The audit also reported major progress in the conduct of background checks of clergy, lay employees and lay volunteers who regularly come into contact with children. Important strides were also made in implementing safe environment education programs to prevent abuse. The background checks and education programs are considered crucial to long-term efforts to prevent child sex abuse.

Some of the safe environment findings include:

Almost 84 percent of the 34,514 currently active diocesan priests received safe environment education;

More than 82 percent of the church’s 13,663 deacons took safe environment courses;

More than 1.4 million adults and more than 3.1 million children, over half the minors in Catholic schools and religious education classes, have taken safe environment courses;

97 percent of the 203,393 Catholic educators have taken safe environment courses;

82.5 percent of the 203,343 other church employees required to take safe environment courses have had the training;

73 percent of 1 million church volunteers received safe environment training.

Background checks have been conducted on 92 percent of the 34,874 diocesan priests for whom they are needed. All 13,559 deacons subject to background checks have been screened.

More than 97 percent of the 185,924 Catholic school educators have had background checks. More than 85 percent of the 207,817 other church lay employees have been screened. And almost 79 percent of the 978,172 church volunteers have had background checks.

The report said that background screenings and evaluations also take place for priesthood candidates in the 112 seminaries run by the dioceses audited.

The report is based on audits of 194 of the 195 U.S. dioceses and eparchies conducted by the Gavin Group Inc. of Boston and on data collected by CARA from dioceses, eparchies and religious orders.

Only the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., did not participate in the compliance audits. Of the 194 dioceses audited, only seven were not compliant with one or more of the charter’s 17 articles on Dec. 31. This is a significant advance from the 2003 report, in which 19 were not compliant with aspects of the charter. The report warned, however, that compliance audits do not measure the quality or effectiveness of the programs.

Spending figures showed that 32 percent of the $140 million spent by dioceses and eparchies was covered by insurance, and 12 percent of the $18 million spent by religious orders was covered by insurance.

Recommendations in the 2004 report for improving sex abuse prevention programs include:

Informing people if a lawyer is being used by the diocese or eparchy to receive allegations and providing an alternative person for people uncomfortable talking to a lawyer;

Special outreach to clergy and religious who have been victims of sexual abuse;

Developing practices for monitoring priests and deacons at risk as offenders.

The report notes that the church needs to continue developing new prevention initiatives, because full implementation of current policies will not ensure that no child will ever be abused again in a church environment. It asks Catholics to be unwavering in our commitment to ensuring the accountability of all Catholic bishops of the United States to their people in the future and to the safety of all our children.

The seven dioceses and eparchies not in compliance on Dec. 31 all failed to implement safe environment programs. Some also were cited for other failures, mostly failure to do background evaluations. The seven are: the Armenian Catholic Exarchate of the U.S.A. and Canada, with headquarters in New York; the Diocese of Burlington, Vt.; the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle, with headquarters in El Cajon, Calif.; the Diocese of Fresno, Calif.; the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Mass.; the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W. Va.; and the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio.

Correction: The National Review Board reports that during subsequent discussions with the Diocese of Fresno, it appears that the diocese was in compliance by Dec. 31, 2004, but it did not clearly document that fact until after Dec. 31.

Pope Returns to Hospital After Relapse

Two weeks after being released from the hospital after suffering breathing difficulty related to the flu, Pope John Paul II returned on Feb. 24 to Rome’s Gemelli Hospital after suffering a relapse. The Vatican spokesman, Joaquín Navarro-Valls, said, Yesterday afternoon, Feb. 23, the Holy Father had a relapse of the flu syndrome with which he had been affected in the preceding weeks. For that reason, the pope was hospitalized this morning at the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic for the appropriate specialized care and further tests. The spokesman said the 84-year-old pope left the Vatican at 11:25 a.m. and arrived at Gemelli at about 11:45. He did not provide further details. Police at the hospital said the pope arrived by ambulance at a side entrance to the hospital, not at the entrance to the emergency room. A source at the hospital said Pope John Paul was conscious when he arrived.

Brazil Arrests Three in Murder of U.S. Sister

Brazilian authorities have arrested three suspects in the murder of a U.S. nun but were still looking for the rancher they believe ordered the killing. Sister Dorothy Stang, a 73-year-old member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and an outspoken advocate for Brazilian peasants, was shot several times in the chest and head on Feb. 12.

Police said Rayfran das Neves Sales confessed to shooting Sister Dorothy and named others involved. Police have charged Amair Freijoli da Cunha, a rancher, with hiring the killers and said they suspect another rancher, Vitalmiro Bastos de Moura, of ordering the killing. Cunha has denied involvement.

For nearly four decades, Sister Dorothy, a native of Dayton, Ohio, and a naturalized Brazilian citizen, worked in rural Brazil, defending the rights of poor peasants. This fight made her many enemies, including some wealthy landowners. Shortly before her death, the town of Anapu declared her persona non grata, claiming her work was hindering the region’s development.

The nun’s death sparked an international outcry, and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has put nearly 19,900 square miles of Amazon land under federal environmental protection and suspended logging in some disputed areas.

Focus on Needy, Skylstad Tells Congress

The U.S. bishops have asked members of Congress to focus on the needs of the poor and vulnerable in making choices for the federal budget. In a letter on Feb. 11 to U.S. senators and representatives, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., said priority should be given to social investments that promote the well-being of the poor in our country and around the world, investments in the health of our nation and the peace of the world.

Bishop Skylstad said that in addition to expenditures for homeland security and the military, the government is obliged to provide an adequate safety net for the poor and vulnerable in this country, to protect refugees abroad and to promote human development in poor countries.

When the basic requirements of human life and dignity for many in our country and throughout the world go unmet, we must insist that adequate federal revenues be available to help meet these basic needs, he wrote.

Bishop Skylstad cautioned that while deficit spending can be justified as a necessary response to serious circumstances, if government continues to spend far more money than it takes in year after year, it could seriously limit its ability to meet our moral obligations to respond to basic human needs now and in the future. Any new tax proposals should be evaluated in that light before being adopted.

He said Congress should fund programs that assist people who are trying to find jobs or move beyond welfare, educate their children, obtain health care or overcome hunger and homelessness. The United States also has international responsibilities that require investment in promoting peace, security and international development, he wrote.

Fear Remains Among Arab Catholics in Israel

Fear remained on the faces of Melkite Catholics who returned to Maghar, Israel, a week after fleeing Druze-led violence. In the village’s Christian neighborhood, cars were vandalized, overturned and burned. Windows of houses and businesses were shattered; shutters were broken and hacked through with hatchets and axes; buildings were blackened from flames reaching up to the third floor; and the insides of businesseswhich were first plunderedwere destroyed and charred. The scenes of destruction ended abruptly where the Druze neighborhood begins.

They destroyed all the Christian businesses, said one man, as he stood outside his family’s ruined pastry shop on Feb. 20. Maghar’s Christians all are Melkite Catholic, and many declined to give their names or have their pictures taken, afraid they would be singled out later for attacks. I was born here, and my father and grandfather were born here. My family is here for 600 years, but at the moment nobody feels safe. I am afraid to return, there is nobody to defend usnot the state, not the police. I am ready to sell, said Yousef Karawani, 45, a businessman, as he sat nervously smoking a cigarette on the edge of his sofa.

Karawani and his family have left the village; he returns to his home only during the day. His children, like the other Christian children who attend the village public school, had not been to school for a week. There is no Christian school in the village, and no one can assure the safety of their children in the public school, where they are harassed almost daily, said the Catholic villagers.

Some villagers, whose cars were still intact, fled their homes with their children as soon as they had an opportunity. Those whose cars were already in flames ran to family and friends for safety; others were forced to remain in their homes while outside the mobs tried to break in or set flames to stores on the lower floors.

Alif Khoury, 35, whose head was still bandaged from his injuries, was next door at his parents’ house when the violence broke out. He told about his desperate attempt to save his sleeping 3-year-old daughter after the mob opened up gas canisters next to his house. He was beaten back, but other Druze came and pushed away the extremist mob, allowing him to reach his daughter. Another Druze friend rescued his other daughters, who were at a relative’s house, he said.

The Druze sect originated in Egypt and broke off from Islam in the early 11th century. Its members live scattered in Israel, Syria and Lebanon. There are also immigrant Druze communities in the United States, Canada, Europe and Latin America.

I don’t know why they hate us. We believe in tolerance. There was something like this in the 1980’s, too, and here we are in the year 2005 in the same situation, he said. I am waiting for those responsible to be punished and for the Druze to prove that they want us here, said one woman, adding that for now she was not sending her two older childrenages 10 and 6to school.

In response to allegations that Israeli police did not protect Melkite Catholics when they were attacked, an Israeli official said the government has launched an inquiry.

News Briefs

The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Feb. 22 that it would review the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last May that the federal Justice Department has no authority to use the Controlled Substances Act to punish Oregon doctors who prescribe lethal amounts of drugs to people who wish to commit suicide.

A government plan to give Peru’s poorest families a $30 monthly subsidy, provided they ensure that their children are vaccinated and enrolled in school, has drawn support from the nation’s Catholic bishops.

Msgr. Luigi Giussani, 82, founder and spiritual guide of the movement Communion and Liberation, died on Feb. 22 at his home in Milan.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
13 years 7 months ago
America is an excellent gift to the life of the Church in this country, and so I am sad when it betrays a cultural superiority within the Church. The item in the March 7 Signs of the Times on the audit of the American Church speaks of "195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies." Would the editors have written "195 U.S. Catholic eparchies and Western-rite dioceses"? Are they not simply "195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and eparchies"? Does distinguishing Catholic from Eastern-rite not suggest that the latter is not fully Catholic?
13 years 7 months ago
America is an excellent gift to the life of the Church in this country, and so I am sad when it betrays a cultural superiority within the Church. The item in the March 7 Signs of the Times on the audit of the American Church speaks of "195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies." Would the editors have written "195 U.S. Catholic eparchies and Western-rite dioceses"? Are they not simply "195 U.S. Catholic dioceses and eparchies"? Does distinguishing Catholic from Eastern-rite not suggest that the latter is not fully Catholic?


The latest from america

Are the Dodgers now baseball’s cursed squad?
James T. KeaneOctober 23, 2018
 Capuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, gives the homily during the Good Friday service led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, will direct the Ignatian style retreat, the U.S.C.C.B. announced Oct. 23.
Catholic News ServiceOctober 23, 2018
A Catholic literary culture that works in continuity with its rich heritage will give us a contemporary literature that both gazes unflinchingly at the messiness of our present moment and artfully works out its characters’ salvation or damnation.
Joshua HrenOctober 23, 2018
Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018