The annual audit of diocesan compliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” found “the fewest allegations and victims reported since the data collection for the annual reports began in 2004.” StoneBridge Business Partners, which conducts the audits under the direction of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People, said law enforcement found six credible cases among 34 allegations of abuse of minors that occurred in 2012. The credibility of 15 of the allegations was still under investigation. Law enforcement found 12 allegations to be unfounded or unable to be proven and one a boundary violation.
The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which gathered data for the report, found 397 allegations against 313 priests or deacons by 390 individuals. Most allegations reported in 2012 were about events in the 1970s and 1980s, and many of the alleged offenders were already deceased or removed from ministry. About 84 percent of the victims were male. Half were between 10 and 14 years of age when the abuse began. An estimated 17 percent were between 15 and 17, and 19 percent were under age 10.
Almost all dioceses were found compliant with the audit. Three were found noncompliant with one article of the charter. The Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., and five Eastern rite dioceses, known as eparchies, declined to be audited.
The StoneBridge audit reported that “over 99 percent of clerics and over 96 percent of employees and volunteers were trained” in safe environment programs. “In addition, over 4.6 million children received safe environment training. Background evaluations were conducted on over 99 percent of clerics; 98 percent of educators; 96 percent of employees; and 96 percent of volunteers.”
The annual report has become a instrument for tracking the U.S. bishops’ faithfulness to the aims of the charter, first approved at a meeting in Dallas in 2002, as the effort begins its second decade. This year’s audit included good news about the declining number of abuse reports and improvements in compliance. But recent headlines from the Diocese of Newark and elsewhere that suggest imprecise attention to the charter’s protocol were noted with concern by members of the N.R.B. in letters that introduced the audit results to the U.S.C.C.B. president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
“There has been much disturbing news in the media the past few months,” Al J. Notzon III, N.R.B. chairman, wrote. “It is precisely because of the way abuse was handled in the past that we now have the [charter]. One failure is too many; we need to keep working to fully implement all the requirements of the charter.”
Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, also noted “recent high-profile failings of charter implementation. He said they “point to the importance of the continued use of the annual audit.”
StoneBridge researchers noted some limitations to the auditing process, including “the unwillingness of most dioceses and eparchies to allow us to conduct parish audits during their on-site audits,” which forced auditors to “rely solely on the information provided by the diocese or eparchy, instead of observing the program firsthand.” Other limitations included high staff turnover in diocesan child abuse prevention programs that resulted in lost records and successors placed in key roles without formal orientation. Notzon highlighted the importance of good record-keeping “and the great significance of involving parishes in the audit process.”
“Abuse happened in the parishes where our children learn and live their young, growing faith,” Notzon said. “From the N.R.B.’s perspective, parish participation in the audit process is an essential next step in what ‘makes the charter real’ for laity in those parishes. What we have come to see is that protecting children from sexual abuse is a race without a finish, and more rather than less effort is necessary to keep this sacred responsibility front and center.”