How Effective Is Annual Audit?

MAKING THE COMMITMENT. U.S. bishops cast their votes on the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” at their 2002 meeting in Dallas.

In recent years the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has been audited annually as part of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Dallas Charter protocol to prevent the sexual abuse of children, as have virtually all other dioceses around the United States. It has, like most other dioceses, been found by professional auditors commissioned by the U.S.C.C.B. to be fully compliant with the articles of the charter pertaining to responding to reports of abuse and efforts to prevent abuse.

But testimony in a recently released affidavit raises concerns about the efficacy of the bishops’ auditing procedures, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board, Francesco Cesareo, president of Assumption College in Worcester, Mass., acknowledged. “If what is being described in the [affidavit] is accurate and yet we are getting a diocese rated as compliant, then that is cause for concern,” he said in an interview with America.

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The written testimony Cesareo referred to was filed on July 14 by the archdiocese’s former chancellor Jennifer M. Haselberger. In her lengthy testimony, Haselberger accused top church leaders of a “cavalier attitude” toward the safety of children and contradicted aspects of sworn testimony by former top archdiocesan church deputies. Haselberger also alleged that during her tenure in the archdiocese, U.S.C.C.B.-commissioned compliance auditors “were not ever allowed access to our clergy records to determine if the data matched what we reported.”

She added, “Had they done so, they would have found out that it did not.” She explained that when she resigned in April 2013 the archdiocese still had not secured the charter’s “essential three” of a background check, child abuse detection and prevention training, and a signed Code of Conduct from all its diocesan priests.

In the most recent assessments of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese, “nothing that emerged in the audit indicated that the diocese did not follow protocols,” Cesareo said. But he pointed out that the auditing process is essentially under constant review by a standing committee and said he planned a thorough reappraisal of its “efficacy” this year.

If the allegations included in Haselberger’s affidavit prove to have merit, he said, it is possible that other dioceses also might have problems that are not being detected through the current process. The annual audits rely on self-reporting and record-keeping by the dioceses themselves. According to Cesareo, the comprehensiveness and procedures for such record-keeping vary from diocese to diocese.

Cesareo said in the coming months the audit committee will be asking, “Is the audit instrument effective in its current form.… Do we need to change it to make it a more useful tool?”

He added that the audit committee will certainly be asking, “Is there a way for the audit to be improved so that it can get at information it is [currently] not getting at…so that we don’t have these situations.”

A spokesperson for the archdiocese declined to respond to questions related to Haselberger’s affidavit. In a statement on its website, the archdiocese said Haselberger’s “recollections are not always shared by others within the archdiocese” but that her “experience highlights the importance of ongoing constructive dialogue and reform aimed at insuring the safety of children.” The statement adds that since Haselberger’s resignation, the archdiocese has implemented some of the recommendations of a Safe Environment and Ministerial Standards Task Force “which address some of the concerns she has raised.”

That task force’s report, issued at the end of March 2014, “revealed serious shortcomings in the Archdiocese’s implementation of the Dallas Charter,” among them that the archdiocese has no “meaningful” program to “monitor compliance with policies and procedures that are designed to prevent and detect sexual abuse of minors.”

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