Zero Tolerance, Allegations,
A White Paper by
On June 14, 2002, the U.S. bishops meeting in Dallas approved a Charter and Norms that set up new policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of children by priests. The Norms were revised by the Vatican and became "particular law" of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. on December 8, 2002. The Norms were revised and promulgated again on May 5, 2006. In both the 2002 and 2006 versions, the Norms contain the well-known "zero-tolerance" provision.
Are the U.S. bishops abiding by the policies and procedures that they adopted in Dallas, as revised and codified by the Vatican? This is an important question, because the bishops have received over 3,850 allegations of sexual abuse by priests and deacons since the Dallas meeting. This number does not include allegations received in 2003 and 2010. They have received allegations of sexual abuse of children by 1,376 priests not previously accused.
The bishops themselves insist that "there is no safer place for
children in America today than the Catholic Church." See the USCCB's
reports (which are the sources of the numbers cited above) and the
following documents for examples of the bishops' bullish self-assessment:
Are the U.S. bishops indeed reinstating accused priests less frequently?
Are the bishops responding thoughtfully and carefully to the thousands
of allegations they have received in recent years?
Unfortunately, the phrase that we have bolded – "after an appropriate process in accordance with canon law" – represents a gaping loophole for bishops, allowing them to keep sex offenders in active ministry for months or years. The "appropriate process" is described in the 2003 Manual for Canonical Processes for the Resolution of Complaints of Clerical Sexual Abuse of Minors, by Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, the "promoter of justice" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The process mandated in the Manual may be summarized as follows:
To summarize, this is the process stipulated by Msgr. Scicluna in his meetings with U.S. diocesan officials in early 2003:
Two obvious conclusions can be drawn: months or years can elapse before
a dangerous predator must be removed permanently, with potentially many
more children hurt … and it’s likely that many, many allegations
are thrown out.
See also Catholic Church's "Zero Tolerance" Doesn't Apply to Bishops Who Left Abusers in Ministry, by Rachel Zoll, Associated Press (May 10, 2010).
Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire's former attorney general, and Bishop John McCormack, of the diocese of Manchester, had a unique relationship. Ayotte's office did an investigation in 2002 and found enough evidence to convict the diocese of child endangerment. Rather than prosecute, the attorney general forced Bishop McCormack into a deal. The attorney general's report and voluminous investigative files were released to the public, and the state investigated the diocese’s handling of child sex abuse allegations every year for four years. The attorney general demanded that the diocese turn over every single allegation of child sex abuse against a diocesan employee. And then the attorney general released all the information to the public. The audit documents are a unique window into how bishops actually are operating under the 2002 reforms.
Each year, when Attorney General Ayotte reviewed Bishop McCormack's performance under their agreement, she had to reprimand the bishop for compliance problems (see Ayotte letters in 2006, 2007, and 2008). On the 2007 audit, see also Audit Chides Diocese, by Kathryn Marchocki, Union Leader (5/5/07). Each year, Ayotte told McCormack, "Our agreement does not permit the bishop to make a preliminary determination of whether the allegation appears truthful, and removal must take place ‘upon receipt’ of an allegation of sexual abuse. "Here is Ayotte's 2008 reprimand:
This information released by the New Hampshire attorney general also shows bishops throwing out a huge percentage of allegations they receive, and doing no investigations or hasty, inadequate ones. For example:
Sadly, Bishop McCormack is not the only church leader who is recklessly ignoring a large percentage of new allegations.
Example 2: Cardinal O'Malley and the Boston Allegations
In an unnoticed 2006 report, now removed from the Archdiocese of Boston website, Cardinal Sean O'Malley provided a window into his methods for handling abuse allegations. It turns out that in a two-and-a-half-year period, O’Malley had deemed cases against 45% of the alleged perpetrators not probable and so had kept them in ministry or quietly restored them to ministry. The relevant pages of the report provide numbers but no names. As a result, we know that a surprisingly large number of accused priests were deemed fit for duty in the Boston archdiocese, but we don't know who they are or in what communities they are working.
Sometimes reinstatements are warranted, as in the case of Rev. Ronald L. Bourgault of the Boston archdiocese; see Cleared priest questions process: Alleged victim ID'd wrong man, by Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe (February 28, 2003). But the wholesale reinstatements documented in the Boston archdiocesan report are cause for grave concern, as is an apparent trend to reinstate priests without even interviewing their accusers. The following list provides information on a small sample of the many reinstatements since 2002 that appear to have been done with very little if any transparency. For a helpful survey of the U.S. bishops' post-Dallas reinstatement policies, see U.S. Bishops Quietly Reinstate Accused Priests, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR (March 31, 2010).
Archbishop John C. Favalora - Archdiocese of Miami FL - Rev.
Bishop Ronald Gainer - Diocese of Lexington KY - Rev. William
Rev. Brian Bjorklund - Archdiocese of Detroit - Rev. Brian Bjorklund
Bishop William Murphy - Diocese of Rockville Centre NY - Rev.
Bishop Michael A. Saltarelli - Diocese of Wilmington - Rev. Albert
Bishop Stephen Blaire - Diocese of Stockton CA - Rev. Michael
Cardinal Sean O'Malley - Archdiocese of Boston MA - Rev. Jerome
Bishop Richard G. Lennon - Diocese of Cleveland OH - Rev. Patrick
Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk - Archdiocese of Cincinnati OH -
Rev. Robert Stricker
Cardinal Sean O'Malley - Archdiocese of Boston MA - Rev. James
Cardinal Sean O'Malley - Archdiocese of Boston MA - Rev. Eugene
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