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Chicago Archdiocese Broke Mold with Open Investigation

By Judith Cebula
Indianapolis Star
February 16, 1997

[See links to all the articles in this series from the Indianapolis Star.]

Just 110 miles north of Lafayette, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago operates a model system of investigating reports of sexual abuse and misconduct among its priests.

Catholic bishops across the United States and from as far away as Ireland and Australia have looked to Chicago when designing their own policies. The Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis studied the Chicago system when it revised its sexual abuse and misconduct policy.

Chicago's progressive policy requires church officials to deal openly with abuse issues. From reporting through investigation to the discipline of perpetrators, victims are kept informed about their cases. And lay people are intricately involved in investigations, serving with clergy on a review board.

That kind of openness is a departure for the Catholic Church, which, like other religious and secular institutions, has a history of not talking publicly about the issue and sometimes protecting clergy who have abused.

The late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who died of pancreatic cancer Nov. 14, adopted the plan in 1992 after publicity about sexual abuse accusations against priests.

In 1993, the cardinal became one of the first priests in the archdiocese to go through the process when former seminarian Steven Cook accused him of sexual abuse 16 years earlier. Cook, who was dying of AIDS, later recanted the allegations and reconciled with Bernardin.

In the months before his death, Bernardin described the investigation as more painful than the cancer that eventually took his life.

Since 1992. the archdiocese has investigated incidents ranging from inappropriate friendships between priests and parishioners to sexual activity between priests and children, said the Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki, chancellor of the Chicago Archdiocese.

"Some of these go back as many as 30 and 40 years," he said. "There was a concern that the church had not dealt adequately with these cases in the past."

Since implementing the policy, the archdiocese has investigated 14 priests accused of abuse and misconduct. Here's how the policy works:

In an effort to lift the veil of secrecy and ensure fairness, the archdiocese stopped relying on clergy to lead sexual abuse and misconduct investigations of other priests.

Instead, a permanent, ninemember Professional Fitness Review Board investigates cases. Six members must be lay people who are not employed by the archdiocese. They include a psychiatrist. psychologist or social worker; a lawyer; a parish council member; a parent; and either a victim of sexual abuse or the parent of a victim.

Three priests also serve on the review panel, which makes recommendations to the cardinal. He has the final say on disciplinary action taken against priests.
• Church officials monitor a toll-free, 24-hour hotline so victims and their families can report allegations of abuse.
• Officials must determine within 48 hours of a complaint whether there is probable cause to investigate. Once an investigation begins, the review board places the accused priest on administrative leave until the case is resolved.
• Church officials report suspected child abuse to local child protective service agencies. They also go a step further by calling prosecuting attorneys when they begin their own internal investigation.
• If the archdiocese determines a priest has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor, it removes him from any ministry that would give him access to minors.
• The archdiocese provides counseling or counseling referrals to victims and to the accused.
• During investigations, officials update victims and their families on the progress of cases. They also notify members of parishes and schools where a priest once served, Paprocki said.

Groups of two or three counselors known as intervention teams go to the parishes and schools to talk with parishioners, teachers and staff about the facts of a case and to answer questions.
"Parishes and schools are in their own ways victims, too," Paprocki said. "In some way they have experienced trauma because they knew the priest and trusted him."

In eight of the 14 cases it has investigated, the review board found the priests had not engaged in abuse or misconduct.

In two cases, the board found that the priests had engaged in inappropriate behavior that was not sexual misconduct, Paprocki said. They received counseling and remained in the ministry.

In two other cases, the review board found priests had been involved in sexual misconduct. They were removed from the ministry and sent into treatment. In 1995. one of those priests returned to the ministry with the approval of the parish he was sent to serve.

The two remaining priests were convicted of criminal sexual abuse and sexual assault charges and are serving prison sentences, Paprocki said.

The Chicago Archdiocese serves 2.3 million people and has 1,848 priests.

Indianapolis system similar

The Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, which has 213,252 parishioners and 297 priests, declined to disclose the number of priests it has investigated on sexual abuse and misconduct charges since it revised its policy In 1994. The policy, similar to the one used in Chicago, defines abuse and misconduct and requires that all cases of suspected abuse be reported to child protective service agencies. It applies to all employees and volunteers serving the 39-county
archdiocese, including priests, nuns and brothers, teachers, school bus drivers, office and cafeteria workers, custodians and parish volunteers.

Archdiocese officials give copies-of the seven-page policy to all new employees and volunteers, said Suzanne Magnant, chancellor for the archdiocese.

The policy booklet includes a toll-free number people can use to report suspected abuse to the chancellor.

Unlike in Chicago, however, the Indianapolis review process is run entirely by church officials and led by Chancellor Magnant.

Other members of the standing review panel work for the archdiocese, including a personnel director, ministry counselors and a lawyer.

Malignant said the policy allows her to call on people outside the ranks of the archdiocese,
such as abuse victims, psychologists and psychiatrists.

"We need that outside professional judgment for our own credibility and in order to make the best decision," she said.

In the Indianapolis Archdiocese, the chancellor determines whether an allegation against a priest falls within the policy's definition of abuse or misconduct. She then orders counseling for the priest, "suspension of duties" or both.

The chancellor also notifies alleged victims and their families about investigations and offers counseling.

 
 

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