Detroit's Roman Catholic Archdiocese Meets Protection Guidelines, Audit Says

Associated Press State & Local Wire
January 6, 2004

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Detroit received four commendations for its efforts under a new mandatory policy adopted by bishops nationwide to prevent sex abuse by priests, according to a church audit released Tuesday.

The audit, which determined that 90 percent of the 195 U.S. dioceses were in full compliance with the plan, also listed four recommendations for improvement in the Detroit archdiocese, which ministers to about 1.5 million Catholics and is the fifth-largest in the United States.

The mandatory policy, adopted by bishops June 2002, dictates how priests guilty of sex abuse should be punished and requires bishops to take steps to protect children.

In its commendations, the Detroit archdiocese was recognized for adopting a sexual abuse policy in 1988 and mandating background checks for church personnel. It also was commended for entering into an agreement with civil prosecutors in the six counties covered by the archdiocese to handle allegations of sexual abuse by minors.

Recommendations included better documentation of, and protocol for, contact between the archdiocese and victims, as well as the implementation of a basic monitoring plan for clergy removed from active ministry.

All recommendations had been addressed as of Dec. 1, and would continue to be worked on, the archdiocese said.

"I think we certainly have tried to take seriously the recommendations that have been provided. We're grateful for the commendations that we've received and we'll continue to move forward," Bishop Walter Hurley said Tuesday.

"This is not something that is resolved on one day or in a week or in a year," he added. "It's always an ongoing process in terms of trying to make sure that children are being protected and that people are being served."

Among the 20 dioceses considered out of compliance are the archdioceses of New York, Anchorage, Alaska, and Omaha, Neb. Four dioceses were not audited.

Also considered out of compliance was the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Michigan. An eparchy is a geographic district for Catholics who accept the authority of the pope, but follow different rituals.

Hurley said the Southfield church belongs to one the nation's two Chaldean dioceses, which he said have not had any reported cases of sexual abuse by priests and therefore may not have implemented all the recommendations of the bishop's 2002 policy. But Hurley said St. Thomas now is working with the Detroit archdiocese to adopt some of its practices and programs designed to protect children.

The prelates commissioned the audit from the Gavin Group of Boston, a firm led by former FBI official William Gavin, and the investigation was overseen by Kathleen McChesney, a former top FBI agent and head of the bishops' watchdog Office of Child and Youth Protection.

Victim advocates said bishops had too much control of how the audit was conducted, so it should be viewed skeptically.

To check on the effort to carry out the reforms, the auditors - mostly former FBI agents or investigators - traveled the country from June to October in small teams, interviewing bishops, diocesan personnel, victims, abusive priests, prosecutors and lay people. The audit, which is to be conducted annually, is part of the church's plan to prevent abuse.

The most recent case in the Detroit archdiocese involved the Rev. Thomas Physician, a retired priest who was placed on an administrative leave of absence effective this past Saturday.

The archdiocese, which announced Physician's leave Tuesday, said it received an allegation of sexual misconduct involving the retired priest and a minor boy.

The allegation dates back more than 30 years to Physician's early years of service in the archdiocese, Hurley said. It was turned over to Wayne County prosecutors who chose not to investigate further because of the passage of time, the archdiocese said.

Physician, who retired in 2002, may not exercise public ministry, wear his Roman Catholic priest's collar or identify himself as a priest while on leave.

The archdiocese of Detroit has removed or suspended 20 priests because of sexual abuse allegations during the past two years, Hurley said. It has paid about $950,000 in settlements to abuse victims during the past 15 to 20 years, he said.


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