Diocese Posts Abuse Policy
The Nearly 40-Page Catholic Document Calls for Training in Providinga Safe Environment and How to Deal with New Sexual Abuse Reports

By Craig T. Neises
The Hawk Eye [Davenport IA]
Downloaded July 18, 2003

More than 18 months after the first revelations of a cover-up of sexual abuse by priests in triggered a nationwide scandal that included reports of abuse by a former clergyman at St. John/s church in , the Diocese of Davenport has completed its policy on sexual abuse by church workers and volunteers.

The policy was posted recently on the diocese/s website, and is available for download. It became effective retroactively to June 1. Diocese spokesman Deacon David Montgomery said the policy would be announced in churches this Sunday.

"The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops and the ways in which this may have been handled in the past has caused pain, anger and confusion among many in our faith community,' Davenport Bishop William E. Franklin wrote in a letter to Catholics in the diocese that is included in the policy. "From the depths of my heart, I again wish to express my great sorrow and profound regret for the suffering of the victims of this abuse, their families and our Catholic community across the and within our global church.

"I hope that our efforts in the Diocese of Davenport may ease some of that anger and confusion and help begin to heal the pain.'

The policy, which amounts to an expansion and reorganization of existing diocesan policies and applies to any ordained or lay employee or volunteer who has regular contact with children, is an outgrowth of the new Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved in November by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to a spate of abuse claims in 2002.

said the overall aim of the local policy is "to provide a safe environment for children.'

The "Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior,' includes references to physical abuse of minors and dependent adults and Internet safety.

In concert with the policy changes, clergy, employees and volunteers across the diocese will undergo training to better understand what constitutes abuse, to better understand situations that might be dangerous for children, and to learn about expectations for dealing with reports of abuse by clergy or other diocese staff.

By month/s end, a group of 20 trainers from the National Catholic Risk Retention Group/s Virtus program will visit the diocese to train members of the staff so they can go about the diocese providing safe environment training to others. That training will begin in August, and staff members at diocese schools will be among the first to go through the Virtus program.

An expansion of background checks from only priests and deacons to all employees and volunteers who deal regularly with children is included. said current employees and volunteers, not just new, will be subject to background checks.

said the updated policy would be distributed widely throughout the diocese so area Catholics could review it for themselves.

To a man who came forward more than year ago with the story of his childhood abuse at the hands of a priest, the policy doesn/t go far enough in making up for past sins.

David Waldorf, , said he has been disappointed by the bishop/s response to his allegations, and his demands for information about former priests in churches who were known to be pedophiles by diocese officials.

"What are they going to be doing about past incidences?' Waldorf asked when told about the policy/s release.

Regarding his own case, Waldorf said he never heard anything back following an initial meeting with in which Waldorf asked for information about the alleged pedophile priests, whom he said were transferred to other dioceses without discipline.

Such transfers of sexually abusive priests was a significant part of last year/s public outcry about abuse in the Catholic church.

In addition to requiring expanded background checks, the Davenport Diocese policy gives assurances that priests and deacons who have committed acts of sexual abuse against minors will not be transferred to another diocese for ministerial work.

Regarding past incidents, Waldorf said he is disappointed that the bishop has apparently more regard for the interests of accused priests than the congregants who are making the accusations. Although there are no statements in the policy specifically pertaining to handling past reports of abuse, or encouraging past victims of abuse to come forward, the nearly 40-page document does address how diocese officials are to handle new reports of abuse.

The policy on preventing and addressing sexual abuse of minors includes appointment of a victim assistance coordinator whose duty it will be to receive allegations of abuse, reach out to alleged victims with offers of counseling and other services, and to initiate internal investigations of abuse claims.

A lay committee also will be appointed to help guide the bishop/s decision-making with respect to incidences of alleged sexual abuse.

Also included are procedures for investigating reports of abuse, and actions to be taken when a violation of the policy is determined. In the case of a lay employee, a finding that abuse did occur would result in immediate termination of employment, while in the case of clergy, abusers would be placed on administrative leave from ministry.

Following investigation, the accused could be removed from the ministry, be recommended for counseling or, if cleared, be reinstated to ministry. In the event that even one allegation of abuse of a minor is proven, the priest or deacon will be "removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry.'

"Their answer,' Waldorf said, "is to take them out of settings where they don/t have access to victims.'

The policy does not say definitively that all allegations of sexual abuse against a diocese employee or volunteer will be reported to police or the Department of Human Services.

said the policy is not absolute regarding reports to authorities because legal reporting requirements "could change over time. The policy was written to keep up with current and federal laws.'

According to those laws, however, members of clergy and lay volunteers are not now required to report abuse of children to authorities.

Some professionals, like health care workers, licensed teachers and coaches, and day care providers, are mandatory reporters, meaning if they learn about a child age 12 or under being abused, they must report it to authorities.

Other Iowans, those who are not mandatory reporters, are encouraged to report abuse but are not required to do so. Therefore, according to law, a licensed teacher working at a parochial school would be required to report abuse, while neither the bishop nor a local priest would be. The diocese/s policy does state that church officials will support investigations being made by civil authorities.

Waldorf said he is not surprised the policy doesn/t require immediate reporting of alleged abuse to police, pointing out that the history of the church is to treat abusers as sinners rather than criminals.

"The church is in the sin-forgiving business,' he said.


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