National Auditors Visit New Orleans Archdiocese
Investigators Assess Sex-Abuse Reforms

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
September 20, 2003

Auditors dispatched from Washington, D.C., spent three days at the Archdiocese of New Orleans last week to verify that the local church is instituting reforms that bishops collectively promised last year in an effort to end the church's sex-abuse scandal.

The Gavin Group was hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' new Office of Child and Youth Protection to verify that the church's 195 dioceses have adopted reform policies that bishops pledged to undertake in an extraordinary meeting last year in Dallas.

Two people from the group spent Sept. 15 to 18 going through records and interviewing key individuals at the archdiocese, said the Rev. William Maestri, archdiocese spokesman.

The national office has asked local dioceses not to discuss findings of their audits until a national compliance report of all dioceses is released in December.

"When they disclose their national findings, we'll be in a position to discuss the findings here," Maestri said.

The audits by the Gavin Group, composed largely of former FBI agents, are scheduled to be finished next month.

Although bishops are not bound by church law to submit to the audits, or even to undertake all the reforms initiated in Dallas, they jointly pledged to do so -- and to allow the new child protection office to publicly expose bishops who fall short of the collective goals.

In New Orleans, Archbishop Alfred Hughes has said all the reforms are in place. They include hiring a victims advocate, impaneling a lay-dominated review board to advise him on allegations against priests or deacons, and creating sex-abuse prevention programs for children.

In other dioceses, auditors have spoken to law enforcement officials and to victims of clerical sexual abuse to get a sense of the local church's relationships with those groups.

It was not clear whether the audit team contacted local law enforcement. Spokesmen for the Orleans and Jefferson parish district attorneys' offices were not available for comment.

Maestri declined to say whether the auditors met with local victims or how they might have been located.

But Lyn Hayward, founder of the local chapter of SNAP, a group of clergy-abuse survivors that maintains a generally skeptical view of reform efforts, said the auditors did not contact any members of that group.

That is a pattern that seems to be recurring around the country, she said.

"What we're hearing is that dioceses are putting them in touch with their so-called 'good' victims," she said. "It's such a shame."

In another response to the Dallas meeting, bishops are reporting all accusations of sexual abuse by clergy going back to 1950 as part of a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Bishops have promised that results of that survey, expected in January, will provide the first comprehensive look at the scope of the sex-abuse crisis.

But some victims groups have expressed reservations over the methodology, in which the bishops essentially are reporting the contents of their own files.

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