Audit Praises Pittsburgh Diocese's Response on Abuse
Review Looked at Procedures, Policies

By Ann Rodgers-Melnick
Post-Gazette [Pittsburgh PA]
October 11, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has received high marks from auditors who reviewed its compliance with the U.S. bishops' 2002 rules for responding to complaints that a priest or deacon has sexually abused a minor, a diocesan spokesman said.

The auditors concluded that "the leadership, personnel and operations of the Diocese of Pittsburgh are worthy of commendation," said the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the diocese. His summary was based on a verbal report that two auditors gave yesterday to Bishop Donald Wuerl, after a five-day investigation of diocesan procedures and policies. Wuerl will receive a more extensive written summary within two weeks.

All 195 Catholic dioceses are being audited for compliance with the U.S. Catholic Bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter requires measures such as a panel of lay experts to advise bishops on each case, permanent removal from ministry of any priest who has sexually abused a minor, pastoral outreach to accusers and various measures to prevent abuse in the future.

Auditors, mostly former FBI agents, review documents and interview key people, including diocesan officials, law enforcement officers and victims. In cases of exceptional behavior -- either positive or negative -- the auditors can issue either a commendation, a recommendation or a reprimand regarding diocesan performance on each aspect of the charter.

The audits deal only with diocesan actions since June 2002, when the bishops adopted the charter. However, Wuerl, who was responsible for some of the charter's most stringent demands, has championed its "zero tolerance" standard in Pittsburgh since 1988. In some areas diocesan policy is stronger than that of the charter. For instance the charter requires the diocese to notify police of any accusation in which the victim is still a minor. Pittsburgh policy is to notify the police no matter how old the victim is now.

"The preliminary report [of the auditors] has shown that the Diocese of Pittsburgh is in full compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People on all 14 of the relevant articles of the audit instrument, and with the spirit and letter of the charter," Lengwin said.

The National Lay Review Board, which the U.S. bishops created to oversee their response to sexual abuse scandals that rocked the church in 2002, has said that the public report on the audits, expected to be released in December, will name any dioceses that are not in compliance with the charter.

Pittsburgh is the last of five Western Pennsylvania dioceses to complete the audit. Although the National Lay Review Board asked bishops not to comment on the reviews they received until the final report is completed in December, some bishops have announced happy results.

Bishop Anthony Bosco of Greensburg was among them.

Greensburg's audit was done Aug. 18-21, and Bosco received an executive summary Aug. 29. A report in the diocesan newspaper quoted the audit report as saying, "The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Greensburg is to be commended for his proactive and forward thinking approach to the current crisis in the church regarding sexual abuse of minors by clergy."

According to the diocese, the auditors singled out the pastoral care team that responds to victims as "particularly effective."

"What pleased me is that they said we were in good shape before Dallas," Bosco said, referring to the June 2002 meeting at which the charter was drafted.

The Byzantine Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh also reported a good review from auditors.

There were no recommendations or reprimands, but two commendations, said Veronica Varga, director of communications.

One commendation was for efforts to respond to complaints in an archdiocese whose 60,000 members are scattered from Pittsburgh to Texas. The Pittsburgh chancery can easily provide victim assistance and abuse prevention training to parishioners in the Tri-State area, but beyond that it becomes difficult, Varga said. Therefore Archbishop Basil Schott arranged with all of the outlying Latin Catholic dioceses in which he has parishes to provide those services to Byzantine Catholics, Varga said.

The other commendation was for the caliber of its six-member advisory board, she said. Like some other dioceses, the Byzantine archdiocese has not made their names public. But their descriptions include a former assistant district attorney with six years experience in child protection services, a forensic psychiatrist and a partner in a large law firm specializing in litigation. The archdiocesan victim assistance coordinator is a clinical social worker with a master's degree in Eastern Catholic studies.

The Diocese of Erie was audited Aug. 25-28, and also reported that it was found "in full compliance" with two commendations. The diocese did not give details, but said that the auditors interviewed about 25 people, including victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse.

"I am extremely pleased and gratified by the positive report," said Bishop Donald Trautman.

The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, one of the first to undergo an audit in July, has said it will not comment until the national report is final. But a diocesan spokesman sounded very pleased about the process.

"I found it very helpful. These are not our adversaries. They are helping us do what we need to do," Sister Mary Parks said after their audit was done.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.