Diocese Audited for Compliance with Misconduct Procedures

By Bill Pomerleau
Observer [Springfield MA]
Downloaded October 30, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - Auditors from the Gavin Group, a Boston-based firm founded by former FBI agents, came to the Diocese of Springfield earlier this month to confirm that it is complying with the U.S. bishops‚ "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

The audit, commissioned by the U.S. bishops‚ national office for Child and Youth Protection for all the nation's dioceses, was conducted here Oct. 13-16.

"I think they were very pleased," said Laura Failla Reilly, victim outreach advocate for the diocese.

Reilly would not immediately specify recommendations that may have been made about the diocese‚s procedures for preventing and treating sexual misconduct, since dioceses across the country have largely agreed to await the issuance of a detailed national report about the audits early next year before discussing the situations in their dioceses.

However, Springfield Bishop Thomas L. Dupr? is expected to discuss some of the audit‚s local findings at a press conference next week.

Reilly did confirm that the diocese was found to be in compliance with all the main points of the charter adopted by the bishops at their spring 2002 meeting in Dallas.

The auditors confirmed that the diocese has an independent review board to investigate allegations against clergy. They met twice with the diocesan misconduct commission, one of the first independent boards established in the nation.

They also examined what services are offered to abuse victims by interviewing Reilly, misconduct board members, and two victims.

Reilly was questioned about how the diocese is conforming with the charter's requirements that each diocese have a victim outreach coordinator; background investigations of all church employees or volunteers working with children; published sexual abuse policies; training sessions on the policies and on sexual abuse prevention for employees; volunteers and parents, and age-appropriate training of children to recognize and say no to inappropriate behavior.

Father Daniel Pacholec, diocesan vocations director, was interviewed on how the diocese screens candidates for the priesthood.

Father John Smegal, director of continuing education for priests, outlined the diocese‚s programs to educate priests about abuse issues.

Msgr. Richard Sniezyk, diocesan vicar general, answered questions about how the diocese has handled the canonical aspects of the problem. Father Daniel Liston and Sister of St. Joseph Carol Cifatte, two of the diocese‚s principal canon lawyers, were attending a convention during the auditors‚ visits, but were available by telephone to Msgr. Sniezyk, Reilly explained.

Attorney John Egan also met with auditors to explain the diocese‚s handling of misconduct matters in civil law.

Mark Dupont, the diocese‚s director of news and public information, discussed how the diocese is being committed to transparency in its informing the public about misconduct.

The auditors also met twice with Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupr?. Among other things, he confirmed that he has personally met with abuse victims, said Reilly.

The recently completed audit is just one of three major studies of the church‚s misconduct procedures that have been planned.

Results of a clergy sex abuse study, which will quantify the extent of the problem in the last 50 years, is expected to be released on the national level towards the end of February.

That survey is being conducted by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, one of the nation‚s top law enforcement colleges. It has required each diocese to fill out a separate form for each priest or deacon accused of such abuse and for each alleged victim of clergy abuse.

The survey had more than 30 questions to be answered about each accused member of the clergy and more than 50 questions about each alleged victim. The questions ranged from the years the alleged abuse occurred to how many times; from the ages of the cleric and of the alleged victim or victims to the nature of the alleged abuse; from the credibility of the accusations to the alleged abuser's method of operation; from the treatment provided for the alleged abuser and victims to decisions about the cleric's future in ministry.

Bishop Wilton T. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 22 that the results of the John Jay study could be "startling" to Catholics but should reassure them that church leaders are serious about solving the problem.

Bishop Gregory told CNS in Rome that the survey's aggregate numbers concerning sex abuse cases over several decades may "add to the pain" of Catholics who already have been scandalized by the crisis.

"It's going to be startling because there's no other comparable study by any other institution, and there's no other study that details all of the good things the church has done," Bishop Gregory said.

This lack of context should be kept in mind, he said. It may be difficult to evaluate the numbers without these "background barometers," including the incidence of abuse in other environments, he added.

Bishop Dupr? is still considering when he will release the Springfield findings from the John Jay study.

A third study, to be overseen by the bishops' National Review Board on misconduct, will examine the causes and contexts of clerical sexual abuse. It is expected to be completed in three or four years.


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