Diocese Fails to Follow Abuse Policie

By Michael Clancy
The Arizona Republic [Phoenix AZ]
November 8, 2003

The Catholic Diocese of Phoenix has failed to comply fully with the U.S. bishops' guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse but will get a second chance starting Nov. 19.

Auditors hired by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are reviewing compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Phoenix was one of only a few dioceses to require a second visit, said Kathleen McChesney, spokeswoman for the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection in Washington, D.C.

Phoenix Diocese Youth Protection Advocate Jennifer O'Connor said in July that the diocese was behind schedule on its training and screening programs. Diocesan spokeswoman Mary Jo West confirmed Friday that those are the issues that auditors flagged.

The "safe environment" training began two weeks ago, but how to screen volunteers for criminal records is still being reviewed. West said that auditors left recommendations and are returning to "follow up."

Doris Kennedy, whose son, Mark, has a lawsuit pending against the diocese and Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien, who has resigned, said she is not surprised that the diocese failed to fully meet terms of the Dallas charter.

"Nothing surprises me any more that is discovered about the diocese," she said.

The charter was created in June 2002 by bishops concerned about the nationwide clergy-abuse scandal. The provisions were supposed to be in place by June 2003.

Phoenix diocesan officials refused to discuss the review after the auditors' first visit in early August, even though other dioceses nationwide touted passing grades. Archbishop Michael Sheehan, temporary administrator of the Phoenix Diocese, said his home archdiocese in Santa Fe "received an A-plus."

Nationally, audits were completed last week, McChesney said. A full report will be issued in January, a month later than originally promised.

Among the charter provisions Phoenix diocese officials say they have met are:

Reaching out to victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Policies to require prompt response, including a lay-dominated review board.

Requirement of reporting allegations to authorities.

Clear standards of behavior for staff and volunteers.

Most of these are met by the diocesan sex-abuse policy, which was updated in May and again in October.

The Phoenix Diocese has claimed in the past to be one of the leaders in addressing sexual abuse. But Phoenix has continued to struggle with the issue.

Besides O'Brien's deal with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office to avoid prosecution, signed in May, five priests are facing criminal charges, one recently pleaded guilty and another was sent to prison.

Two others have served sentences, and three priests are in foreign countries. At least six civil lawsuits are pending.

In addition, many victims have expressed dissatisfaction with the apologies Sheehan has made on behalf of the diocese and with diocesan efforts to provide financial support for counseling.


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