Abuse Report Cites Efforts of Newark Archdiocese
Myers Says Work Is Receiving Good Reviews
By Jeff Diamant
Star-Ledger [Newark NJ]
December 4, 2003
National auditors for Roman Catholic bishops gave the Newark Archdiocese positive reviews for efforts to create a "safe environment" for children and investigate clergy sex allegations after the church's sex abuse crisis, Archbishop John J. Myers said in an archdiocese newspaper published yesterday.
The column from Myers comes five weeks before the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops plans to release data on how all 195 dioceses in the country have reacted to it.
Kathleen McChesney, head of the conference's Office of Child and Youth Protection, which conducted the audit, would not confirm or deny the Newark results.
"I'm not going to comment on anybody's audit report until we get it all done" on Jan. 6, she said.
Spokespeople for New Jersey's four other Roman Catholic dioceses declined yesterday to comment on their final audit results or said they had not yet learned them. Most said they expect positive results.
The audit is the bishops' main attempt to assure the public they have adhered to the Dallas Charter, a series of steps they agreed on in July 2002 at the height of publicity over many bishops' failure to report clergy sex crimes to police or remove offending priests.
The steps include better investigations of abuse accusations, abuse-prevention training for church workers, increased openness about sex abuse and faster removal of abusive priests.
In yesterday's Catholic Advocate, the archdiocese's biweekly paper, Myers wrote, "I am happy to report that the auditors have determined, based on their thorough review of our procedures and progress in implementing the charter, that we are working effectively to create and maintain a safe environment for children and youth in the Archdiocese.
"In addition, the auditors reviewed our procedures and processes for investigating claims of sexual abuse of minors for compliance with the charter, and found them to be satisfactory as well."
The column said a "significant portion" of the audit success stemmed from training workshops and criminal background checks that have involved thousands of priests, diocese employees and volunteers.
It did not address his critics' standing concerns over archdiocesan treatment of sex-abuse victims, Myers' refusal to meet with selected lay reform and victims groups or his delay in releasing figures on accused priests.
"There he goes again, promoting his own image instead of substantively seeking input from others," said Mark Serrano, who was sexually abused by the former Rev. Jim Hanley of St. Joseph's in Mendham two decades ago. "Why is it appropriate to release this (audit information) when we get no detail about it?"
Maria Cleary, head of New Jersey's chapter of Voice of the Faithful, the reform group that Myers banned from church property and called "anti-Catholic," said she would withhold judgment on the archdiocese's performance until January.
"Bishops are privy to more information than we are at this point," she said. "Once the report is released, we'll be able to comment on it in an informed way."
Myers is the only New Jersey bishop who has not released figures on sex abuse cases in his diocese. The four other dioceses did so several months ago.
Though the Dallas Charter does not require dioceses to publicly release numbers of accused priests, except for in a church study that will be released in February, it called for a spirit of openness about sex abuse that members of SNAP -- the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests --say Myers has violated.
The nature of figures released varies from diocese to diocese. The Metuchen Diocese, where Bishop Paul Bootkoski has won praise from victims groups for his handling of the crisis, has received complaints against 29 priests, removed five of those from ministry and paid $800,000 in settlements to victims, officials said.
Asked why Myers has not yet released numbers, his spokesman Jim Goodness said: "We have wanted to wait until we had further information on particular cases that were going to Rome (for Vatican review) and what their status was, and to make sure that everything that we did have was accounted for. So we're fairly close to being able to talk about that."
Goodness said Myers plans to release the figures soon, and that Myers shared the audit results early because archdiocesan workers wanted to know them. The workers have faced inconveniences to attend a schedule of abuse-prevention training sessions that was accelerated at the request of the auditors.
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