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  Bishops Said to Follow Discipline Plan
Report Says Most Bishops Are Complying with Discipline Plan for Dealing with Abusive Priests

The Associated Press, carried in ABC News
Downloaded January 2, 2004

Jan. 2 An upcoming report on whether Roman Catholic bishops are implementing their new mandatory discipline plan for sexually abusive priests will say most dioceses are complying, but "there is still a lot that needs to be done," the official overseeing the audit said Friday.

Kathleen McChesney, a former top FBI agent and head of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the sheer size of some of the largest dioceses slowed their progress, while others lacked the personnel or financing for quick compliance.

The plan not only dictates how bishops should respond to abuse claims, but also requires them to take steps to prevent molestation, such as conducting background checks on all clergy and lay workers in the diocese and training them to identify abuse. The largest archdioceses employ more than a thousand priests alone, McChesney said.

"Considering it's only been about a year since people have been working on it, there's been a lot of progress, but nobody is going to tell you that it's all been done," McChesney said, in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "What you're going to find is that most of them are (complying), but there is still a lot that needs to be done."

The report, which is scheduled to be released Tuesday in Washington, is based on audits of all 195 U.S. dioceses conducted by the Gavin Group, a Boston consulting firm led by former FBI official Bill Gavin.

The bishops commissioned the review, which will be conducted annually, as part of the new policy they adopted at the height of the abuse crisis in June 2002 in Dallas.

The plan mandates that guilty priests be barred from public ministry from celebrating Mass to working in a church soup kitchen although they would technically remain priests. Bishops can also ask the Vatican to force perpetrators from the priesthood a process that can take years.

McChesney said the auditors did find "a few" abusive priests still in ministry, but the clergymen were removed as soon as the breach was discovered. "It was very, very rare," she said. "Where we learned of it, we addressed it."

The auditors mostly former FBI agents or investigators traveled the country from June to October in small teams, interviewing bishops, diocesan personnel, victims, abusive priests, prosecutors and lay people.

If deficiencies were found, the auditors left instructions on fixing the problem, then required the diocese to act on those recommendations by a certain date.

Victim advocates have questioned whether the auditors could gain a true understanding of how dioceses were responding to abuse claims, since they had to rely on church officials for much of their information.

But McChesney said she believed the audits provided an accurate picture since the investigators also spoke with people outside the church.

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