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  First of Catholic Scandal Reports Due This Week

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today
Downloaded January 5, 2004

U.S. Catholic bishops on Tuesday will release the first of three major reports promised after the child sexual abuse scandal erupted two years ago. It's expected to account, diocese by diocese, for the church's reform efforts.

The reports are required by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' policy, which was adopted at an emotional meeting in June 2002 in Dallas. Speakers excoriated the bishops for failing to protect children and teens from sexual predators in clerical collars.

"It will show the American people that the bishops have kept our word," Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill, head of the bishops' group, said Sunday on ABC News' This Week With George Stephanopoulos.

The bishops have had 18 months to take steps to remove any credibly accused priests, reach out to victims and establish Safe Environment Programs for preventing abuse and for reporting offenses.

The audit will be presented by the National Office of Child and Youth Protection, headed by former FBI executive Kathleen McChesney, and a National Review Board of prominent Catholic laypeople, created by the bishops to provide public scrutiny for their reform efforts.

Public outrage which drove Cardinal Bernard Law to resign 13 months ago as archbishop of Boston, the epicenter of the scandal is the only leverage for compliance. The bishops' group has no authority to punish a cleric who doesn't cooperate.

It appears that a tiny number did not. Results will be released for 191 dioceses, and the status of the remaining four will be "clarified" Tuesday, McChesney says.

The audit is "basically a snapshot of a dynamic process," she says. Although "some bishops may not have fully implemented the process yet, that doesn't mean they aren't working on it. People should look at their own diocese and see what progress has been made." The report will be available on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org/ocyp) after 10 a.m. ET.

Auditors reviewed documented policies and procedures and interviewed bishops and their staffs, priests, deacons, clergy, victims, local review board members, district attorneys and some parishioners. Dioceses that were behind schedule received instructions and recommendations with deadlines; those with innovative or exceptional performance were given commendations.

Some dioceses released some information early. The Archdiocese of New York, the nation's second-largest diocese, issued a press release Friday saying it was "in compliance with virtually every aspect" of the national policy and that it would implement a Safe Environment Program by the end of this school year.

The audits were conducted by teams of investigative experts from the Gavin Group of Boston, a consulting group led by retired FBI investigator William Gavin. He has praised the bishops and laity for their cooperation in a "difficult" process of identifying deficiencies and adopting "best practices" for safeguarding young people.

McChesney will recommend improvements and clarifications in the national policy, which is subject to review in a year. "It's a wonderful document, but as you work with it and implement it, you see how it might be more effective."

For example, it calls on the church to be more "transparent" in its actions, but there's no definition of transparency and each bishop interprets it differently. Though the audit identifies every diocese's progress, the second major report, due in February, does not.

The February report will be the first definitive tally of the scope of the scandal how many offenders and victims and the financial toll based on comprehensive but confidential surveys of every diocese conducted by the John Jay College of Justice.

Bishops are not required to release the results of the John Jay survey in individual dioceses. Although more than a dozen dioceses have released some details already, other bishops said they could not do so without violating state personnel laws or pledges of confidentiality made to victims.

Gregory has frequently said that he expects the February numbers will be "startling" and "painful" but that he sees this self-assessment as a bold effort that should be emulated by any group that deals with young people.

It's unlikely that even this tally will include all recently filed suits. In California, as many as 800 claims involving about 200 priests who served over the past 60 years were filed by a Dec. 31 deadline for a one-year extension on the statute of limitations.

Victims' advocates say these cases will shift public outrage from Boston to Los Angeles, the nation's largest diocese.

Until now, estimates of the scope of the scandal were an amalgam of media coverage, a few reports by attorneys general and treatment centers' studies.

Based on those sources, as many as 3,000 priests may have abused children or teens 2% of the 150,000 priests and religious brothers who served during the past 50 years, says Thomas Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara (Calif.) University.

In America magazine, Plante also estimates about 24,000 victims in the same half-century.

The third report, also due in February, is a preliminary study by the National Review Board on the causes of sexual abuse. It is intended to serve as a framework for a larger research effort that will put abuse by clergy in the framework of society, McChesney says.

Plante says it's a dangerous mistake for the public to focus only on abusive clergy when "about 20% of American women and about 15% of American men report that they were victims of sexual abuse when they were children. ... The important next step, once this is hopefully better managed in the church, is to consider other groups with ready power over children and adolescents."
 
 
 

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