Church's Efforts to Stop Abuse Criticised

By Ken Dermota
January 7, 2004

US Roman Catholic bishops said they are doing what they can to stop priests from sexually abusing children, but victims decried a church audit of the effort released on Tuesday as flawed.

A report on efforts to purge sexual predators from church ranks said abusers had been removed from possible contact with children, but did not say how many or what had happened to them.

"How many? Where are they? Is there a backlog? Is there? ? I don't know," Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at the release of the audit in Washington.

The 288 US bishops and cardinals mandated the study in June 2002 in response to hundreds of multimillion-dollar claims by victims of predatory priests over the past 40 years.

"We have done everything we can to remove anyone that we know of who has been accused and has a credible accusation against them," Gregory said.

The report said 157 of the 191 US dioceses were in compliance with the bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, meant to prevent sexual abuse.

The auditors were largely former law enforcement officials hired by the bishops' conference.

Audits fundamentally flawed - critics

"These so-called audits are fundamentally flawed," Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told AFP.

"Bishops have defined the rules of the game, decided who plays, paid the umpires and are now declaring themselves the winners," she said.

The charter mandated that churches create a safe environment for children, provide healing and reconciliation for victims, respond effectively to allegations, cooperate with civil authorities and discipline offenders.

"It would be far better to put up a database of perpetrators' residences, - Blaine said.

Bishops held the conference after victims claimed the church hierarchy covered up accusations and moved priests with multiple accusations to new parishes where the abuse sometimes continued, in some cases, for decades.

Report does not track number of clerics removed

However, the report did not track the number or the locations of clerics removed from parishes where they could have contact with children.

"I was quite surprised ... to find that there were no numbers that exist like that," said Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, set up by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 to monitor compliance with the bishops' charter.

"It should be a part of an annual report that comes to this office, that each diocese provide those numbers ... to us so that we can in turn provide that to the public," said McChesney, who once headed the FBI offices in Chicago and Seattle.

"What we did in that regard was not to review any personnel files at all, whether it be a priest or whether it be backgrounds of victims or whatnot," said Bill Gavin, a former FBI official who headed the committee.

"Some have said that we were harsh in being so strong and exact (by) taking people out of the ministry with an allegation," Gregory said in apparent reference to Pope John Paul II, who asked parishioners to have faith in the healing power of God.


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