Dioceses Are Moving Ahead on Abuse, Audit Finds

By Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
January 7, 2004

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 - Auditors for the Roman Catholic Church have concluded that while most bishops have instituted the sexual abuse prevention measures they agreed to in 2002 they are still only beginning to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse by priests and church employees.

The auditors' report, released on Tuesday by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is the result of an unprecedented decision by the bishops to hire outside auditors to go into each diocese and scrutinize church procedures. Most of the auditors were former F.B.I. agents, and many were not Catholic, said William A. Gavin, a former F.B.I. official whose consulting firm conducted the study.

The study was largely based on interviews with church officials and appointees, although auditors also talked to local prosecutors and some victims, Mr. Gavin said. Victims' advocates immediately criticized the report as failing to take adequate account of the experiences of victims and laypeople and as basing the conclusions on superficial indicators.

The study found that 20 of the 191 audited dioceses had not carried out all of the policies that the bishops committed themselves to in a charter they passed in June 2002 as the abuse disclosures were becoming a nationwide crisis.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the bishops conference, said in a news conference on Tuesday: "The audit results represent solid progress on the journey toward fulfilling the vision set out in the charter. I believe these findings show that we bishops are keeping our word."

The report cost about $1.8 million, with most dioceses picking up the average cost of $9,500 for their own audits, said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the conference.

The auditors reported that since June 2002 a vast majority of dioceses had formed lay review boards to advise bishops on handling accusations of abuse, appointed victims' assistance coordinators, stopped requiring victims to sign confidentiality agreements and started referring accusations to the police or civil authorities, said Kathleen McChesney, a former F.B.I. official who became executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection and supervised the auditing.

The bishops were less successful, Ms. McChesney said, at meeting with and reaching out to victims, starting abuse prevention programs and establishing codes of conduct for church employees who work with youth.

Ms. McChesny emphasized that the report generated many recommendations. Among them were that the policies in the charter need to be adopted at the parish level, bishops need to keep track of abusers who have been removed from ministry and the bishops need to devise long-term plans to keep them accountable.

Among the 20 dioceses that were not given completely clean bills of health was the Archdiocese of New York. Joseph Zwilling, an archdiocese spokesman, said in an interview that the archdiocese, the second largest in the nation, had been hindered by its size and complexity, but that it would comply.

Other dioceses were cited for exemplary policies or for going beyond the measures called for in the charter. The report cited the Diocese of Brooklyn for referring all cases of abuse to prosecutors, even those cases outside the criminal statute of limitations.

The report comes exactly two years after the scandal's start, when The Boston Globe published an article reporting that Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other church officials had knowingly reassigned priests who had preyed on children to other parishes where the abuses continued.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that "the bar is set so phenomenally low" that he feared that the positive report would give Catholics a false sense of security.

"It focuses very heavily on paperwork and procedures and policies, which we believe has never been the issue," Mr. Clohessy said. "I don't believe a priest is not going to sodomize a child because he read in a code of conduct that it was wrong."

He said that of the 4,600 victims who belong to the network, the auditors interviewed 3.

Jim Post, president of the Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed in response to the scandal, applauded the effort to keep bishops accountable, but said that the audits provided only "a narrow test of the issues that need to be addressed." Mr. Post called for audits that would include more participation from victims and other laity.

Mr. Gavin said he hired 54 auditors who worked in teams and spent up to five days in each diocese. He said that the auditors did interview some victims, but that they did not know the victims' names and did not look at church personnel records because they wanted to avoid becoming involved in litigation.

The auditors did not survey any religious orders like the Franciscans or Jesuits, which are responsible for one-third of the nation's Catholic priests and brothers.

Four of 195 dioceses did not participate, one because it is new. Two said they had scheduling problems and planned to be audited this year. In the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, where the bishop and auditor determined that because the diocese was involved in litigation on charges of sexual abuse, "a full and fair review could not be completed without interference from outside entities," the report said.

The report did not assess how many priests molested how many children or why the problems persisted. That study, based on a survey sent out by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, is expected to be released next month. A handful of bishops have publicly chafed at the survey, and the report said six dioceses chose not to respond to the John Jay survey.

In a statement, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, which was among those that did not respond, said the survey had "inherent flaws that make it an inaccurate instrument, and thus is harmful, not helpful."


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