Several Dioceses Protest Inclusion on Sex-Abuse List

By Ron Harris
Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
January 7, 2004

Bishop Raymond Burke of LaCrosse, Wis., has one last issue to resolve in Wisconsin before he is installed later this month as archbishop of St. Louis.

Burke wants his diocese removed from a list that includes 19 other dioceses said by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection not to be in compliance with the bishops' charter on sexual abuse.

The LaCrosse diocese was placed on the list because an audit of its program by the Gavin Group reported that the diocese had not completed a program to instruct all children, parents and staff on how to respond to acts of sexual abuse, according to Sheila Horan, deputy director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection.

The diocese agrees that it has not completed the program but argues that it has done enough work so that it should be considered in compliance with the charter.

"We feel we have done all the things that are required of us," said the Rev. Lawrence Dunklee, director of the Office for Priests and the man appointed by Burke to implement the bishops' sexual abuse charter. "We haven't completed all of it, but because we have addressed a good portion of it, that should not be held against us as being listed not in compliance."

The diocese has completed half to three quarters of the instruction, Dunklee said. The program should be completed by the end of the school year in May, he said.

Burke is asking for a public statement from the bishops' conference saying that the diocese is in compliance.

"We want some kind of public statement," Dunklee said. "We feel as though the issue ... is being addressed. We want an acknowledgment of that. This error has caused a good deal of concern for us here, in how it appears in the media. We want this clarified and an acknowledgment of what we have accomplished."

Such a statement appears unlikely.

"The LaCrosse diocese is not in compliance," said Kathleen McChesney, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. If they took action ... since Dec. 1, they could actually be in compliance, but to know that they will have to be reaudited. And we are not going to do a new audit until later this year."

Burke and LaCrosse will not be the only diocese protesting being placed on the list.

The Rev. Mr. Joel Melarvie, chancellor of the diocese of Bismarck, N. D., said he also will ask the bishops' conference to remove them from the list.

"The report is in error," Melarvie said. "We are advising USCCB and the Gavin Group this afternoon. The USCCB requires that we have a training schedule in place. We advised the Gavin Group in a letter Nov. 6 that this was done, and according to the letter we have since received on Nov. 15, sent by the Gavin Group president, it states that he acknowledges the fact that we have scheduled training sessions."

The Bismarck diocese is being penalized because the training sessions hadn't been completed at the time of the audit, Melarvie said. He said he didn't believe that was a requirement in the instruction given to them.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York expressed similar concern, but said the diocese will not challenge the audit.

"I will let the people from the audit and Dr. McChesney's office establish what they believe is compliance," said Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the diocese. "We were instructed to implement a safe environment program and we have done that. An aggressive training schedule has been put in place. We are aggressively seeking volunteers. We have put notices on parish bulletins."

Zwilling and Melarvie said being placed on the list could give people the faulty impression that their dioceses are not proceeding forward against child sexual abuse.

"We hope people take a look at what we are doing and access fully what the diocese is doing," Zwilling said. "If people do that, they will see the diocese is moving forward in implementing the safe environment program and is doing what needs to be done to protect children and young people.


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