The Nation
Investigation into Abuse by Priests Leaves Some Cold

By Larry B. Stammer
Los Angeles Times
January 7, 2004

Most of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops won plaudits Tuesday for complying with a zero-tolerance plan to prevent sexual abuse by priests. But victims, church watchdogs and bishops themselves warned that serious work remained if the church was to fully restore its credibility.

An audit commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the church needed to better track the whereabouts of abusive priests who had left dioceses and to seek out people who were sexually abused as minors. Programs to train clergy, teachers, parents and children on how to spot signs of sexual abuse need to be evaluated, and laymen should receive more training to serve on the boards that advise bishops on sexual abuse issues, according to the report released Tuesday.

The audit found that 90% of the 194 U.S. dioceses had carried out provisions of the zero-tolerance charter adopted by the bishops at a Dallas meeting in June 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse scandal that has engulfed the U.S. church. Twenty dioceses around the country, none in California, had not fully complied as of last month, investigators found.

"We bishops are keeping our word," Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the bishops conference, told reporters in Washington. "However, the completion of the audit and this report does not tempt us to be complacent." Quoting World War II British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Gregory said, "We have not reached the end, or even the beginning of the end, but perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Gregory said he believed the nation's bishops would probably adopt the recommendations for improvement later this year.

Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, which ordered the audit, urged continued vigilance.

"Failing to create a long-term plan for accountability and response to the crisis of sexual abuse of children and young people would undermine the substantial efforts that have been made thus far," McChesney, a former high-ranking FBI official, warned.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the Dallas charter had at least prodded bishops to move forward "a tad more" in addressing sexual abuse.

"Any time thousands of people in the church are forced to talk about abuse, there's benefit," Clohessy said. "But our basic gripe is essentially that people are being told we're in a Cadillac, when in fact we're on a scooter."

At issue is the effectiveness of the zero-tolerance charter, which among other things mandates that any priest or deacon found to have sexually abused minors would be removed from ministry and possibly from the priesthood or deaconate.

The charter also required bishops to take such steps as developing written sexual abuse prevention policies and establishing lay advisory boards on abuse.

The audit was performed to see how well the bishops were keeping their word. It was conducted for the church by the Gavin Group, a firm headed by retired FBI official William Gavin, who said the findings amounted to "an extraordinary report card" for bishops.


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