Healing the Wounds
Catholic Church's Sex Abuse Audit May Not Be Perfect, but It's a Good Beginning

January 8, 2004

The Catholic Church in the United States can't begin to convince anyone of its ability to police itself -- given its history of harboring the abuser in its ranks and ignoring the abused -- without encountering a wall of doubt. Just how fortified that wall has become was evident Tuesday, as critics assailed a church audit indicating that nine out of 10 dioceses are adhering to the church's new rules to deal with the abuse of children by priests.

"These so-called audits are fundamentally flawed," said Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Essentially, bishops have defined the rules of the game, decided who plays, paid the umpires and are now declaring themselves the winners."

Fair enough -- for now. The healing process is going to require a lot of time, money, prayer, pain and reconciliation.

Yet the church's audit is not an attempt to make amends for the crimes of priests. It only measures how dioceses have complied with the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which went into effect in June 2002. In that sense these audits, which are being directed by former FBI agents, are part of a forward-looking process.

There were encouraging findings in the audit, too, about the Metuchen and Allentown dioceses. They not only made the grade, but were cited for additional steps to foster reform and healing. The Metuchen Diocese, which covers Warren and Hunterdon counties, is one of a few that has a SNAP member on its review board. The Allentown diocese, which released its share of the audit findings in December, was credited for a number of its responses to the scandal, including its "Healing the Body of Christ" program during the Lenten season.

A lot of work remains to be done, and much of it will have to be sifted through litigation. If the church is to rebuild the faith of those who have been hurt, it must hold itself to high, public standards, including these performance audits. It's a beginning.


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