Twenty Years Later, a Start
Information Equals Power

National Catholic Reporter
January 16, 2004

That`s one reason why the U.S. Catholic bishops resisted turning over information about child-abusing priests until forced to.

That`s why secretive bureaucracies come up with phrases like "this information will be shared on a need-to-know basis."

Forced by the fates, however, the bishops have released a report on diocesan compliance with national child-protection policies (see related story). The report represents a tiny and welcome crack in that bureaucratic fa`ade.

It`s maddening, and in some locales probably criminal, that it took two decades to get to this point. But having argued, begged, and pleaded for accountability from our church leaders for 20 years, it would be wrong to dismiss the audit as just so much face-saving. The fact that the bishops engaged 54 professional investigators (many of them former FBI agents) to review their procedures, that they opened some of their files, and that they exposed their local churches to scrutiny is, in a word, significant.

One report hardly untangles the knotty issues involved in the crimes committed by members of the clergy; and, given its limited scope (the report, by design, does not even touch on the issues related to the cover-up of these crimes), it represents a necessary but small step in coming to grips with the crisis.

More steps are coming: Late next month the lay-run National Review Board appointed by the bishops will release two additional reports. One, conducted by researchers at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, will provide hard data, dating back 50 years, on the nature and scope of sex abuse by church officials. The second will examine the causes of the crisis. And, to its credit, the bishops? Office of Child and Youth Protection is urging that the audit conducted last year be made more comprehensive and be repeated this year.

Ray Siegfried, the chairman of Oklahoma-based Nordam Corporation and a member of the National Review Board, said it well. "We urge the bishops to embrace these recommendations, offered as they are in the spirit of helpfulness, and not to impede the signal progress that has been made. The work of cleansing our church has not been completed. It has only started."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.