Child Protection Director Explains Abuse Reports

By Alexis McLaughlin
The Catholic Telegraph [Dayton OH]
Downloaded April 7, 2004

DAYTON DEANERY - Kathleen McChesney, director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), cited reasons to be optimistic about the progress that has been made following the clergy sexual abuse tragedy.

"Since 2002, 700 priests with credible allegations against them have been removed from ministry," she said.

She described a changing United States church that is open to continued review and revision through her office and the National Review Board (NRB), both of which were called for in the USCCB's 2002 charter on child protection.


Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, makes a point at a 2003 press conference in St. Louis, as Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection, and Bishop Joseph A. Galante , chairman of the bishops' Committee on Communications, listen.

In addition to the charter, the bishops also adopted a companion document, "The Essential Norms," that has become "particular canon law in the U.S., meaning there are canonical penalties for priests who abuse minors," McChesney said.

Still, she said, "More remains to be done" about clergy sexual abuse, which she calls, "a wound to the soul."

McChesney was the last speaker for the University of Dayton series, "The Wounded Body of Christ: Sexual Abuse in the Church," and spoke to about 150 people March 29 on campus.

She left her position as head of law enforcement services at the FBI in 2003 to became director of the newly created Office of Child Protection. Her mission is to promote safe environments ' by formulating standards of conduct with enforceable consequences; educating adults and children; and auditing dioceses and preparing an annual report. Her office also assists the NRB with studies and acts as ombudsman for people who have problems with the church response.

McChesney found no central national data bank cataloguing the clergy sexual abuse cases so the NRB commissioned the John Jay School of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York to measure the extent of the clergy abuse problem between 1950 and 2002.

Nearly 98 percent of the dioceses and 60 percent of religious communities of men, representing 80 percent of the U.S. religious, participated in the "Scope and Nature Study" (John Jay Study). The latter group requested to be included, demonstrating the depth of this group's concern, McChesney said.

The study found that 4,392 priests offended during the 52-year period the study examined and 10,666 victims reported being abused.

"The actual number of victims and offending priests is much higher, but I can't say how much higher. Because the study ended in 2002, those incidents reported since were not included in these statistics," she said.

"Approximately four percent of diocesan priests were credibly accused, and 2.7 percent of religious priests (those in religious orders) were credibly accused," said McChesney, who recognized the discrepancy between the types of priests as "significant."

The study showed that most incidents of abuse occurred during the 1970s; 1980 was the peak year for incidents of reported abuse. Twenty-eight percent of victims were abused for a period of two to four years.

The study also found that 51 percent of the victims described were between 11 and 14 years old; 12 years of age was the average.

McChesney said, "Eighty-one percent of the victims were boys, which is different from the rates of abuse in the rest of society where girls are most frequently abused." This difference warrants further study, she said.

One statistic ' 25 percent of those reporting abuse by clergy had siblings who were also abused ' has far-reaching implications. "It can be extrapolated that there are at least 3,000 more victims" based on what we know of victims and their reporting habits, McChesney said.

The John Jay report determined that in only 12 percent of abuse cases did victims report the crime within the first year, while 25 percent waited 30 or more years after the fact.

"Most sex abuse is not reported, and the number (not reporting) is even greater when clergy is involved," McChesney said. "These numbers tell you that in 1993 when the first notorious cases came forward, the church only knew of one in three cases of abuse."

The report showed that 21 percent of victims' families had personal relationships with the offender. "They went on vacation together, they ate dinner together at the victim's house," McChesney said.

The study determined that 41 percent of the abusive incidents occurred in the clergy's bedroom in his residence. "Most offenders were associate pastors, not pastors, not coaches, not teachers, not principals. The most common year of ordination was 1970, but we don't know what that means yet," she said.

While the report found that 56 percent of offenders had but one report ' most of a long-term nature ' made against them, McChesney said, "That doesn't mean that these offenders only abused one time."

Of particular interest to McChesney's office is the fact that 149 of the offenders described in the report had more than 10 victims. "This (statistic) shows the institutional response of the church," she said.

"In 70 percent of cases, the offending priest was sent for treatment or evaluation," McChesney said. "But many were sent to treatment for alcohol abuse, when, in reality, they had a sexual abuse problem to address."

Up until the end of 2002, clergy sexual abuse cost the church at least $572 million. "It does not include the $85 million from Boston settled in 2003 or the 14 percent of dioceses that were involved in litigation at the time of the study," she said.

The NRB, chaired by Justice Ann Burke of the Illinois Appellate Court, which consists of 12 professional, volunteer, lay Catholic people ' one of whom is a victim of abuse ' reported the results of 18 months of diocesan compliance audits in February.

The report said the abuse crisis is "a failure to abide by church teachings and the people who did this (abused) just did not care about church teachings."

It found that poor screening of priest candidates, sexual dysfunction, and poor seminary formation contributed to priests abusing minors.

The reasons for the poor church response included bishops' ignorance about the broad nature of the problem; the placing of institutional and priest needs ahead of victims' needs; failure to understand victims' pain; heavy reliance on psychiatrists; difficult canonical processes; and a lack of fraternal correction among the bishops.

McChesney said because of the audits, "Diocesan review boards have been established where there were none, so that professional people, both lay and religious, will advise the bishop about the facts of cases in which he must decide whether to remove priests from ministry."

Now, she said, each diocese has a victims' assistance coordinator who is expert at dealing with victims of abuse and who can explain the church processes.

The review board has also ensured that about 300 canonical lawyers across the country have been trained to deal with the canonical trials that will result from the zero tolerance policy, which calls for removing from ministry any priest who has offended.

Based on the findings, the NRB recommended enhanced screening and formation of priest candidates; increased sensitivity to those who have been abused; continued and greater accountability of church leadership; improved interaction with civil authorities; and meaningful participation of the laity in church issues.

The NRB has called for another report, "Causes and Context," which will examine the differences between diocesan and religious priests and between clergy who abuse and abusers in the larger society. The study will also seek to determine what occurred in the church's response that allowed the abuse to go on.

Though McChesney is optimistic about a future with far less abuse in the church, she warns that there is no way to completely eliminate it. Healthy skepticism is welcome, she said, because "it takes openness and transparency, a commitment to fulfilling the promises in that charter and unlimited caring and concern for those who've been abused and their families.

"It will take every effort possible to heal and reunite those who have been hurt by the church."


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