Bishops to Allow Auditing on Abuse

By Kevin Eckstrom
Boston Globe [Chicago IL]
May 19, 2004

Under public pressure from a lay advisory board, Catholic bishops have agreed not to delay plans for a second round of audits that will gauge the church's compliance with sexual abuse policy changes.

At a meeting in Chicago on Monday, the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse agreed to propose additional audits to be completed before year's end when the bishops gather at a private retreat next month in Denver.

Illinois Appellate Justice Anne Burke, chairwoman of the appointed National Review Board, said her panel was given assurances that the approval for the audits will not be delayed until November, as some conservative bishops had wanted.

"They believe it will go forward," Burke said in an interview, "but you can never say anything for sure."

For now, Burke has only assurances from the sexual abuse committee. When the bishops meet next month, they could decide to reject both proposals and put off any decisions until their regular business meeting in November.

"What their proposals ultimately will be, I don't know, but this was the concept we agreed to," she said.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the exact proposal will not be disclosed until the bishops' retreat, but said both sides are "very happy" with what will be presented.

Burke said the package will also include a proposal to launch a multiyear, "comprehensive study of the causes and contexts" of the abuse crisis, which was part of the policy changes agreed to by the bishops in 2002.

Last week, the National Catholic Reporter newspaper released a March 30 letter from Burke to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the bishops' conference, in which she said bishops were trying to return to "business as usual" by stalling additional audits.

Burke said the board had been manipulated by efforts by some bishops to put the brakes on additional audits, as well as by efforts to rein in the review board.

The size and scope of the audits are ultimately up to the bishops. Audits conducted last year and released in January showed that 90 percent of the dioceses had complied with the policy changes adopted two years ago.

Some leaders of dioceses that were deemed not in compliance -- including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb. -- launched an organized effort to stall the additional audits.

Burke said the audits would probably be conducted by The Gavin Group Inc. of Boston, which dispatched former FBI agents to the nation's 195 dioceses for last year's audits.


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