Groups Advised on Abuse Claims

By Joshua L. Weinstein
Portland Press Herald
August 24, 2004

A group that began as an independent effort to address sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church released a report Monday that offers a model for any institution - not just the church - on how to respond to allegations of such abuse.

The model calls for institutions to be far more open than they have been in the past, and says that victims and their families should be quickly referred to someone outside the institution for help.

"Some of the institutional responses that have been out there have been very harmful, very hurtful to the family," said Courtney Oland, one of the 10 people who made up a group called the Best Practice Team, which wrote the report and developed the model.

Oland, whose brother was sexually abused by a priest, said during a news conference about the report that her family could have used such a model when her brother disclosed his ordeal.

"When this tragedy struck, we naturally turned to the institution for guidance," she said. "It maybe wasn't our best first stop."

The report suggests that institutions make use of the 10 sexual assault response centers in Maine. Those centers already are set up to help connect survivors with counselors, self-help groups, and other service providers. The centers also can provide families of survivors with information.

Oland said had she known that the centers could have helped, she would have made use of them. "They could have helped me access a wealth of information."

The group originally formed after a group called Voice of the Faithful, made up of Catholics concerned about clergy abuse in their church, contacted several professionals in the area of sexual abuse. As the Best Practice Team researched, it found that sexual abuse was far more widespread than it initially believed - the report mentions the sexual abuse at the state-run Baxter School for the Deaf, in the Boy Scouts of America, in other churches and in public and private schools.

"We came to realize that we had the opportunity and the responsibility as professionals and advocates to recommend not only how the Roman Catholic Church should respond to the sexual abuse within that institution, but also how other institutions should respond as well," the report says.

Cyndi Amato, executive director of Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine, and Oland presented the report to Bishop Richard Malone of the Diocese of Portland earlier this month.

The bishop did not commission the study, but met with the two, said Sue Bernard, the bishop's spokeswoman.

"The bishop was pleased to talk to them and felt that this was an excellent piece of work," she said.

Bernard said the bishop will take the report into account when he reviews the diocese's ethics policy.

Michael Sweatt, of Voice of the Faithful, said the bishop should do more than that. Sweatt said he should implement the model as the church's.

"He has an opportunity to set the tone, to set the pace, to set the example for all institutions, and what better institution to set the tone than the church," Sweatt said.

The report includes guidelines for both institutions and for survivors and their families. It also contains a section on reporting sexual abuse, along with information regarding the treatment of child sexual abusers who have molested children in an institutional setting.

It also has resources for survivors and their families.

It is available online at in the section marked "reports, laws & statistics."

Staff Writer Joshua L. Weinstein can be contacted at 791-6368 or at:


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