Diocese Completes Second Audit of Sex Abuse Prevention Policies

By Bill Pomerleau
Iobserve [Springfield MA]
September 7, 2004

SPRINGFIELD – The Diocese of Springfield was audited last week to measure its compliance with the sex abuse prevention policies established by the U.S. Catholic Church in 2002.

And while the recently completed independent examination of recent handling of the alleged abuse of minors basically followed the format of a similar audit last year, there were a few changes.

"I think you could say this year’s approach had a bit more objectivity, rather than subjectivity," said Laura Failla Reilly, the diocese’s victims advocate.

A new question this year is the number of allegations received by dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies since their 2003 audit, Sheila Horan, deputy director of the U.S. bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, told Catholic News Service.

The 2003 audit did not ask about allegations. However, a church-approved national study on the sex abuse crisis conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York gathered data on sex abuse allegations during the 1950-2002 period.

The John Jay study released in February said that dioceses and eparchies received credible allegations of abuse against 4,392 clergymen -- almost all priests -- involving 10,667 minors during the period.

Answers to this year’s audit, and future audits, will establish a statistical base line needed to measure the success of prevention policies by showing whether future accusations will rise or fall, she told CNS.

"Are we reducing cases?" she asked.

The child and youth protection office is responsible for conducting the on-site audits and has contracted the Massachusetts-based Gavin Group, the same organization that did the 2003 audits, to do this year's audits.

Although they work for the same firm, this year’s audit was conducted by a different team of auditors, Failla Reilly told The Catholic Observer.

During their August 16-20 stay in the diocese, the auditors spoke to various individuals to determine if the diocese is in compliance with the 17-article Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The visit started and ended with an interview of Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell. During the bishop’s final interview, the auditors gave him a preliminary oral report of their findings, Failla Reilly said.

The audit team spoke to Diocesan Vicar General Msgr. Richard Sniezyk and Father George Farland, co-vicar for clergy, about the diocese’s supervision and placement of clergy who might be accused of sexual abuse.

The diocesan chancellors, Father Daniel Liston and Sister of St. Joseph of Chambery Carol Cifatte, were questioned about the diocese’s record-keeping procedures.

Father Daniel Pacholec, the diocesan vocations director, was questioned about the diocese’ education of seminarians on the protection of children. Franciscan Sister Andrea Ciszewski, curriculum coordinator for the diocese’s Catholic schools, was asked about children protection programs in Catholic schools and religious education programs.

Mark E. Dupont, the diocese’s director of news and public information, discussed how the diocese is committed to transparency in its informing the public about misconduct.

Lieutenant Peter Higgins, a state police investigator assigned to the office of Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett, was asked about the diocese’s cooperation with law enforcement.

Diocesan Attorney John J. Egan was interviewed about the church’s legal positions. The newest member of the diocesan review board, Robin Powell, was asked about his experiences on the board, Failla Reilly told the Observer.

For the second year, the Gavin Group auditors spoke to two alleged victims of sexual abuse. This year’s interviewees were individuals who have brought forth accusations since last October’s audit.

This year’s audit team also asked the diocese to set up four parish visits, Failla Reilly said.

The team physically visited St. Mary and Holy Name parishes in Springfield and St. Mary Parish in Longmeadow. They also spoke by telephone to leaders of Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs and St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Stanislaus Kostka parishes in Adams.

"Frankly, since time was of an essence, they asked for three parishes within a fifteen-minute drive of downtown Springfield, and one outlying parish," Reilly said.

Another innovation to the 2004 audits, which began in late July in various U.S. dioceses, is a provision that allows individuals or groups with information that a diocese or eparchy may not be in compliance with policies to forward such information directly to the Gavin Group.

For the 2003 audit, people with information about possible noncompliance had to contact the child protection office, which then passed the data to the Gavin Group, Horan told CNS.

Now, those with information regarding possible noncompliance with the provisions of the bishop’s charter can mail data to: Gavin Group, P.O. Box 520162, Winthrop, MA 02152.

A fact sheet, and the full text of the charter, is available on the bishops’ Web site at:

Horan said that victims' advocacy groups have been advised of the provision.

Last year’s audits, which were conducted over several months in 2003, showed a 90 percent compliance rate with the policies adopted by the U.S. bishops in 2002.

The Diocese of Springfield was found in full compliance with the charter, and received a commendation for its hiring of a clergy monitor who follows the activities of priests removed from ministry after charges of misconduct.

Results from last year’s audits were returned to each diocese at various times, then released nationally in January, 2004. A few dioceses questioned the accuracy of their audit findings, which lead the Gavin Group to correct some reports.

This year, the auditing firm will give each diocese its findings within weeks of the completion of its audits. Each diocese is then free to publicize the results at the time of its choosing.

A complete national report will be published next February.

The diocese has not yet decided when it will release its audit findings, Dupont told the Observer.

Dolan declined to comment on specific cases but noted that treatment couldn't go on indefinitely. According to the letters that have been sent, the diocese has been consulting with therapists for the patients in determining their treatment options.

"The diocese has responded to the needs of anyone who was sexually abused by a priest with whatever psychological counseling is appropriate," Dolan said. "We are paying for legitimate cases of treatment."

In a June 2003 report to the diocese, Murphy stated that about $193,000 had been spent for counseling in the prior 12 months. Dolan could not provide any recent cost figures or any numbers on how many victims were receiving counseling under the diocese's auspices or how many victims no longer receive assistance.

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