Morale of Church Workers Suffers in Abuse Crisis
McChesney Calls Survey a Success Story for Church

By Dennis O’Connor
The Catholic Telegraph [Cincinnati OH]
November 11, 2004

ARCHDIOCESE — One of the unseen casualties of the clergy abuse scandal within the Catholic Church has been its employees — including members of the clergy, religious and lay workers alike — according to Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. McChesney was in Cincinnati Oct. 26 addressing the 33rd convocation of the of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators.

In her plenary session address, "Accountability and Abuse Prevention: Long Term Challenges for the Catholic Church," McChesney noted that besides the terrible impact the scandal has had on families involved, it also has caused a major erosion of the "moral authority of the church" because of the issue."

"These are messages I’ve heard from victims groups, from the media, numerous anecdotal sources," McChesney told The Catholic Telegraph. "The message is ‘why should we trust (the church) anymore."

A former FBI agent who rose through the ranks to become the bureau's third-highest official and highest-ranking woman ever, McChesney was recruited by the bishops to found the Office of Child and Youth Protection. The office is a result of the 2002 "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" — a 17-point set of procedures which the bishops established to address allegations of clergy sexual abuse of minors.

She said that the lack of trust of the bishops and the church overall has filtered down to the workers across the country working for the Catholic Church. Numerous examples of the scale of impact upon church workers varies, and McChesney focused on the financial woes many dioceses now are facing as but one of the many areas of woe for church employees. The financial tremors have run the gamut, from small settlements of a few million dollars, such as was the case in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to bankruptcies.

For example, the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., and the Diocese of Tucson, Ariz., are currently under Chapter 11 proceedings after failing to reach out-of-court settlements on millions of dollars in claims over clergy sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, was on the brink of a bankruptcy filing when it reached a $9 million settlement Oct. 28 with 37 alleged victims of abuse by priests.

One of the problems, she noted, was that the bishops seemed to move at a snail’s pace to discover the scale of the problem, and then again appeared to move slowly to provide any kinds of resolutions.

"On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in my office at the FBI, when the terrorists hit," she said. "Immediately, the government was asking questions such as ‘What didn’t we do? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?’ The government responded to its crisis differently than the church did to its crisis."

McChesney underscored the focus of the abuse scandal as "at least 10,667 boys and girls whose souls were wounded" by members of the clergy. "The church didn’t do much at first," she said. In fact, "only in 2002 did they decide to do something." And, as a result, "we are only at the beginning of resolving this crisis."

Much of the problem lies with having enough data to make any kind of meaningful decision, she added, noting that the recent study conducted by the National Review Board, as well as the John Jay College study, were good starting points.

"The response rate by dioceses across the country was excellent," she said. "We have some excellent data."

McChesney said that 97 percent of the dioceses in the United States responded to the study, which was an initial examination of the causes and issues related to the abuse of minors dating back to 1950. Some of the results:

There were at least 4,392 priests and deacons accused of some sexual abuse during the study time frame.

The abused were predominantly boys: 81 percent of them according to the data.

Ages of the abused varied, but 51 percent of them victims were between 11 and 14 years old.

Much of the abuse was a family affair: 17 percent of the abused had siblings who were abuse.

In about have of the cases, the offenders had a relationship with the victim’s family.

The abuse often was a long-term proposition: in 61 percent of the cases, the abuse lasted two years or longer.

Sometimes the victims lived with the offenders. These would have been children who had been orphaned or handed to a member of the clergy for reasons of family problems, as one example.

Most of the instances of abuse appeared to begin in the 1970s.

The highest time period for abuse was in the early 1980s.

The largest number of priest offenders were between 30 and 39 years old.

Abuse took place in the priest’s residence 41 percent of the time.

Most of the offenders were ordained in the 1970s.

About 80 percent of the identified sexual abusers were sent by their superiors for substance-abuse treatment.

The raw data begs numerous question, McChesney told the group of church personnel administrators.

"Take a look at the issue of substance abuse," she said. With numbers as high as 80 percent of the accused receiving that kind of treatment, the outside observer has to wonder if the treatment was truly warranted or whether the treatment was misdiagnosed.

"That is an issue that makes you truly wonder, why?" she said.

Answering the whys of the abuse scandal is a next phase for the National Review Board and the Office of Child and Youth Protection. McChesney said a request for proposal has been circulated nationwide for a study to dig into the issues of why the abuser took place.

"We want to know what is it about those clergy who don’t offend" versus those who do. "What is the missing piece here?"

McChesney noted that the study will probably take a couple years to complete, and it will complement an online study her office is now conducting for people who have been abused "so they can tell, anonymously, what the church’s response was to their own abuse. We’re asking them to look back and tell us what they think the church could have done to prevent their abuse."

She concluded with the reminder that the work of her office, as well as all the church personnel administrators present, will last a long time and will have long-term impact upon the church.

"This is an issue that is not going to go away," she said. "We can’t say we’re tired of the issue. That’s not what we do. We have to live our principals" and continue to seek the answers to the questions the abuse crisis have raised.


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