Audit Finds Church Needs Better Abuse Prevention

Times Argus [Colchester VT]
November 17, 2004

COLCHESTER An audit of the statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has found areas where the church needs to improve how it prevents sexual abuse of minors.

An outside firm audits each of the nation's Catholic dioceses annually under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter was created by American bishops two years ago after sexual abuse allegations surfaced against priests in Boston and elsewhere.

The audit found the Burlington Diocese deficient in four areas. Auditors say the diocese has yet to conduct background checks of volunteers and employees.

The Reverend Wendell Searles of the Burlington Diocese said some background checks had been completed. But checks for priests and deacons haven't been conducted.

Searles says so far background checks have turned up no instances of sexual abuse. He says the remainder of the background checks will be conducted over the next several months.

The audit also found that two people who had been removed from the ministry for sexual abuse of a minor were celebrating mass and administering the sacraments in nursing homes in violation of the charter. Searles said the priests have been told they aren't permitted to represent themselves as priests.

"Some of the priests who had been removed from the ministry had not clearly understood what their restrictions were," he said. "There was a communications problem and we were made aware of it as a result of the audit and this is in the process of being corrected. The diocese thoughtthat there had been clear directives. Some of the priests did not."

The audit also found that the diocese hadn't reported to church authorities all priests removed from the ministry for sexually abusing minors.

Finally, the diocese has yet to institute a "safe-environments" program for children and parents. The program is designed to increase awareness of what constitutes sexual abuse.

The audit found that the diocese was in compliance in other areas, including having policies in place to deal with sexual abuse allegations, a code of conduct for employees and volunteers and a committee to assist victims.


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