Most Abuse Audits to Be 'Self-Reported'

By Joe Feuerherd
National Catholic Reporter [Washington DC]
December 1, 2004

Fewer dioceses will be visited next year by auditors hired to determine diocesan compliance with church child protection programs than underwent on-site inspections in 2003 and 2004. Instead, beginning next year, dioceses judged compliant with the U.S. Bishops' 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People can choose to "self-report" their findings.

The first round of audits, conducted in 2003, found 90 percent of U.S. dioceses in compliance with the charter, which calls on dioceses to establish offices to conduct outreach to abuse victims, develop procedures to deal with abuse allegations (including the establishment of local review boards), promote "standards of conduct" for those "who have regular contact with children and young people," and implement diocesan-wide "safe environment programs." Further, the charter committed the bishops to institute background checks for all diocesan employees and volunteers and to restrict transfers of suspected clerical abusers.

For 2005, the bishops will require full-scale audits only for those dioceses judged "non-compliant" in 2004; "focused on-site audits" will be conducted in those dioceses with specific deficiencies in their programs. The remainder of the dioceses can report their findings to the Boston-based Gavin Group, the firm hired to conduct the reviews, or they can request an on-site review.

To some victim advocates the new procedures reek of continued cover-up. "Self reports, especially by bishops on these issues, are virtually worthless," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "It's like telling grade school kids that they can give self report cards."

Not so, says Sheila Horan, deputy director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. The new process, she said, "will be a combination of on-site, self-audits, and targeted audits for specific areas that may not be up to par, rather than every diocese having an on-site audit." Further, said Horan, the questionnaire sent to self-reporting dioceses will be detailed and specific. The self-reports will be reviewed by outside auditors, compared to previous audits, and read in the light of any complaints made against the diocese, she said. "If there is a sufficient issue that arises there very well could be an on-site [visit] to clear up any troublesome issues that might arise or a perceived compliance issue," said Horan.

Santa Fe Archbishop Michael Sheehan spoke for many bishops when, as the revised procedures were being discussed, he offered his support.

"The last two years we've had the audits in all of our dioceses, and they were a lot of work, took a lot of time, a lot of energy, not only for the dioceses but also for auditors who came and spent the whole week with us," said Sheehan. "There was a great deal of effort made in these last two years and the audits we've had. So I'm grateful for a simplified procedure that will be much easier to fulfill. I think it will also ensure that the dioceses are following the policies adopted."

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Click on the link at the top right of this page to send the column to a friend or colleague. Earlier this year, dozens of bishops urged that the 2004 audits be delayed, some saying that the process was too expensive and time consuming (NCR May 21, U.S. hierarchy, review board at odds) A brouhaha ensued, as critics charged that the bishops were backtracking on their commitment to accountability. At their June closed-door meeting, the bishops voted to move ahead with the 2004 audits.

The 2003 audits focused on quantitative questions, whether, for example, a diocese had established a "safe environment program" or had begun conducting criminal background checks of church employees and volunteers who work with children. With that "baseline of compliance" established, said Horan, the audits will increasingly focus on effectiveness -- how well or badly the programs are being run.

But victim advocates say they've heard such plans before, only to experience a different reality. With the self-reported audits, said Clohessy, "it's conceivable that you're going to have a vicar general sitting down at his desk and checking 'yes' or 'no' to a bunch of boxes," said Clohessy. "It's like having speed limits but no cops."


Hayes resigns

New York attorney Pamela Hayes, a member of the National Review Board established by the bishops to investigate and offer solutions to the clergy sex abuse crisis, resigned her position last month. Her term was slated to end in June 2005, but Hayes departed early, she said, in order to avoid "causing the board any grief."

Hayes' resignation followed a report in the National Catholic Register, a conservative Catholic newspaper, which described political contributions she has made to pro-abortion-rights candidates. The paper quoted Hayes as saying, "If they're pro-choice and they're Democrat, they're my kind of candidate."

The Register story, Hayes told NCR, "portrayed me in a false light." She said she was misquoted and is "contemplating what steps I can take." She said she has made political contributions to both pro-abortion and anti-abortion-rights candidates.

Rather than become a distraction, said Hayes, she decided to leave the board eight months early. "It was quite obvious that it was going to create a controversy," said Hayes, which would "change the focus of the real task at hand, which is protecting children."

Hayes serves on the board of the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, publisher of NCR.


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