Diocese of
Bismarck, North Dakota

The Diocese of Bismarck (“the Diocese”), established in 1909, covers 34,628 miles and 24 counties in western North Dakota. The Diocese has 62 parishes, three high schools, 12 elementary schools, 66 deacons, 70 diocesan priests and one seminary serving a Catholic community of 61,378. The Most Reverend Paul A. Zipfel, installed as bishop in February 1997, leads the Diocese. A compliance audit was conducted during the period of October 12-16, 2003.

The following describes conditions evident during the week of the audit. Information on corrective actions taken by the Diocese subsequent to the audit will be found in the last paragraph.


To Promote Healing and Reconciliation
There is an established outreach program, described in the Diocese of Bismarck Sexual Misconduct Policy for victims/survivors and families, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. The Diocese was commended for having a documented policy for responding to allegations of sexual abuse beginning in 1993. Deacon Joel Melarvie, the diocesan chancellor, has been designated to coordinate assistance for immediate pastoral care of person who claim sexual abuse by clergy or other church personnel. A diverse seven-member review board, established in 2002, with expertise in psychology, psychiatry, social work, nursing, and law enforcement, serves as a confidential consultative resource for the bishop. Documented procedures exist for the function of the review board and for filing a complaint of sexual abuse by clergy. Procedures for filing complaints of sexual abuse have been disseminated throughout the Diocese. No confidentiality agreements have been entered into since June 2002.

To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The Diocese has a documented policy and practice of reporting all allegations of sexual abuse of individuals who were minors at the time of the alleged abuse to public authorities, regardless of when the abuse occurred. Standards of ministerial behavior and appropriate boundaries for clergy and other church personnel who have regular contact with children are incorporated in the code of pastoral conduct and have been publicized. The Diocese has a communications policy that reflects openness and transparency and is reflected in the diocesan newspaper, weekly parish bulletins, and the website.

To Ensure Accountability of Procedures
The diocese has participated in the research study regarding the “nature and scope” of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

To Protect the Faithful in the Future
The Diocese has a prospective safe environment program incorporated into its Guidelines for a Safe Environment for Minors. However, at the time of the audit, and instructional program implementing the guidelines had not been formulated nor disseminated to diocesan personnel who have regular contact with children. Accordingly, a compliance Instruction directed the Diocese to implement a safe environment program and a training schedule for parents, educators, clergy, employees, and volunteers who have regular contact with youth. The overall diocesan policy incorporates standards of conduct and ethics for clergy and others in positions of trust. There are established procedures for evaluating the background of all diocesan personnel. Screening and evaluation procedures are used in evaluating the fitness of candidates for ordination. Since June 2002, no cleric has been transferred from the Diocese for ministerial or residency purposes. The bishop, or his designee, meets with his counterpart, the major superior of a clerical institute in the Diocese, to discuss their roles in responding to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy. Ongoing formation of clergy programs are included at various clergy conferences.

Compliance with the Provisions of the Charter

At the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Bismarck was issued one Instruction and one Commendation:

INSTRUCTION—The Diocese will implement a safe environment program and a training schedule for parents, educators, clergy, employees, and volunteers who have regular contact with youth.

COMMENDATION—For the Diocese’s establishment of a policy in January 1993 for responding to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy and for the publication of the policy in pamphlet form.

As of December 1, 2003, the Instruction had not been fully addressed. The Diocese of Bismarck is found to be compliant with the provisions of the Charter as measured by the process described in Chapter 2 in Section I, with the exception of Article 12.

The compliance audit measured activity that has occurred since the adoption of the Charter in June 2002 with the exception of certain mandated actions found in Articles 5 and 14. Actions taken by the diocese/eparchy prior to June 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests and deacons are not included in this summary report.


Office of Child and Youth Protection
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194
(202) 541-5413 | FAX: (202) 541-5410
Email: ocyp@usccb.org
January 06, 2004 Copyright © by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops