The Diocese of Erie (“the Diocese”), which was established in 1853, encompasses 13 counties in northwestern Pennsylvania and serves a Catholic community of approximately 225,000 parishioners in 126 parishes. There are 167 active diocesan priests and 25 permanent deacons. The Diocese operates 53 parochial schools. The Most Reverend Donald W. Trautman, installed in July 1990, leads the Diocese. A compliance audit was conducted during the period of August 25-29, 2003.
The following describes conditions evident during the week of the audit.
FindingsTo Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The Diocese has had a prevention policy addressing sexual abuse and misconduct by clergy since October 1986 and has amended the policy four times. Since the adoption of the Charter and Essential Norms, outreach has been more formally structured in the diocesan Charter for Diocesan Outreach to Victims. The bishop has met with or has spoken by telephone with every victim wishing to do so. Dr. Robert Nelsen, a professor of psychology and a practicing psychologist, has been designated pastoral assistance coordinator. The 11-member review board, constituted in August 2002, comprises highly qualified professionals with diverse experience. The procedure for filing a complaint of abuse is readily available in printed form, including on the diocesan website. The bishop was commended for his leadership and personal involvement in the development of the outreach program and the diocesan response to allegations of abuse. A training video, currently under production, will also incorporate guidance for filing complaints. There have been no confidentiality agreements entered into since June 2002.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
Consistent with diocesan policy, allegations of sexual abuse of a minors reported since 2002 are referred to the relevant county district attorney, even in cases where the statute of limitations has expired. The Erie County district attorney affirmed his confidence in and close working relationship with the bishop. The Diocese has a clear and well-publicized code of conduct for priests and deacons. The communications policy reflects the bishop’s commitment to openness and transparency on issues regarding sexual abuse of children. Diocesan declarations have been disseminated via various media.
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
At the time of the audit the Diocese was in the final stages of beginning its safe environment policy for children. The program will supplement the For the Protection of Children program and will include training for parents, educators, clergy, employees, and all volunteers throughout the diocese on a regular, ongoing basis. Training is expected to begin in January 2004. The Diocese has required all diocesan personnel and volunteers in regular contact with children and youth to undergo a criminal records check since August 1994. Since June 2001, all priests, deacons, school principals, seminary officials, diocesan directors, and anyone in service to the Diocese who works with youth are required to obtain a criminal record check and a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance. Comprehensive, multi-faceted screening and evaluation regimes are in place to assess the fitness of candidates for ordination. No cleric against whom a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor has been reported has taken up residence or been transferred outside the Diocese for residency or ministerial purposes. The bishop has met with the archabbot of the Benedictine order in the Diocese to discuss their respective roles in response to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy. The Diocese cooperated with a local doctor and research specialist on sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese uses a mentoring program for new priests as well as a continuing education and formation committee and deanery meetings as part of its ongoing formation of clergy program.
Compliance with the Provisions of the CharterAt the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Erie was found to be compliant with the provisions of the Charter as measured by the process described in Chapter 2 in Section I. The Diocese was issued one Commendation.
COMMENDATION—For the bishop’s leadership and personal involvement in the development of the outreach program and the diocesan response to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
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