Fargo, North Dakota
The Diocese of Fargo (“the Diocese”) encompasses 30 counties in eastern North Dakota and includes 158 parishes with 30 deacons and 92 active priests in the Diocese and 15 working outside of the Diocese, who serve a Catholic population of 87,730. The Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila has been bishop of the Diocese since March 2002. A compliance audit was conducted during the period of July 21-25, 2003.
The following describes conditions evident during the week of the audit.
To Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The diocesan outreach program is incorporated in The Diocese of Fargo and Its Affiliates’ Statement of Policy Regarding Sexual Misconduct, approved and promulgated on May 9, 2003. Since 1991, the Diocese has had a viable outreach program in which diocesan personnel have reached out to victims/survivors of sexual abuse and their families to offer healing and professional assistance. The Diocese has had a written policy regarding and responding to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor since 1988. This policy was revised in 1993, 1995, and 2003. The policy has had wide distribution; it appears on the diocesan website and has been distributed in written form to all parishes. The Diocese was commended for its forward-thinking in developing and adopting a written policy in 1988 and for creating a committee to assist the bishop in carrying out his responsibilities in the years prior to the adoption of the Charter. Briston Fernandes, who holds graduate degrees in philosophy, psychology, and counseling and who was formerly director of Catholic Services of Rockford, Illinois, was designated victim assistance coordinator on July 22, 2003. A lay review board, the “bishop’s advisory panel,” was appointed in 1995. In 2001 this body functioned as the “sexual misconduct response team” and was renamed the “diocesan review board” on May 9, 2003. The six-member board comprises highly qualified, diverse members of the community and functions as a key element in the Diocese’s overall program of response to allegations of sexual abuse. The board includes the general counsel (as advisor but not a member of the board) and the vicar for clergy for the Diocese, as well as a doctor, social worker, community volunteer, and attorney. The composition and activity of the board is addressed in the diocesan policy statement, as are the procedures for filing a complaint of sexual abuse. The policy statement has been afforded wide dissemination through the monthly diocesan newspaper, New Earth, and is also available on the website. No confidentiality agreements with victims/survivors of sexual abuse have been entered into since June 2002.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The North Dakota state’s attorney for Pembina County was highly complimentary of the Diocese’s and the bishop’s cooperation in recent cases. All victims/survivors are advised of their right to report allegations to civil authorities. The Diocese has a well-documented procedure for dealing with allegations of sexual abuse by a cleric, deacon, or other church personnel. Codes of ministerial conduct and appropriate boundaries for clergy and other church personnel who have regular contact with children are articulated in boundary workshops for priests, teachers, and church workers. Documented information comes from employee handbooks, formation booklets, and materials from the Boy Scouts of America. Diocesan communications policy and commitment to transparency and openness are manifested through the public words and actions of Bishop Aquila.
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 working on comprehensive guidelines for a safe environment for children; the guidelines will serve as the basis for trainings and boundary workshops for priests, teachers, and church workers. Background evaluations are conducted by the Diocese, using the services of several third-party vendors, on all priests, deacons, and other church workers and volunteers who have regular contact with children. The Diocese employs screening techniques in evaluating the fitness of candidates for ordination, including those attending seminary. Since June 2002, no priest or deacon who has committed an act of sexual abuse of a minor has been transferred or taken up residence outside the Diocese. The bishop has regular meetings with other religious-order priests serving in parishes within the Diocese. Although their superiors are located outside the Diocese, all religious-order priests are aware of and have received the diocesan prevention policy on sexual abuse matters. While there has been no official involvement in any formal research projects, the vicar for clergy has had discussions with a local Lutheran bishop on the issue of the prevention of sexual abuse of children. The Diocese has a well-documented program for ongoing priestly formation that consists of continuing education days, bi-monthly meetings with newly ordained priests, and three-day workshops for reassigned pastors and administrators.
Compliance with the Provisions of the Charter
At the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Fargo was found to be compliant with the provisions of the Charter as measured by the process described in Chapter 2 of Section I. The Diocese received one Commendation.
COMMENDATION—For the Diocese’s development and adoption of a written policy in 1988 regarding responding to allegations of sexual abuse by clergy within the Diocese, and for the creation of a committee to assist the bishop in carrying out his responsibilities in the years before the adoption of the Charter in June 2002.
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