TThe Diocese of Savannah (“the Diocese”), which was established in 1850, encompasses 90 counties in southern Georgia. It consists of 52 parishes, 26 missions, and 18 elementary and secondary schools and serves a population of 78,500 registered Catholics with 70 diocesan priests and 45 deacons. The Most Reverend J. Kevin Boland, installed as bishop in 1995, leads the Diocese. A compliance audit of the Diocese was conducted during the period of August 25-29, 2003.
The information presented below represents conditions as they were found to exist during the week of the audit. Information regarding necessary corrective actions taken by the Diocese subsequent to the audit will be found in the last paragraph.
FindingsTo Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The Diocese has had a prevention policy on sexual abuse of minors since about 1988, and this policy provides for an outreach program designed to provide immediate pastoral care to victims/survivors and their families. The Diocese also prepared a brochure entitled Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors in May 2003. A Recommendation was written to consider translating this publication into Spanish to better serve the Diocese's Hispanic population. The Diocese has a victim assistance minister, Rosemary Emerick Downing, who has 20 years of experience as a nurse; during many of those years she worked with abused children. A lay review board, currently consisting of one priest and seven respected members of the community, including three psychologists/psychiatrists and a retired woman religious, was originally established in 1996 and reconstituted in 2002. The procedures for making a complaint of abuse are readily available in printed and electronic form. The Diocese has no record of ever having entered into a confidentiality agreement.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The Diocese has had little contact with local civil authorities regarding sexual abuse violations, because no violations of sexual abuse of a minor have been reported to the Diocese since June 2002. Diocesan policy, however, provides for immediate reporting of allegations to the appropriate authorities. The Diocese has a procedure for advising victims/survivors of their right to report allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy to civil authorities. The Diocese has established a clear and well-publicized code of conduct for priests, deacons, and others who have regular contact with children. The Diocese has a communications policy, reflecting the bishop’s pledge to be open and transparent on issues regarding the sexual abuse of children.
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 selected and will implement a series of safe environment seminars provided by VIRTUS for presentation to adults having regular contact with children. The Diocese has provided training for the children through the school system and religious education program. As mentioned above, the Diocese has publicized standards of conduct for priests and deacons, as well as diocesan employees, volunteers, and any other church personnel in positions of trust who have regular contact with children and young people. The Diocese has completed background investigations on all members of the clergy and all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors—except for a number of volunteers—using both an outside contractor that searches certain databases and fingerprint card checks with law enforcement agencies. An Instruction was written that required the Diocese to institute a strict policy that would preclude any individual who has not had a background evaluation from having any unsupervised contact with children. A Recommendation was also written requesting the Diocese re-evaluate the proposed screening process. The Diocese has not transferred any priests or deacons who have had credible allegations of sexual abuse lodged against them to any other diocese for ministerial assignment or residence since June 2002. The bishop and the major superiors of orders having a presence in the Diocese have coordinated their respective roles regarding issues of allegations of sexual abuse made against a clerical member of a religious institute. The Diocese has not had an opportunity to cooperate with other churches, religious bodies, and institutions of learning in conducting research in the area of sexual abuse of minors. The Diocese has established screening and evaluative techniques in the selection of candidates for ordination and has an ongoing formation program for priests.
Compliance with the Provisions of the CharterAt the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Savannah was issued one Instruction and two Recommendations.
INSTRUCTION—The Diocese should institute a strict policy that will preclude any individual who has not had a background investigation from having any unsupervised contact with children.
RECOMMENDATION 1-That the brochure entitled Policy on Sexual Abuse of Minors be translated into Spanish in order to better serve the Diocese's Hispanic population.
RECOMMENDATION 2—That the Diocese re-evaluate the proposed screening process to ensure it produces the most comprehensive and reliable background checks of those individuals who have unsupervised contact with children.
As of December 1, 2003, all Instructions and Recommendations had been addressed. The Diocese of Savannah is found to be compliant with the provisions of the Charter as measured by the process described in Chapter 2 in Section I.
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