Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia
The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston (“the Diocese”) was originally established in 1974, having been known since 1850 as the Diocese of Wheeling. The Diocese encompasses the entire state of West Virginia; it consists of 224 parishes, 32 elementary and secondary schools, and one college and serves a population of 69,614 registered Catholics with 32 deacons and 119 diocesan priests. The Most Reverend Bernard W. Schmitt, installed as bishop in 1989, leads the Diocese. A compliance audit of the Diocese was conducted during the period of August 4-8, 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.
To Promote Healing and Reconciliation
The Diocese has had a prevention policy on sexual abuse of minors since 1985, and a Commendation was written recognizing the early establishment of this policy. The policy has been revised several times, including a revision just completed. The outreach program, designed to provide immediate pastoral care to victims/survivors, was determined to be a work in progress, and a Recommendation was written requiring the Diocese to solidify and engage the outreach program. In the case of an incident of sexual abuse reported to the Diocese after June 2002, the audit determined that the victim was not offered any form of assistance by the Diocese. A Recommendation was written requiring the prompt initiation of an investigation and offers of assistance. The Diocese has a victim assistance coordinator, vicar general Fr. John R. Gallagher. The Diocese was in the process of replacing him with Dr. Patricia Bailey, a psychologist. A diocesan review board, established in 2002, consists of one retired priest and six respected members of the community, including a psychologist, two medical doctors, and an attorney. The procedures for making a complaint of abuse are not readily available in printed and electronic form. A Recommendation was written requesting that the Diocese develop a printed complaint form and periodically announce the process for making a complaint. The Diocese has entered into no confidentiality agreements since June 2002.
To Guarantee Effective Response to Allegations of Abuse of a Minor
The Diocese has had little contact with local civil authorities regarding sexual abuse allegations. Its policy, however, provides for immediate reporting of allegations to the appropriate authorities. The Diocese does have a procedure for advising victims/survivors of their right to report allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy to civil authorities. In the incident described above, the policy regarding the initiation of an investigation in response to an allegation of sexual abuse, was not implemented. The Diocese has established a clear and well-publicized code of conduct for priests, deacons, and other church personnel who have 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 implemented a series of safe environment seminars through VIRTUS for presentation to clergy, adults having regular contact with children, and children over the age of fifteen, for which the Diocese received a Recommendation. The Diocese is researching age-appropriate training for the younger children. 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 on all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors, but the volunteers and contractors were not included in the program. A Recommendation was written requiring the Diocese to include volunteers and contractors in its background 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 superior of orders having a presence in the Diocese have not coordinated their respective roles regarding issues of allegations of sexual abuse made against a clerical member of a religious institute; however, no complaints have been received. 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; however, the bishop is a member of the West Virginia Council of Churches. The Diocese has established screening and evaluative techniques in the selection of candidates for ordination and an ongoing formation program for priests.
Compliance with the Provisions of the Charter
At the conclusion of this audit, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston was issued four Recommendations and one Commendation.
RECOMMENDATION 1—That the Diocese immediately solidify and engage the outreach program to provide for the needs of victims/survivors.
RECOMMENDATION 2—That the Diocese immediately initiate the process of conducting a preliminary investigation on an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.
RECOMMENDATION 3—That the Diocese incorporate both volunteers and contractors/vendors into the background screening process and establish a policy and procedure to ensure that all employees and volunteers furnish completed forms for processing of background investigations.
RECOMMENDATION 4—That the Diocese develop a printed complaint form and make it subject to periodic public announcement.
COMMENDATION—For the Diocese’s established 1985 policy regarding sexual abuse issues, currently under revision.
As of December 1, 2003, all Recommendations had been addressed. The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston 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