DIOCESE OF GAYLORD MI
Bishop Cooney continued, “ Obviously, I have tremendous sorrow for the pain suffered by the victims of this abuse. I wish it had never happened. But since it has happened, I also agree with the general tenor of the report of the Review Board that we, as Church, must continue to do the things that will limit anything like this from ever happening again.”
On Friday, February 27, the National Review Board released the results of the much anticipated John Jay Study and its own report of its study of the causes and context of the issue. The National Review Board, comprised of lay Catholics, was created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as part of its commitment to ensure accountability when it adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in June of 2002.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice was commissioned by the Review Board to complete a descriptive study of the nature and scope of the problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the United States. Introductory remarks by Gerald W. Lynch, president of the college, applauded what he called an extraordinary 98 percent response rate by the bishops declaring the participation “unheard of, unparalleled and historic in social science research.”
Researchers found that during the 52 years encompassed in the study, 4,392 of the 109,694 priests serving nationwide during the same timeframe had allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors leveled against them, representing approximately 4%. The report stated 10,667 individuals claimed to be victims and that $572,000,000 had been spent by dioceses regarding the issue. The analysis of submitted data was presented in a national aggregate.
More than 18 months ago, the Diocese of Gaylord performed a review of files dating back to its formation in 1971 and shared its findings first to prosecutors and then publicly released information regarding allegations which were made against priests serving in the diocese. As of today, allegations have been made by 20 victims against 10 of the approximately 260 diocesan and religious priests who had assignments in the Diocese of Gaylord. There were likely additional priests who served in the area as fill-in or temporary help over the past 32 years for whom there were no files. Four of the accused priests are deceased and none of the rest have faculties for ministry. One financial settlement was made which was fully reimbursed by insurance and the diocese also assisted with counseling for victims at a cost of $8,260.
“It is always our goal to be as open as we can while being respectful of the rights of all of the people involved,” stated Candace Neff, Director of Communications who also serves as the diocesan coordinator for misconduct issues.
“The file review was undertaken early on both because it was important for us to have an accurate understanding of what had happened in the past and because we wanted to discuss the matters with local prosecutors.” Neff added “Knowing how things were dealt with in our own situation was necessary to be effective in planning for the future. I think that’s certainly what the Bishops were also trying to do in calling for the John Jay Study.”
The second report released Friday was presented by the National Review Board following their interviews with more than 85 individuals, reviews of articles by experts in the field, as well as public records related to reported cases of abuse. While critical of the actions of a number of bishops and preparation for the priesthood by seminaries, the Board also stated that “by enacting the Charter and Essential Norms, the bishops have laid a framework for restoring the trust of the laity in the Church hierarchy in the United States and ensuring the safety of minors in the Church.”
“We’ve only had the reports a few days and so there really hasn’t been enough time to fully review them,” said Bishop Cooney. “I know we will all be reading them carefully and clearly the bishops will collectively discuss the findings to determine what future actions we should take.”
A number of things have already been implemented in the Diocese of Gaylord. In fact, during the process of the compliance audits the diocese was commended by the independent auditing team for being proactive in the matter by having policies and procedures in place since the late 1980's and for its cooperation with local civil authorities and experts in the matter. The diocese also received no instructions or recommendations from the auditors.
“We were obviously pleased with their findings,” Neff said, “but we also recognize there is more we can do to help protect children. This has been a very difficult and painful time, but I think it is also a time of great grace and opportunity.”
While the focus has been on the Catholic Church, statistics show that the vast majority of abuse occurs in families and many victims never come forward until adulthood. The John Jay Study showed that one-third of all the cases were only made known to church officials in 2002-2003, while the abuse actually occurred decades earlier. In the Diocese of Gaylord, for example, while allegations have come forward as recently as this year, the most recent incident is claimed to have occurred in 1989.
“We have been utilizing the expertise that exists locally as we try to develop programs that will hopefully make a difference overall – not just within the Church walls,” Bishop Cooney said. “The spirit of cooperation we have received has been just wonderful.”
Among the efforts taken by the diocese over the past two years include:
* Appointment of a Special Commission to review existing policies and make recommendations for revisions.
* Revision of policies.
* Restructure of the Misconduct Commission to the Sexual Misconduct Review Board comprised primarily of laity to review allegations and make other recommendations to the Bishop on the issue of sexual abuse policies and procedures.
* Appointment of an assistance coordinator and establishment of a toll fee line to report allegations of abuse.
* Participation in the Compliance Audit and John Jay Study.
* Creation of a new policy requiring criminal background checks for all paid employees, and those volunteers who regularly work with minors.
* Carrying out seven regional training sessions in cooperation with local Family Independence Agencies and law enforcement for church leadership and volunteers to help identify signs and symptoms of abuse and to review diocesan policies and procedures regarding work with minors.
“We know that the overwhelming majority of priests have never been
involved in the abuse of children. But in the long run it just shouldn’t
have happened at all – it should never happen – and I am so
deeply saddened by the years of suffering by victims as a result of child
abuse,” Bishop Cooney said. ” I want people to know that the
Diocese of Gaylord remains firm in our commitment to continue to work
toward preventing the abuse of any child in the future.”
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.