Bishop Accountability


The Catholic Church's Self-Audit on Its Clergy Child Sexual Abuse Procedures:
The Fox Continues to Guard the Henhouse

By Marci Hamilton
Jananuary 8, 2004

On January 6, the Catholic Church released a self-audit report. The report measures dioceses' compliance with the Church's own new rules regarding clergy sexual abuse of children.

As victims' groups rightly have asserted, this audit was designed by the Church, paid for by the Church, and based on precious little information -- all of which was controlled by the Church. For example, of the 4,600 members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, only 3 were interviewed. Thus, even if the report itself seemed impeccable, its conclusions would still be highly questionable.

And the report itself is far from impeccable. The Church, which persists in treating the criminal abuse of children as a public relations problem, has issued self-serving statements about "solid progress" and "we bishops keeping our word." But a review of the report, and the larger legal context within which it was written, counsels a far more cynical appraisal.

Evidence That Dioceses Still Fail to Address Abuse Properly

The Report is broken down by diocese. The Gavin Group, run and staffed by former FBI agents, spent approximately 5 days in each individual diocese. There, they read files they were permitted to read -- many were kept from them due to so-called "confidentiality" concerns -- and spoke to select individuals. The report, then, is incomplete, and likely also misleading, for some of that "confidential" material the Gavin Group was not allowed to see may well be the most troubling material that exists.

(In late February, John Jay College will release another report on the history of the scandal. But similarly, it will not be independent. The Church formulated the questions, and the Church controlled the materials provided.)

The report is also incomplete in another way. Not all dioceses participated in the report. Moreover, one-third of the nation's priests-- those in orders--are simply not covered by the Bishops' Charter, and thus are not covered by this self-audit.

For the dioceses that did participate, the report shows that there is, at best, uneven compliance in areas critical to child security. Therefore, there is a continuing potential threat to children.

One cannot fully understand how far the Church is from serving the larger public good and stamping out childhood sexual abuse by priests unless one wades through the various sections on the many dioceses. Every citizen should do so -- focusing especially on the section on the diocese near his or her home. Catholic parents, of course, need this crucial information to assess the safety of their children in many programs and schools. But every citizen, Catholic or not, should seek information about these attempted and inadequate reforms addressing outrageous criminal behavior across the country.

Three Sample Dioceses: Evidence of Continuing Failure to Protect Children

In this column, I will examine the report's sections on three dioceses, chosen at random, to give readers a sense of how the Bishops' policies are progressing.

First, consider the section on the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey. The diocese has signed onto the New Jersey Catholic Conference's Statewide Policy on Criminal History Background Checks for Employees and Volunteers of Non-Profit Youth-Serving Organizations. However, "it had not yet determined whether state police or private firm resource would be relied on to conduct criminal records searches." And this caveat seems to make clear that even now, criminal background checks on church employees are still not being made.

This section also notes that there is a priest from within the diocese who is alleged to have abused a minor and has relocated out of the diocese. What happened to the priest? It is impossible to tell from the report, but no parents should feel their children are secure. He "had relocated for residency, and the appropriate information regarding his background has been confidentially provided to the bishop in that location." What that means, then, is that somewhere in the country, an accused pedophile is out there -- but only the bishop of his new diocese knows that.

There is no guarantee that the alleged abusing priest will not be in contact with children during the pendency of an investigation -- or even that any investigation will necessarily be made. That creates the horrifying risk that the priest, if guilty, may abuse again. It also reveals that the Church's primary modus operandi continues to be secrecy and contempt for the public good.

The desire for secrecy is also clear in the Trenton diocese. The Bishops' Charter directed dioceses to forego their long-time practice of obtaining confidentiality agreements as part of any settlement with a victim. The Trenton diocese apparently took that to mean the rule applied to everyone but them. The Report states that the diocese has "not entered into confidentiality agreements since June 2002 unless requested to do so by the victim/survivor." Clearly, there is a recent confidentiality agreement in Trenton and just as clearly the Church continues to see no necessity in disclosure to the public of the criminal behavior within its walls. Moreover, there is nothing in the report that indicates that the victim was not coerced into requesting the confidentiality agreement.

Consider a second example -- the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona. In May 2003, the Church reached a settlement agreement with the Maricopa County civil authorities (a settlement I criticized in a prior column). But the report reveals that since then, the Phoenix diocese has not promulgated a policy of letting victims know of their right to report sexual abuse to the civil authorities. Nor has it informed priests removed from ministry that they are prohibited from saying mass, wearing clerical garb, or presenting themselves as priests. Nor has it instituted a system of background checks for diocese employees and volunteers. Neither settlement nor the Bishop's norms have been adequate there.

Finally, let us take a third example: the Diocese of Dallas, Texas. This diocese actually received a "Commendation" from the Gavin Group. It was praised for creating a "model" safe environment program, which was introduced "years before the adoption of the [Bishop's] Charter."

The Report reads as though Dallas was simply ahead of its time. Not so: Though the report fails to mention it, the impetus for Dallas's model program was that it was the first diocese subject to a huge judgment in a clergy abuse case. The judgment forced the diocese to sell valuable properties -- and thus, to some extent at least, taught it a lesson. (The report concedes, however, that even the supposedly model Dallas program does not address "instances where clergy have relocated to another diocese.")

Looking at the measures taken by these sample dioceses suggests that the Bishop's Charter, and even court settlement agreements, may do little to generate true reform. A successful lawsuit against the diocese, however, can be very beneficial in creating a future safer for children. Again, Texas's groundbreaking program was the result of a groundbreaking win in a clergy abuse lawsuit.

In Court, The Church Continues to Argue for Secrecy and the Status Quo

Yet another reason to be skeptical of the Church's self-audit is that, in court, the Church continues to take positions that are antithetical to true reform. One can only conclude that the self-audit is merely a form of public relations, and the individual lawsuits brought by victims are the territory where the Church is showing its true colors. It is easy enough to issue statements and claim policies are in place; what is difficult is to admit past wrongdoing and allow the legal process to go forward to try to address it. (What appears positively impossible is for the Church to do what is right without the prod of litigation.)

Rather than allowing the legal process to go forward in the interest of its own victims, the Church insists on putting stones in its path. For example, in Mississippi, along with other jurisdictions, the Church continues to argue for a robust notion of "church autonomy." The theory, essentially, is that the Church is immune from judicial involvement in its clergy selection and placement decisions under the First Amendment, and therefore, clergy abuse lawsuits should be dismissed. As I have explained in another prior column, the theory is a mockery of the constitutional order in this country -- which guarantees ordered liberty, not immunity from the rule of law.

To take another example, in Missouri, an alleged priest perpetrator has asked for a "gag order" for the proceedings, and the Church has not opposed it. The long pedigree of open trials in this country appears to be of little concern to the Church. Once again, self-preservation appears far higher on the Church's list than the public good.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, the Church has publicly supported extensions of statute of limitations reform for victims -- a laudable stance. But in court, the Church is taking just the opposite position, arguing that because statute of limitations have technically expired, alleged priest perpetrators have a "vested right" to have the lawsuit against them dismissed. They are arguing, in effect, that pedophiles' rights to closure for their acts of heinous child abuse weigh more heavily in the balance than the plaintiffs' rights to justice and healing. It is an argument before this scandal became public that the average citizen would have assumed is beneath a church. In any event, the years of Church cover up provide a strong reason for courts to extend the statutes of limitations even without legislative action to that effect. The Church should publicly recognize that, rather than aiding in the evasion of justice.

Finally, in Massachusetts, a settlement agreement has been reached that utterly fails to serve the public interest. It permits the suppression of the documents produced by the Church in the process, and makes counseling available for victims without making it a mandatory requirement for the Church. Granted, the total damages garnered headlines, because the number of victims made them high. But on a per victim basis, the damage awards are unimpressive, considering the mind-numbing amount of child sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese and its ability to wreak havoc throughout a victim's life.

All these examples show that the Church continues to play serious hardball both in court, and in the settlement process. Plainly, it is more concerned about its own fisc, than about the well-being of those who have been intentionally and grievously harmed by its own clergy. Here as elsewhere, actions speak louder than words.

Its hardball approach to litigation makes its softball self-audit all the more implausible.

The Bishops' Self-Audit Only Shows that Law Enforcement Is Needed

Doubtless, the Bishops hoped that the Church's self-audit would pre-empt further scrutiny. Instead, it should encourage it. Even the Church's own report -- based on limited access to documents, and ignoring the testimony of the overwhelming majority of victims -- shows that dioceses' policies and processes regarding clergy abuse fall far short of sufficient. There is no way to know, even two years after the scandal broke, whether any particular child is safe in the Catholic Church.

It's time for prosecutors and plaintiffs' attorneys to move forward with renewed vigor. Self-policing by the Church has not worked for centuries in the United States and others, like Ireland, and it's not working now, and that should come as no surprise. Entrenched institutions cling tenaciously to past practices. In the Church, the practice of ignoring abuse -- and even aiding and abetting it, by transferring priests or looking the other way -- is so longstanding it is an entrenched culture. In such a case, it will be virtually impossible for the institution to turn itself around.

The burden was on the Church to show that it could self-police. It has failed to carry that burden. Accordingly, it deserves not one whit more deference than Enron deserves. The law should be fully enforced against it. No country understands this better than we do: the Constitution is based on this cardinal principle of checks and balances.

What is desperately needed now is for the government to wield the rule of law against the Church's criminal acts through RICO prosecutions, as I discussed at length in an earlier column. In the Church, as elsewhere, the government's intervention is needed to keep criminal activity at bay. Those who think otherwise have not examined the facts.

Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University. An archive of her columns on church/state issues and the Catholic clergy abuse crisis itself appears on this website. Her email address is

On the USCCB Compliance Audit Press Conference
January 6, 2004 2:00pm has grave concerns about the "audit" process and the findings summarized in today’s press conference. The audit neglected the crucial process for investigating, disciplining, or reinstating accused priests, and "auditors" kept at a level of detail general enough to blur the differences between meaningful and empty compliance.

Speakers remarks, and particularly their answers to the more probing questions, showed that the audit had poor access to necessary diocesan information, and that auditors depended excessively on diocesan personnel during the process, both for information and for entrée to other informants. Speakers were unable to answer fundamental questions about the current scope of the crisis. With the exception of Kathleen McChesney, they preferred to keep within the safe and controlled context of the audit, and were not able to discuss survivors or accused priests with feeling or particular knowledge. Specifically:

No Access to Diocesan Personnel Files – William Gavin stated that the auditors did not have access to any diocesan personnel files, which means that the investigators were not able to examine the dioceses’s secret archives. It is impossible to verify chancery claims regarding confidentiality agreements, reporting, and other issues unless investigators have a solid source of information in diocesan files on current abuse cases. Compliance auditors are never restricted in this fashion, and the credibility of this audit is seriously undermined by this circumstance.

For example, because of this lack of access, there is no credibility to the report’s observation that since June 2002, there have been no transfers in any of the country’s 191 audited dioceses of any priests guilty of child sexual abuse. To the auditors’ credit, they acknowledge the lameness of their finding: "The auditors were unable to review personnel files to verify that no priests or deacons in this category had been transferred for ministry, but relied primarily on the information provided by the diocese/eparchy." Auditors are supposed to test such assertions, not lend credibility to them.

Limited Survivor Interviews – William Gavin stated that in almost all cases, the investigators did not know the names of the survivors they interviewed, which means that the diocese selected the interviewees for them. We know that the auditors did not obtain suggestions from SNAP or The Linkup about whom to interview. With all due respect for survivors who are working with diocesan staff on their healing, the auditors could not have gained an accurate picture of the dioceses without interviewing other survivors. SNAP reports that 3 of its 4,600 members were interviewed by auditors. In addition, the auditors interviewed only survivors who had made an accusation after June 2002, thereby selecting for survivors who had been cleared by diocesan abuse staff, and selecting against survivors with a long-term understanding of diocesan procedures and problems.

Avoidance of Distinguishing Detail – Many dioceses post the names of their review board members; some do not. No speaker was willing to support disclosure, although Ms. McChesney said the situation is improving. Some dioceses "advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities" (art. 4) on their Web sites; many do not. If their public position is any guide, dioceses have not urged such reporting, despite the auditors findings. The auditors find that bishops are "not enter[ing] into confidentiality agreements" (art. 3), but escape clauses make compliance with this provision of the Charter very difficult to verify. On these and many other points, the audit did not do a detailed enough investigation to distinguish meaningful compliance from the empty kind.

Inadequate Time and Background – Auditors spent several days to a week at each diocese. Anyone who has worked on this crisis knows that it is impossible to get up to speed on a diocesan situation with such brief exposure, especially if diocesan personnel are guiding your investigations.

Unchallenging Assessments and Uncritical Tone – The tone of the report is gentle and uncritical. In Section 1, positive examples are cited specifically; no diocese is singled out negatively. The observations are so easy-going that they verge on being irresponsible. For example, the review of pastoral outreach efforts contains no observation of the reported conflicts of interest that occur when a diocesan employee is charged with administering care to survivors. The auditors do not recommend, as public prosecutors have, that this function be carried out by professionals unaffiliated with the church. The report makes this mildest of suggestions: "Th[e] important role [of assistance coordinator] is best handled by someone not directly involved in any legal or review process associated with the complaint."

Ignorance of Basic Information – Speakers were unable to say how many allegations of abuse had been made since June 2002, how many priests had been laicized during the period, or how many priests had been removed.

Neglect of the Investigation and Dismissal/Reinstatement Process – The Charter describes in detail the preliminary investigations, precautionary measures, referral to Cardinal Ratzinger’s court in Rome, and the dismissal, warehousing, or reinstatement of accused priests (art. 5). Astonishingly, the audit avoids discussion of this key element of the Charter, and speakers did not respond to questions about it. Yet there are serious problems with diocesan secrecy regarding credibly accused priests, violations of the Charter’s "one strike" rule, and residential transfers, especially of order priests.

Failure to Connect with Immediate Concerns of Catholics and Survivors – Again with the exception of Ms. McChesney, speakers did not seem to see the importance of keeping track of suspended or dismissed priests, or of tracing the careers of abusive priests from parish to parish. The press conference conveyed a comfort with the controlled and limited process of the audit, and a profound lack of connection with the crisis itself. This was especially evident in Bishop Gregory’s remarks that "this day belonged" to various experts on the podium. Ms. McChesney later declared that the day belonged to the survivors, but it obviously did not.

Statement on the Compliance Audit of Roman Catholic Dioceses

January 6, 2003

By Sue Archibald, President
The Linkup
Louisville, Kentucky

As the results of this audit become known, analyzed, and debated, it's important to assess the results along with the endeavor itself. We feel the best element of the report comes with its recommendations. If implemented, they signal great improvements. At the same time, we must remember there is much work to be done. There remains a vast, silent community of victim/survivors whose wounds are deep and are in need of help. This is not just an issue of the present and future, but of the past. The pledge to heal and the pledge for accountability must remain in the forefront no matter when the abuses occurred or the victims came forward.

The fact that the audit was completed is noteworthy in itself, since it represents the first time bishops and dioceses have opened their doors to the scrutiny of outsiders. This is a commendable step toward accountability--- and a process that we hope will expand and continue.

The results of the audit, however, should be viewed with mixed success. In some cases, the structure and implementation of the audit procedures were sufficient to accurately assess the compliance of a diocese. In others, the limitation of information sources allowed dioceses to misrepresent their compliance with the Charter. One barometer of success should be whether credibly accused priests remain in public ministry. We have not yet achieved zero, and until we do, compliance and the audit process fall short.

Another shortcoming of the audit design is in its "check the box" approach. For example, dioceses are viewed to be compliant if they have designated victim assistance coordinators. The audit did not address how effectively these coordinators are assisting victim/survivors. There needs to be more than a "yes or no" approach in the audit process.

Some of the Recommendations are encouraging. These, if carried out, could lead to significant progress:

1.3 (pg 26): It is recommended that bishops and eparchs continue to encourage victims/survivors to come forward through periodic public announcements.

For many survivors, coming forward to report abuse is the beginning of the healing process. Many hesitate because they fear revictimization from their church, families, and wider community. Dioceses can alleviate fears by making compassionate announcements at the parish level and through the public media. The message must be taken to every parish and community where accused priests have served.

7.1 (pg 28): It is recommended that the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse provide additional guidance to bishops and eparches regarding the standards for openness and transparency, particularly with regard to releasing the names of individuals, whether living or deceased, who are accused of acts of sexual abuse against minors.

Releasing the names of accused priests is imperative. It provides an opportunity for other victims of the same perpetrator to come forward, and validates the abuse of those who had already reported. The rights and concerns of the abused must be held at a higher level than the accused or deceased perpetrator.

Additional Study Recommendation (pg 30): It is recommended that the USCCB sponsor an external study of (voluntary) victims/survivors for the purpose of identifying better methods for responding to complaints of sexual abuse by clergy or other church personnel.

The victims/survivors are a wealth of information in the past and present operations of a diocese in terms of sexual misconduct. They provide invaluable "in the field" intelligence that should be sought out and utilized on a regular basis.

Several of the recommendations need improvement. For example:

Recommendation on Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Charter, part b (pg 24): that each diocese and eparchy provide to the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board, on an annual basis, the number of allegations of sexual abuse reported during that year, and the disposition of each case.

In addition to being reported to the National Review Board and Office of Child and Youth Protection, these data must be made known to the laity and the public. The fact that sexual abuse is being reported to the church should no longer be kept secret. Faith communities and the public have the right to know how often reports are made and how those cases have been resolved, especially when accused priests are returned to ministry.

1.5 (pg 26): It is recommended that dioceses and eparchies who have not already done so establish outreach to "vulnerable adults" who may be victims of sexual abuse by clergy and include these individuals in diocesan/eparchial abuse policies.

The abuse of vulnerable adults by priests has yet to be sufficiently addressed by the Roman Catholic Church or its offices, and this step must go beyond outreach. Sexual misconduct by priests with adults in their care occurs with alarming frequency. Yet, the church has not been recognized these behaviors as potential criminal conduct despite the fact that some 17 states have criminalized sexual contact between clergy and vulnerable adults. There have been numerous cases where priests who have been accused by adults remained in ministry only to be later accused by minors. Diocesan policy must address the sexual abuse of adults with the same seriousness as violations against children, and remove those who offend.

Beyond this analysis, one critical fact remains. Until there is accountability for those who break policy, bend the law, and conceal criminal activity, no policy or audit will be effective. This endeavor and those that follow will only be successful in a climate where bishops act as leaders held to a higher standard-- as servants of the people. Failure of leadership should and must result in a change of leadership.

The bishops and the Catholic community now have an opportunity to restore the lives of victims and the church itself. It will take courage, cooperation, and humility. The Linkup pledges to contribute our energies so that we achieve these goals for the benefit of all.


By Thomas Doyle, O.P., J.C.D.
January 7, 2004

Distributed on the email list of
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commentary by Thomas Doyle occasionally.

The lengthy and detailed report on the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People contains much to commend the individual dioceses and the individuals selected to conduct the audit investigation. There seems little doubt that this is a good “first step” but it far from the end of the road. Those bishops and others who see it as a turning of the corner are sadly mistaken. While the report has much to commend it, the deficiencies loom and must be both acknowledged and someday addressed if the so-called “corner” is ever to be reached and the end of the road, a Church of openness, trust and compassion led by a majority of leaders with similar virtues, is to be seen.

The major problem with this report and the process which it describes is that it seems primarily geared toward re-establishing the lost credibility of the bishops rather than getting at the root cause of the sex abuse nightmare and thereby effectively dealing with the many painful aspects of this nightmare. True, the report examines the norms of the Charter in great detail and at times makes realistic and pointed observations followed by sincere recommendations. The problem is that the entire endeavor only scratched the surface and this, by design. The purpose of the audit process was to determine compliance with the Charter which tells very little of the total clergy abuse story. The report is certain to disappoint and anger victims, survivors, their families and loved ones, their supporters and many other lay, clergy and religious who have been waiting for an adequate organizational response to this terrible dark night of Catholicism’s corporate soul.

SNAP and LINKUP, the two oldest, largest and most effective and credible victim/survivor support organizations have issued responses to the report. Both responses are right on target and should be taken to heart by every bishop in the country. At the risk of repeating what these organizations have already said so eloquently, I believe it is vital to understand that a major deficiency in this report is the fact that it gives the impression that the one source that remains the most important, the victims and survivors, was the one source given minimal opportunity for input. SNAP reports that only 3 of its 4600 members were interviewed. This fact alone is a major drain on the credibility of the report and the process.

The report itself admits that it spoke only with victims who had reported since the Charter was issued in 2002. The clergy sex abuse phenomenon is not limited to the past few years but extends back as far as the oldest victim. Stating that many accusations concern events from years ago in no way excuses the bishops or their auditors from seeking out these people for their input and advice. The very fact that there are so many newly reported incidents from years or even decades ago lies at the heart of the fundamental issue which is.....the religiously inspired duress experienced by so many victims which prevented them from coming forward until they sensed a socio-cultural milieu wherein they would be believed and a community that would support them if they chose to take on the last “sacred institution” of our culture, the church.
The two major deficiencies in the process that I see are these: it did not adequately address and evaluate Article One of the Charter which called for “healing, outreach and reconciliation.” If anything, those of us deeply involved with the victims and survivors know that this has consistently been the most grievous flaw in the Church’s response to the scandal. The victims have been ignored, intimidated, marginalized, threatened, re-victimized. The report recognized only two bishops for their outreach to victims. It would have been far more important had the Charter devoted most of its energy to this aspect than to finding new and efficient ways to dispatch accused priests or create an institutional response with more boards, committees and protocols. The impression given is that the report measured a bureaucratic response to a bureaucratic solution to the problem rather than the far more challenging and difficult human and Christian response to the spiritual, emotional and psychological devastation inflicted on thousands of victims, young and old. The audit committee should have figured out some way to assess the quality of the response to the victims and not simply the quantity. The number of times a bishop meets with victims means little if the victims come away feeling empty and still filled with an equal amount or more anger than when they went into the meeting.

The second and most glaring deficiency of the report and the process is the fact that it does not even begin to look at the more fundamental and troubling question for victims, survivors and most lay people, Catholic and otherwise. Why was sexual abuse by Catholic clergy covered up for so many years and why did it take a tidal wave of devastating publicity, an endless squall line of high profile law suits and a massive drainage of dollars to wake the bishops up. They are still on the defensive and denial is still at towering heights. We can never forget that there have been two significant parts to this nightmare: the countless instances of sexual abuse of children, minors and adults by Catholic deacons, priests and bishops and the concerted efforts at coverup, deception, stone-walling and re-victimization by the Church’s leadership.

The clergy sex abuse scandal is not a problem of several hundred dysfunctional clerics. It is far deeper than that. It is a problem of leadership, the misuse and misunderstanding of power and above all, a gross misunderstanding the very meaning of “church.” The “good of the church” is not the security and power of the Bishops’ Conference, the reverence and prestige of individual bishops, the falsely exalted position of clerics or the erroneous sacralization of the clerical state. The good of the church is an honest, fearless and compassionate concern for those most harmed by this tragic phenomenon, starting with the victims and extending to every person whose trust, expectations and hope was shattered by a leadership who appeared to sacrifice fundamental Christian principles for the sake of ecclesiastical power.

It is possible however, to end on a hopeful note. The “audit” no matter how flawed, did take place and the bishops, perhaps too slowly, are gradually coming to a realization as individuals and as a corporate entity of the almost unimaginable dimensions of this vast and complex phenomenon. No matter what the reasons, the institutional church is not where it was twenty or even five years ago. The church....the whole church and not just that tiny percentage who make up the clergy and hierarchy, is further along on the road to openness than when it all started. If in fact, the institutional church is closer to its self proclaimed ideal of being the “People of God” it will be because of the pressure, urging, anger and persistence of the thousands of victims and survivors who have had the courage to step up and not allow themselves to be swallowed by the anonymity of history.

Yesterday's Big News

By Deal Hudson
CRISIS Magazine - e-Letter
January 7, 2004

To subscribe, send an e-mail to and write "SUBSCRIBE" in the subject line.

Dear Friend,

Happy New Year! I hope you had a restful and joyous Christmas season. I was able to take full advantage of my vacation to spend some quality time with my family. It was rejuvenating.

But the vacation didn't last forever. These last couple days, things have been positively hopping. Just yesterday, the bishops released the results from the independent audit done of the nation's dioceses (to measure their compliance with the USCCB's charter on sexual abuse). I had the chance to attend the press conference here in DC, held by Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the USCCB; Kathleen McChesney, director of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection; William Gavin, director of the Gavin Group, who performed the audit; and various members of the bishops' National Review Board, including Bill Burleigh and Ray Siegfried.

Here's what happened...

The first thing that struck me was the size of the standing-room only crowd that had turned out for the press conference. The media came out in droves -- more than 20 TV cameras were packed into the room, and representatives of all the nation's major newspapers were there. The proceedings were also broadcast on C-SPAN. Clearly, more than just Catholics were interested in the results.

Gavin explained how the audit worked. He noted that it was conducted for 191 of the 195 dioceses in America (four weren't audited at the time due to scheduling problems). Two to six auditors, mostly former FBI agents, visited each diocese in the months immediately following the release of the Dallas charter to measure that diocese's progress in implementing the charter's various standards. The auditors would then give each diocese "commendations" for things done exceptionally well, "instructions" where a particular part of the charter had not yet been implemented, and "recommendations" for areas that could be improved.

68% of the dioceses received anywhere from one to six commendations. (It's interesting to note that Bishop Murphy's diocese in Rockville Centre received two commendations, despite Voice of the Faithful's tired insistence that Murphy has done nothing to address the abuse problem... I wonder if they're just mad because he won't let them meet on Church property...) 30% received further instructions, 62% of which were dealt with by the end of the audit. 65% received recommendations for improvement, and 87% of those were addressed by the end of the audit as well.

(Reports for each individual diocese can be found on-line at the USCCB's Web site here:

McChesney then listed general recommendations of the report for the bishops in the future. She first mentioned the importance of auditing individual parishes -- all 19,000 of them -- to see how well they implemented the charter on a local level, where it's most important. She also urged that "safe environment programs" be developed to help protect young people. Another recommendation was that this audit be repeated annually and contain hard numbers so that a diocese's progress could be measured over time.

Most of the press questions were polite and reasonable. The one exception came from a Reuters reporter in the back. At one point, he stood up and asked Bishop Gregory, "So, does this mean that children are now safe around priests?" Even the other journalists were rolling their eyes at that one.

The audience's over-all response to the presentation seemed positive. You could tell people wanted the hard and fast numbers that weren't provided -- how many cases of abuse had been discovered... how many priests had been removed from duty... etc. But those numbers will remain secret until the Review Board's February 27 report.

So, while we wait on those numbers, let me give you my take on the audit and the press conference...

Overall, progress has been made. I especially like the recommendation that the audit be repeated -- what good would it do if dioceses were only expected to perform well once, and not sustain that performance in the future? We'll only have real transparency if this kind of review takes place every year.

I'm also pleased that apostolic visits (visits to religious communities) will be conducted by lay professionals and made public as well. Several months ago I suggested this in my CRISIS column, and I'm glad to see the review board thought of it as well.

Still, despite these hopeful signs, I do have some reservations. My biggest concern is over the implementation of "safe environment programs." This is a tricky subject -- children need to be protected,
but dioceses must be careful not to turn to intrusive sex education programs in doing so. If dioceses end up with some program like Talking About Touching -- the awful sex ed program in place in the Boston Archdiocese -- we might be solving one problem by creating another.

I'm also concerned that a big part of the sex abuse problem has been ignored -- homosexuality in the priesthood. In fact, this reality is covered up with language about "protecting children and young people." Fine, but what are we protecting them from? And also, what percentage of the victims are neither "children" nor "young people," but are teenaged boys? Let's hope the February 27th report discusses this issue. Unless we face the problem of practicing gay priests, we're never going to end this crisis.

But all in all, I'm cautiously optimistic (or optimistically cautious... pick one). Next up is the report by the National Review Board on February 27th. That will probably be a lot more interesting, and I'll tell you all about it the moment it's released.

Oh, one more thing before I go. This is just too funny to pass up...

Apparently, Howard Dean is now trying to inject religion into his campaign so he'll be more attractive in the Southern primaries. In an interview with Reuters, Dean said, "If you know much about the Bible -- which I do -- to see and be in the place where Christ was and understand the intimate history of what was going on 2000 years ago is an exceptional experience."

When the reporter asked which New Testament book was his favorite, Dean answered, "Job" (one the best known books of the OLD Testament). About an hour later, after his staffers pried his foot out of his mouth, Dean returned to the reporter to say that he had simply misspoken.

Look, it's one thing to make a simple Scriptural blunder. But it's another thing to do it right after you've bragged about how well you know the Bible. And all of this from a guy who left the Episcopal church -- the church of his youth -- because he disagreed with them over the placement of a bike path.

Howard Dean's religion is looking more and more like a mere campaign prop. How sad.

Talk to you early next week,

Priests' Child Abuse: Audit is good first step, but more is needed

Dallas Morning News
January 9, 2004

The nation's Catholic bishops have made a good start in auditing their dioceses to see how well they are living up to the child-abuse protection charter adopted in Dallas 1 ½ years ago. But American Catholics should be careful not to read too much into the audit's finding that 90 percent of the dioceses are carrying out the reforms.

As laudable as the 90 percent compliance rate is, even Bishop Wilton Gregory, head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, cautioned the public that the audit isn't meant "to give the impression [that] the bishops have solved the problem."

We liked what one skeptical Catholic commentator, Dominic Bettinelli of the Catholic World Report magazine, said about the audit, which was released earlier this week. He likened it to "Congress reacting to Watergate by examining laws regarding breaking and entering. It wasn't the crime; it was the cover-up."

That observation gets to the heart of what's wrong with the report. The crisis in the church didn't stem from procedural insufficiencies; it came from bishops who cared more about protecting the clergy than the children. The charter has nothing to say about this, and neither does the audit, which only determined if dioceses had formally established procedures called for by the charter.

The audit, which is part of the church's accountability efforts, was conducted by an independent firm under the auspices of the bishop-appointed National Review Board. But while the audit was independently executed, it's important to point out that the bishops decided which diocesan personnel would be interviewed and which documents auditors would see. Also, auditors didn't have the authority to examine religious orders, a big source of the abuse problem

And don't forget that former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a prominent Catholic, resigned from the board after likening some bishops to the Mafia for stonewalling its investigation.

Ultimately, you have to believe that the bishops have changed profoundly if you are going to take comfort from the audit's conclusions. That's a leap of faith that, based on recent history, we aren't prepared to make yet.

True, parts of the audit contained some reason for encouragement. Locally, for instance, it commended the Diocese of Dallas for "an outstanding" sexual-abuse prevention program that "has served as a model for others."

But the audit's shortcomings overshadow those brief moments of hope. Particularly upsetting was the scant attention it gave to the matter of transparency, also called for by the charter. While some bishops recently have announced the number of clerics they consider to have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors over the past decades – the Dallas diocese says there were 48 instances involving 15 Dallas priests since 1950 – very few have chosen to release the names of those priests. Some victim advocates say that this violates the spirit of the charter.

We would like the names released, not only for the sake of justice but to protect minors from abusive priests still living. But we don't trust these bishops to provide full disclosure or to judge the credibility of accusations. There has been no more fierce advocate for clergy abuse victims than the Rev. Thomas Doyle, who testified here for plaintiffs in the Rudy Kos case. Father Doyle tells us, "The word of the Dallas diocese as to which cases are credible and which are not is worthless. If they have not been trustworthy in the past, how can they be trusted now?"

With Bishop Charles Grahmann still running things nearly seven years after the Kos trial, we sadly agree. The situation is the same in many other dioceses still run by bishops whose misgovernance was central to the crisis. Ideally, an independent third party would have access to all diocesan records pertaining to clerical sexual abuse and would discern which allegations are credible and whose names should be made public.

That never will happen, which leaves Catholics back where they started: depending on bishops who say, "Trust us." Next up will be two reports from the review board on Feb. 27, one of which will study the size and scope of the scandal, and the other of which will examine the root causes. Those documents may explain why the painful but necessary answer to the bishops' entreaty is, "Not yet."




Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.