By Todd Ruger
The Catholic Diocese of Davenport said Friday it plans to fully participate in this year’s nationwide audit of child sexual abuse policies even though it still faces civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests.
Diocese attorney Rand Wonio said it was “probably a mistake” for the Davenport Diocese to refuse to let investigators from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, conduct interviews last year without diocesan attorneys present.
Bishop William Franklin and the auditors visiting in October determined that “a full and fair review could not be completed without interference from outside entities,” the USCCB report from January stated.
“That was a typical lawyer’s excess of caution,” Wonio said Friday of the decision that made Davenport’s diocese one of only three nationwide not to fully participate in the audit.
Given a chance to do it again, “We’d almost certainly do the first audit,” he said.
Davenport was the only diocese not audited due to ongoing litigation as part of the national report released in January. Two other dioceses were not audited due to scheduling difficulties.
The report found 90 percent of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States were complying fully with a new mandatory policy adopted by bishops in June 2002 to prevent sex abuse by priests in the wake of a national scandal.
The USCCB approved a second round of on-site audits for this year at a closed-door meeting last week.
At the release of the report last year, the Davenport Diocese said it has implemented the policies the audit sought to check, but it is more important to protect privileged information in connection with ongoing civil lawsuits than comply with the audit.
Wonio said the diocese’s shift in position is more a matter of outlook than a change in the legal situation.
“It’s a matter of learning you just can’t handle these cases in a normal way,” he said.
David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said it didn’t surprise him that the Davenport diocese would participate this year.
He said the audits are voluntary self-reports with the bar set “very, very low.”
“Fundamentally, what it means is that no longer will their diocese be singled out as the only uncooperative one in the country, but there won’t be any substantial new information gleaned,” he said.
“It’s always encouraging when we see a church official willing to admit shortcomings or mistakes,” he added.
The USCCB report called the Davenport Diocese “cooperative” and recommended an on-site compliance audit at the conclusion of the current litigation or any future litigation that disrupts the process.
Wonio said the diocese ended up accumulating the same information for its report in February that it would have collected for the audit.
The Davenport diocese report said an internal review of personnel records dating to 1950 by the diocese found that 65 people have reported sexual abuse allegations against 20 priests, including two named as defendants in civil lawsuits against the diocese.
The USCCB survey, conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice
in New York, found 10,667 abuse claims between 1950 and 2002 against 4,392
priests, or about 4 percent of the priests who served during that time.
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