Catholics Aim to Put Scandal behind Them

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
June 17, 2012

The financial costs of the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for a decade continue to climb, including legal settlement costs for the Diocese of Fort Worth.

But at least there are indications that the church and the local diocese have passed through the worst of the storm. Credit that to a strong program to prevent abuse from happening again and to vigilant pursuit of that program.

Bishop Kevin Vann, leader of the Diocese of Fort Worth since 2005, announced a settlement agreement Thursday with a man known publicly only as Doe 26, who was a 9-year-old altar boy at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in 1978 and was abused by Monsignor James Reilly. He is the 26th person to come forward to accuse Reilly.

Dallas attorney Tahira Khan Merritt has said she is still working on the case of a 27th Reilly accuser. Reilly, who was assigned to St. Maria Goretti from 1969 to 1987, retired in 1987, moved to Philadelphia and died in 1999.

At the request of Doe 26, the amount of the settlement was not disclosed.

Openly disclosing such settlements when they occur has become church policy, one of the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002. The document contains 17 articles of prescribed procedures aimed confining one of the worst scandals in U.S. church history to the past.

In Fort Worth, safe environment programs teach children age-appropriate lessons about respect, appropriate boundaries and self protection. Adults are trained to recognize the signs of sexual abuse. Every three years, clergy, staff and volunteers receive advanced training and criminal background checks.

Part of the reconciliation process is aimed at restoring the credibility of the church, even shoring up the confidence of its lay members, by being as honest and open as possible.

One of the requirements laid down by the U.S. bishops is that there be no legal settlement confidentiality agreements entered into by the church unless requested by the victims.

The 2002 charter, strengthened by revisions in 2005 and again last year, also calls for annual outside audits of compliance.

All but eight of the 195 dioceses in the U. S. participated in the 2011 audit, and the results are posted on the U.S. bishops' website.

The Fort Worth Diocese was one of 59 dioceses that received full, on-site audits last year, while 128 participated in paper audits. Compliance with all 17 articles was reported for most dioceses, while management letters were sent to those whose procedures need to be shored up.

Annual surveys collect information about new allegations of abuse, the clergy named in those allegations and money spent on settlements and child protection.

The signs of progress are in that survey. There were 594 credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor in 2011, but only 23 resulted from incidents that took place in 2010 or 2011. Two-thirds were from incidents between 1960 and 1984. New allegations peaked at 1,092 in 2004.

Twenty-one priests or deacons named last year were removed from the ministry, and another 18 previously accused also were removed.

Settlement and other costs were down to $144 million last year from a peak of $615 million in 2007.

The scandal will always be a dark spot on the history of the Catholic Church in the U.S. It can't be eliminated, but it can be confined through strong policies and concerted action. The church has taken the right steps and appears to be determined to keep taking them.


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