Bishop Accountability


Accused Priests: 11
Total Priests: 540
Alleged Victims: 18
Cost: $25,000 for pastoral and psychological care and other support (there were no settlements or confidentiality agreements)

Sex abuse by priests reviewed
Not any in state accused since ' 80s

By Noel E. Oman
(Little Rock) Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
February 24, 2004

Eleven Catholic priests serving in Arkansas between the 1950s and 1980s were accused of sexually abusing 18 minors, but no priest in the state has faced such accusations since, according to a review of church files in Arkansas.

The 11 priests represented about 2 percent of the 540 assigned in Arkansas between 1950 and 2002.

The total includes parish priests stationed in Arkansas, priests of other dioceses assigned to the state and priests of religious orders who served in Arkansas.

Most of the priests against whom the allegations were made are dead; none remain active, the review said.

The diocese, established in 1843, has 103,000 registered Catholics in 88 parishes, served by 75 diocesan priests and 96 permanent deacons.

The review formed part of a comprehensive survey of all Catholic dioceses in the United States to determine the nature and scope of the problem of priests sexually abusing minors.

The U.S. arm of the worldwide church has been roiled by widespread allegations of sexual abuse by priests against minors. Many of its largest dioceses face lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages in cases involving hundreds of priests.

The Arkansas results were announced in a letter addressed to all Arkansas Catholics by Bishop J. Peter Sartain, leader of the state's Catholic community since 2000. It appeared in Saturday's edition of the Arkansas Catholic, a weekly diocesan newspaper.

"Once again, I want to express my sincere apology and sorrow over any abuse that has taken place in Arkansas by clergy or others acting in the name of the church, and my desire to do all I can to assist those who may have been victims of such abuse," Sartain said in the letter. Sartain also apologized to all members of his flock who have been "hurt, angered, and embarrassed by this tragic scandal," and he expressed support for the priests who work under him.

"It is important to affirm that they work tirelessly to provide spiritual and pastoral care to our people, whom they love and to whom they have committed their lives," the bishop said. "They, too, have been offended and pained by the sins of some of our brothers."

Sartain's letter didn't make clear whether the allegations against the 11 priests were all substantiated. Clearly, some were, since the diocese identified 18 victims.

And if those were the only cases in which allegations were substantiated, no mention is made of unsubstantiated allegations against other priests.

Sartain's letter also referred to a recommendation from an independent auditor that the diocese review the status of a priest in a sexual abuse case who resigned from the priesthood.

The sexual abuse took place before the diocese adopted its own formal policy for responding to allegations of sexual abuse in 1992, Sartain said in the letter. And the priest left "active ministry years before" the adoption in 2002 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the U.S. church's blueprint for responding to the problem of sexual abuse of children and young people by clergy and others acting in the name of the church, the bishop added. In the letter Sartain said only that the diocese had complied with the recommendation of the independent auditor, the Gavin Group of Boston.

Sartain also said the diocese had complied with another "minor" recommendation to publicize the name and telephone number of the victim assistance coordinator and procedures for filing a complaint of sexual abuse. The diocese's victim assistance coordinator is Carol Siemon, a clinical psychologist. She can be reached at 664-0340. The diocese was found to be in full compliance Nov. 12, but that doesn't mean the diocese has completed its work, Sartain said.

"Rather, it means that we have put in place the permanent mechanisms and processes that will enable us to do all in our power to protect our children and young people, to provide pastoral care to any victims, and to safeguard the rights of all parties involved," the bishop said.

Dennis Lee, the diocese's chancellor for administrative affairs and its spokesman, didn't return a telephone call Monday afternoon.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the charter in 2002.

The charter amended the diocese's 1992 sexual abuse policy to include barring any priest guilty of sexual abuse from returning to the ministry and to require that all priests, deacons, teachers and people who supervise children complete a training program to teach them to understand child abuse, recognize warning signs and report suspicions of abuse.

The charter also required the diocesan review board to expand to include at least five laypeople, a priest and a sexual-abuse expert. Under the charter, the majority of the board must not be diocesan employees.

The charter also requires church leaders to report all allegations of sexual abuse of a child to public authorities, hire a victim outreach coordinator, conduct background investigations of church employees and volunteers working with children and clearly publish sexual abuse policies.

The audit of the Arkansas diocese was conducted last August. A separate study to understand the scope of the problem was performed by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a senior college of the City University of New York.

In that study each of the nation's 195 Catholic dioceses was asked to gather information for the period from 1950 to 2002 regarding the number of allegations made against priests, the number of victims and the costs associated with the cases.

No allegation of current abuse had been presented to the diocese since the inception of its initial sexual abuse policy in 1992 through the reporting period of June 2002, Sartain said.

The diocese spent about $25,000 for pastoral and psychological care and other support for the 18 victims it documented, but the diocese never entered into any settlements or confidentiality agreements with the victims, Sartain said.

In the letter the bishop once again urged anyone who as a minor suffered sexual abuse by a priest or anyone acting in the name of the church to contact Siemon or two church officials designated to handle the cases: Msgr. J. Gaston Hebert, the diocese's vicar general, or Msgr. Francis I. Malone, also a vicar general.

"Even one case of the sexual abuse of a child or young person is too many," Sartain said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.