Bishop Accountability

Accused Diocesan Priests: 25 (of which 15 "founded")
Total Diocesan Priests: 873
Persons Making Allegations: At least 46 (of which 36 made "founded" allegations)
Cost: $629,652 for compensation and medical treatment for victims, counseling for victims, and legal expenses associated with the claims.

See the Dallas Morning News database entry on Bishop Emeritus James Timlin. The June 2002 database examined the records of bishops and identified those who had allowed accused priests to continue working or had otherwise protected priests accused of sexual abuse. The database is relevant to the bishops' "Nature and Scope" study because the bishops who prepared the surveys for the study are in many cases responsible for the "scope" of the problem.


February 27, 2004

John Jay College of Criminal Justice and National Review Board Reports

The sexual abuse of children is a problem that has plagued all segments of society. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has also been affected, and the bishops of the United States have been fully engaged in addressing the tragedy of clergy sexual abuse of minors. We deeply regret any harm that has come to children and their families. We have taken many steps to promote healing of victims, and to prevent abusive behavior from occurring.

Today, February 27, 2004, the National Review Board appointed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is releasing the results of two studies. One, based on statistics compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, reports on the scope of the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy from 1950 to 2002. The other study attempts to define the nature of the problem. The Diocese of Scranton has complied fully with all requests for information relative to these studies. Following are the required numbers reported by the Diocese:

  • For the 52-year period covered by the study, allegations were made against 25 Diocesan priests. Following thorough investigations, it was determined that the allegations were founded in 15 of those cases. The founded allegations were made by a total of 36 victims. Each of those 15 priests was removed from ministry and not allowed to present himself in public as a priest. Four of those priests are deceased, and three have left the Diocese.
  • Allegations have been made against four priests who have denied any wrongdoing. Two of these cases are being heard in civil court. Pending a final resolution, the Diocese has removed them from ministry. The other two are currently being processed canonically and, pending a final resolution, the Diocese has also removed them from ministry.
  • The Diocese expended a total of $629,652 for compensation and medical treatment for victims, counseling for victims, and legal expenses associated with the claims. These costs were paid by insurance and Diocesan funds.
  • During this period, 873 Diocesan priests have served. The 15 priests who committed these offenses represent 1.7% of the total number of priests.

These national studies, which were requested by the bishops, are unprecedented. No other institution, organization, profession or religious entity has examined this issue as extensively as the Catholic Church. Although we know this kind of abuse occurs throughout society, it is typically hidden or under-reported. The research that does exist suggests that priests have been no more likely to abuse than any other individuals who have access to children, including members of their own family. However, that is no excuse for the betrayal of trust -- and the betrayal of their sacred vows -- committed by some clergy.

Although the number of priests who have committed sexual abuse of minors is a small fraction of those who have so faithfully served this Diocese, we have historically taken this problem very seriously and will continue to do so. The Diocese of Scranton established a policy on sexual misconduct in 1993, long before the current public attention was focused on this issue. The policy included the formation of a review board to assess allegations and advise the Bishop.

In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued two new documents: Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons. The Diocese of Scranton reviewed its existing policy and made some minor updates in accordance with these documents.

In accord with these documents, the Diocesan Review Board was reconfigured in its membership. The position of Victim Assistance Coordinator was created to provide immediate pastoral care to persons who claim to have been sexually abused when they were minors by a priest or deacon. When a complaint is received, it is investigated and the appropriate public authorities are notified. The accused priest is placed on administrative leave. If sexual abuse is admitted or established, the offending priest is permanently removed from ministry.

In March 2003, the Diocese launched a multi-faceted national program called VIRTUS: Protecting God’s Children to train clergy, religious, staff, youth program volunteers, teachers, parents and other adults about the dangers of child sexual abuse and ways to recognize, report, and ultimately prevent it. To date, 170 Virtus trainings have been held throughout the 11 counties of the Diocese. Eight sessions are scheduled for the next six weeks. More than 8,000 people have participated in the training thus far. New training initiatives include a recertification module for adults who work closely with children and young people, and a school-based sexual abuse prevention curriculum for teachers, religious education instructors and other professionals.

The Diocese also adopted a Model Code of Pastoral Conduct to ensure that proper behavior is fostered whenever children and all members of the faithful gather for spiritual, educational or social activities conducted under the auspices of the church. The code covers a range of situations and issues, including sexual and other forms of physical conduct, settings for meetings and counseling sessions, harassment of any kind (sexual, physical, mental, verbal, racial or ethnic), the nature of relationships, conflicts of interest, and reporting ethical or professional misconduct.

The Diocese requires Pennsylvania State Police background checks and child abuse history clearance checks for anyone working with a minor. Prospective candidates for the priesthood are subject to extensive screening, including psychological evaluations and background checks. Additionally, ongoing evaluations are conducted as seminarians are being trained.

The U.S. Bishops’ National Review Board recently commissioned a national audit of all dioceses to ensure they were conforming to the guidelines established by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The audit found that the Diocese of Scranton is in full accord with the Charter. The audit report commended the Diocese for “its early recognition and establishment of a policy (1993) to deal with sexual abuse of minors by clergy.” The reviewers made no recommendations for any additional action by the Diocese.

We are committed, of course, to remaining vigilant and ensuring safe environments for children. This has been a dark chapter in the history of the Church. We cannot change this history, but we can make certain that it is not repeated. With faith in God and adherence to His teachings, we will emerge as the community of believers that Jesus Christ intended us to be.

It is providential that we talk about this painful issue during the season of Lent, a period of spiritual renewal and reconciliation. At this time we are even more aware that, as followers of Christ, we live in the shadow of the Cross, but in hope of Easter morning. What Jesus taught us was that pain, suffering and the very Cross itself are all meant to bring us to redemption.

In closing, I must say a word about our priests. The overwhelming majority of priests, throughout the world and here in the Diocese of Scranton, are good, holy, dedicated men of integrity. They have served you faithfully for all these years. These are difficult days for priests, not only because of the cloud of the sexual abuse scandals, but also from the many challenges of ministering to the faithful with fewer numbers at a time when our culture does not value religious devotion as it once did. Our priests need your support.

Recently, I told you about our priests participating in a Day of Sanctification, a time of prayer, reflection and discussion with me. Again I am asking you to pray for your priest and all priests, that God may sanctify and fortify them to continue their holy ministry. I ask you to pray for vocations. And I ask you to pray for me, that I may serve you with fidelity and wisdom in these days and the days ahead.


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