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Diocese complies with sex abuse policy

C. Spencer Beggs | Thursday, January 22, 2004

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published the findings of an audit meant to gauge how well each of its 195 dioceses and eparchies in the country is complying with new guidelines to reduce sexual abuse by priests and lay church workers and reach out to victims.

The report was part of the USCCB’s response to the sex scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for the past two years. When reports that former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law moved a priest, John Geoghan, from parish to parish despite evidence that he sexually abused children, the church was faced with one of its biggest public scandals in history.

Faced with mounting criticism and negative press, the USCCB adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in June 2002. The charter established the USCCB Office of Child and Youth Protection, which is monitored by a national review board composed of lay Catholics. The OCYP was required to create an auditing system to monitor the progress of each diocese and eparchy toward compliance with the charter. The results of the audit are published in a public annual report.

The audit process consisted of an onsite review of each diocese and eparchy by investigator selected by the USCCB. The Gavin Group, Inc. of Boston, a corporate consulting and auditing firm, was hired to serve as an independent agency to verify the results. The Gavin Group sent teams of two to six auditors to 191 sites to interview administrators, review documents and policies and issue instructions to dioceses and eparchies found to not be in compliance.

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which incorporates Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, was audited last August and was found to be compliant with the charter. The audit indicated that the diocese had established an effective prevention policy and a well-publicized code of conduct for priests, deacons and other church personnel who have contact with children; no allegations of sexual misconduct have been reported to the diocese since June 2002 when the auditing system began monitoring, though a statement by Bishop John D’Arcy has indicated the diocese has found credible claims of sexual misconduct involving minors against 16 different priests (12 with boys, four with girls). None of these claims involved physical sexual abuse since 1987, he said. The diocese was commended for its early establishment of a sexual abuse policy involving minors, which was implemented in 1990.

The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend includes 14 counties in northeastern Indiana and serves a population of 167,000 registered Catholics with 22 deacons and 64 diocesan priests.

But critics say that the audit can be misleading and does not go far enough in dealing with the sex abuse scandal by allowing the church to keep too much information private. Lois Myers, the Indiana coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that the auditing process has not made the church publicly accountable.

“They’re not any more forthcoming then they have to be,” Myers said. “They’re forthcoming now because they’re backed into a corner, but they’re not being as compliant as they could be. I want to see names. I want to see records.”

Myers said that the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend has not allowed victims and survivors of abuse to be involved in the process of reviewing claims of sexual misconduct by priests – input that she thinks is essential to correcting a system that turned a blind eye and, in some cases, covered up such abuse. And Myers knows the frustration. She brought a claim of sexual abuse by a priest to court in 1991, but it was dismissed in 1993 as not being credible, sounding “more like something out of a horror movie” than a parochial school.

“My claim was not found ‘credible,’ but I can tell you that I was raped and molested for three years,” Myers said.

Myers thinks that her case might have been more successful if it had been filed today than a decade ago, but said that dioceses are still able to brush victims of abuse under the rug by settling cases out of court for cash payouts in exchange for confidentiality agreements like the one she said her sister signed.

“There’s still too much secrecy here; still to much cover-up,” Myers said. “You’re seen as a potential lawsuit and they are just trying to see what they can do to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.