ATLANTA—The National Review Board(NRB), a lay group advising the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) onthe handling of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, issued a 10-year progressreport, June 13, at the USCCB spring meeting in Atlanta.
AlNotzon III, NRB chair, addressed the bishops on the report (http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-actions/child-and-youth-protection/upload/10-year-report-2012.pdf).The report looked at the decade since the 2002 approval of the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children andYoung People.
TheNRB noted that “Ten years later, there has been striking improvement in theChurch’s response to and treatment of victims. Children are safer now becauseof the creation of safe environments and action has been taken to permanentlyremove offenders from ministry.”
“Yet, much work still needs to bedone,” the NRB said.
THENRB cited data that “found the incidence of abuse began to rise in the sixties,peaked in the seventies and declined sharply in the eighties.” Even cases fromthe past which are reported now, they said, “continue to fall into this samepattern” and that “the hundreds of cases reported yearly continue to fallwithin the timeline of the established curve.”
“Theseresults do not mean that the hurt of the abuse is in the past,” the reportsaid. “It is apparent that many people abused fifty years ago are stillhurting.”
The report said that “Strides havebeen made in the work of healing and reconciliation.” The NRB said, forexample, that “prior to the Charter,at least 25 dioceses/eparchies had Victim Assistance Coordinators (VAC); since2002 all 195 dioceses/eparchies have them. The VAC assists the bishops inresponding to those making allegations in ways that promote healing and reconciliation.The Church learned that responding to victims in a strictly legal manner didnot help either the victims or the Church. In the long run, the strictly legalresponse caused more pain, did more damage and cost more money. The lessonlearned by the Church is clear: we must treat those making allegations ofsexual abuse with compassionate care.Itis not only the best solution but the right thing to do and an integral part ofthe Church’s spiritual mission.”
“Policiesand procedures to carry out the Charterhave been implemented across the country,” the NRB said. “Prior to 2002, atleast 77 dioceses/eparchies had policies and procedures in place to respond toallegations of sexual abuse. Now all 195 dioceses/eparchies have such policiesand procedures. Codes of conduct are in place for clergy, employees andvolunteers. All dioceses/eparchies have Review Boards whose responsibility isto advise the bishop on whether or not a cleric accused of sexual abuse shouldbe reinstated or permanently removed from ministry. These boards consist oflaity and clerics, both diocesan employees and those not in the employ of thediocese.”
TheNRB noted that “confidential settlement agreements with victims have beenabolished except when requested by the victim. Prior to 2002, when bishopslearned of incidents of abuse they may have quietly settled with the family ofthe victim. Confidentiality agreements either at the request of the bishop orthe family were frequently a part of that settlement. The Charter forbids this practice and the audits over the past tenyears verify that in cases where confidentiality agreements were made, theywere only at the request of the victim.”
TheNRB said dioceses now realize that “cooperation with legal authorities is inthe best interest of the Church” and are “required to report all allegations ofsexual abuse of minors to public authorities and to cooperate with allinvestigations on all matters of sexual abuse. They are also required to advisevictims of their right to make a report to public authorities. When one bishopfails to do so, the whole Church suffers.”
Theboard addressed the zero tolerance policy, saying it is “one of the morecontroversial requirements of the Charter.Some feel this is too harsh if, for example, behavior occurred many decades ago,the NRB said, but concluded that “this policy is in the best interest ofchildren and the Church.” They pointed out that “convicted sex offenders cannotbe police officers, Boy Scout leaders, or teachers” and said, “They cannot beallowed to remain members of the Catholic clergy functioning in public ministryeither.” They reported that data from 2004 found 4,392 clerics had allegationsmade against them and an additional 1,723 clerics have had credible allegationsmade against them since then. Many of the accused are now dead, but the NRBsaid the Church “should take a special look at those men who have been removedfrom public ministry.” The NRB said many dioceses have developed “safety plans”for those clerics removed from ministry but not from the clerical state. “Thesesafety plans are critical to the continued protection of children,” the NRBsaid. “Assignment to a life of prayer and penance must be taken seriously.”
TheNRB highlighted “boundary violation reports that involve international priests.”
“Behavior that might be culturallyappropriate in one place, may not be appropriate in U.S. culture,” the NRBsaid. “This issue needs to be investigated more thoroughly and programsinstituted to help international priests learn U.S. cultural ways. Becauseboundary violations mimic grooming behaviors,” the NRB said, “the NationalReview Board recommends that the bishops take action to address boundaryviolations made against any cleric.”
TheNRB cited lack of trust that bishops are handling the problem, even in the faceof proof that they are.
“Despite solid evidence many of thefaithful believe that sexual abuse by clergy is occurring at high levels and isstill being covered up by bishops. This suggests a trust problem that must bemet with scrupulous adherence to the Charter.”
TheNRB highlighted safe environments.
“Safeenvironments are created by training clerics, employees, and volunteers whowork with children to understand the nature and scope of child sexual abuse andhow to prevent it in institutions,” they said. They cited statistics toindicate what has been accomplished.
The NRB said dioceses have trainedand conducted background checks on 60,190 clerics and candidates forordination; 159,689 educators; 249,133 employees; 1.8 million volunteers. Theysaid they have trained “94 percent of the 5.1 million students attendingCatholic schools or parish religious education programs” and that “annually,$20 million is spent on safe environment programs.”
The NRB said that “problems existwith the coordination between religious orders and dioceses” and said there arestill instances where dioceses are not informed of religious order priestoffenders living in the diocese until it is too late. The NRB recommended “dialoguebetween bishops and religious superiors within the diocese on a yearly basis toaddress these issues.”
TheNRB warned against “complacency or Charterdrift – that is, thinking 10 years of action is enough and programs andvigilance can be taken for granted or worse, watered down.”
“While the current trend shows adecrease in clergy sexual abuse, we must never let our guard down. Now is notthe time to drift away from the moral requirements of the Charter and the legal requirements of reporting. Children must beprotected. Bishops must continue to work toward restoring the trust of thefaithful. Only when bishops are seen as following through on their promise toprotect and pledge to heal will the faithful begin to trust them to take careof their most precious gift – their children.”
Keywords: National Review Board, U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops, Charter for the Protection ofChildren and Young People, Al Notzon III
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