By AGOSTINO BONO, CNS | Published February 24, 2005
An independent audit released Feb. 18 in Washington reported that 96 percent of the 195 U.S. dioceses and Eastern-rite eparchies were implementing every applicable article of the U.S. bishops’ policies to prevent clergy sex abuse of minors as of Dec. 31.
Despite the almost-total compliance, “continued external oversight and evaluation (are) essential” since compliance “may improve or diminish over time,” said the audit report for 2004 prepared by the bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.
An audit “does not ensure that all offenders or potential offenders have been appropriately removed from ministry,” it added.
The 50-page report said that in 2004 there were 1,092 new allegations of child sex abuse made against 756 diocesan and religious priests and deacons, with most of the alleged abuse taking place in 1965-74. It said 73 percent of the accused, prior to the allegation, had been removed from ministry or were dead or missing. No breakdown of priests and deacons was given.
Half of the new allegations were against clergy who had been previously accused. Males accounted for 78 percent of the 1,083 accusers.
During 2004, the U.S. church spent $158 million for sex abuse related activities, with more than $106 million paid in settlements to victims, the report said. The figures include money spent by religious orders. When added to other published figures, the U.S. church has now spent about $1 billion in child sex abuse related costs since the beginning of 1950.
The statistics are contained in the 2004 annual report on the implementation of the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”; the report was released at a press conference at the National Press Club. The child protection office prepared the report for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Review Board, appointed by the bishops to monitor compliance with the charter. The all-lay review board approved the report before it was sent to the USCCB.
The charter was approved by the bishops in 2002 and calls for an annual compliance report.
“There is undoubtedly progress still to be made,” said Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, Wash., USCCB president, in a cover letter to the report. “Much of what dioceses face today is the result of past abusive behavior—often long past—and procedures are in place to deal with and put a stop to new instances of abuse that may be reported,” he said.
At a Feb. 18 news conference releasing the report, Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the child protection office, said that only 22 of the allegations reported in 2004 were made by boys and girls still under the age of 18 and each of those cases was reported to law enforcement officials. The number of sex abuse incidents seems to be diminishing, she said, noting that many of the allegations concerned events that took place in the period from 1965 to 1974.
There were 148 clergy dismissed from ministry in 2004 because of allegations made during the year or before 2004, she said. Also, 305 clergy were temporarily removed from ministry pending resolution of their cases because of allegations made during or before 2004, but some of these cases would overlap with the cases of 148 already dismissed from ministry, said McChesney.
“We know that the crisis is not over because over 300 reports received in 2004 identified alleged abusers not previously known,” she said.
The data on new allegations and spending came from a separately commissioned study done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, known as CARA and based at Georgetown University in Washington, and incorporated into the final report by the bishops’ child protection office.
The report also includes recommendations for improving policies. These include developing a mediation system for the resolution of allegations and an annual report by each diocese and eparchy with information about new allegations and costs.
This was the second year in a row that on-site audits were done in dioceses, with much of the data based on self-reporting by church officials. While the charter requires the child protection office to issue annual compliance reports, it does not stipulate how to gather the data for the report.
Other figures from the 2004 report include:
– 3,277 victims and some of their relatives received outreach services from dioceses.
– 43 priests were laicized.
– 66 priests, two deacons were directed to lead a life of prayer and penance.
– 56 allegations received before 2004 were judged false in 2004.
– 57 of the allegations made in 2004 were judged false.
The audit also reported major inroads in conducting background checks of clergy, lay employees and lay volunteers coming into regular contact with children. Important strides were also made in implementing “safe environment” education programs to prevent abuse. The background checks and education programs are considered crucial to long-term efforts to prevent child sex abuse.
Some of the safe environment findings include:
– Almost 84 percent of the 34,514 diocesan priests received safe environment education.
– More than 82 percent of the church’s 13,663 deacons took safe environment courses.
– More than 1.4 million adults and more than 3.1 million children, over half the minors in Catholic schools and religious education classes, have taken safe environment courses.
– 97 percent of the 203,393 Catholic educators have taken safe environment courses.
– 82.5 percent of the 203,343 other church employees required to take safe environment courses have had the training.
– 73 percent of 1 million church volunteers received safe environment training.
Background checks have been conducted on 92 percent of the 34,874 diocesan priests needing them. All 13,559 deacons subject to background checks have been screened.
More than 97 percent of the 185,924 Catholic school educators have had background checks. More than 85 percent of the 207,817 other church lay employees have been screened. And almost 79 percent of the 978,172 church volunteers have had background checks.
The report said that background screenings and evaluations also take place for priesthood candidates in the 112 seminaries run by the dioceses and eparchies audited.
The report is based on audits of 194 of the 195 U.S. dioceses and eparchies conducted by the Gavin Group Inc. of Boston and on data collected by CARA from dioceses, eparchies and religious orders.
Only the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., did not participate in the compliance audits. No reason was given in the report.
Of the 194 dioceses and eparchies audited, only seven were not compliant with one or more of the charter’s 17 articles on Dec. 31. This is a significant advance from the 2003 report, when 19 of the 191 dioceses and eparchies audited were not compliant with aspects of the charter.
Compliance was judged in two steps. First was the on-site audit, which judged the situation since the 2003 audit. Dioceses not in compliance with aspects of the charter were given “required actions” to remedy the situation and had until the end of the year to take the actions. Initially, 50 dioceses received “required actions” with 43 taking the necessary actions by the end of 2004.
The report warned, however, that compliance audits do not measure the quality or effectiveness of the programs.
Regarding allegations and spending, CARA received responses from 181 dioceses and eparchies, representing 93 percent of the total, and from 158 religious communities representing 71 percent of the total U.S. male religious population.
Spending figures showed that 32 percent of the $140 million spent by dioceses and eparchies was covered by insurance and 12 percent of the $18 million spent by religious orders was covered by insurance.
The report said that the new allegations generally parallel the patterns of gender and age reported in the massive “nature and scope” study of clergy child sex abuse from 1950 to 2002 released last year by the National Review Board.
The “nature and scope” study conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York reported that 81 percent of the accusers were males while the 2004 audit showed that 78 percent were males. The John Jay study reported that 59 percent of the accusers were between 10 and 14 years old when the abuse began while the 2004 figures reported that 55 percent were in the same age group.
Recommendations in the 2004 report for improving sex abuse prevention programs include:
– Informing people if a lawyer is being used by the diocese or eparchy to receive allegations and providing an alternative person for people uncomfortable talking to a lawyer.
– Special outreach to clergy and religious who have been victims of sexual abuse.
– Developing practices for monitoring priests and deacons at risk as offenders.
The report notes that the church needs to continually develop new prevention initiatives because full implementation of current policies “will not ensure that no child will ever be abused again in a church environment.”
It asks Catholics to be “unwavering in our commitment to ensuring the accountability of all Catholic bishops of the United States to their people in the future and to the safety of all our children.”