Chair of National Review Board Assesses Church’s Progress on Preventing Sexual Abuse
CINCINNATI — The National Review Board, established in 2002 in Dallas by the U.S. bishops who met to coordinate their efforts to end the sexual abuse crisis, continues to monitor progress. They are completing goals established in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to eliminate abuse by priests or others who work for the Church.
An interview with Judge Michael R. Merz, chair of the National Review Board since June 2007 and a survivor of sex abuse by a Church employee, is featured in the November issue of St. Anthony Messenger. The magazine’s managing editor, Barbara Beckwith, interviewed Merz in June about the 2007 report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This report analyzes how dioceses/eparchies are doing in implementing the charter’s goals, including background checks for those who work with children in the Church and training on how to provide a safe environment. After October 20, the article will be posted at: http://www.AmericanCatholic.org.
Judge Merz was a trial judge for seven years for the Dayton, Ohio, Municipal Court and has been federal judge for 24 years. He also has served on the pastoral council for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for the past six years.
Completed under the guidance of Merz, the report on the Charter, released in March 2008, shows that, out of 190 dioceses/eparchies that participated in the survey, 178 are in full compliance with every article of the Charter.
Dioceses that have faced problems in reaching 100 percent compliance have had issues with implementing safe-environment programs for all who come in contact with children or doing background checks on all employees or volunteers. Because of the daunting numbers of people who need training and the mobility of people among parishes, it is difficult for some dioceses to know if all who may come in contact with children in the Church have attended safe training programs. Merz says that background checks are necessary for children’s safety. “Just because 99 percent of the folks who have been ushers for 50 years are fantastic Catholics doesn’t mean that there is no need to check,” he explains.
Merz says that his work on the National Review Board is challenging because “It’s just tough work. It’s not so much that we’ve had much interaction with the abusing priests, but we’ve seen some of the cover-up stuff that is really unbelievable.”
The National Review Board is also looking to study the “Causes and Context” behind sexual abuse in the Church. “The fact that we have such a high percentage of abuse of males is definitely something that needs explanation,” Merz says. He and the other board members look to understand the role of sexual orientation or opportunity for abuse through the “Causes and Context” study.
The National Review Board is trying to monitor progress to prevent future abuse cases, but the board, bishops or Catholics cannot forget or ignore cases of abuse that have already happened. When Pope Benedict XVI visited Washington, D.C., last April, he met with five victims of abuse. Merz says that meeting with abuse victims was important. “It was the best support on the issue that we have had,” he says. “The pope came here and actually devoted more of his visit to that issue than to any other thing. That was tremendously important.”
Permission is granted to reprint this release.
The other articles posted will be, “Making Marriages Stronger” by Gerilyn Herold and “Saints at the Dinner Table” by Amy Heyd.