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U.S. Bishops Must Follow Through

Q U I C K S C A N

Standards Tightened
Missing From the Picture
Apply a Little Fraternal Correction

Distressing is the first reaction to the third audit measuring how well U.S. dioceses have implemented provisions of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This audit raises questions for two reasons: The rate of full compliance actually went down, and one diocese and one eparchy refused to participate.

The audit covers the year 2005 and was released March 30, 2006, by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, its Office of Child and Youth Protection and the National Review Board. The Gavin Group of Boston (a firm independent of the bishops) surveyed U.S. dioceses, Eastern-rite eparchies and religious orders for compliance with the provisions of the Charter.

The audit showed that participating dioceses and eparchies in full compliance dropped from 95 percent in 2004 to 88.5 percent in 2005.

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Standards Tightened

The CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) survey included with the National Review Board report revealed what many had suspected: 2005 was a record year for Church payments for sex-abuse cases (dioceses/eparchies paid $455,686,548 and religious institutes $21,246,924). Most of this money went to those abused, although a fraction went for therapy for victims, support for offenders, attorney fees and other costs. (More money went to attorneys than for victim therapy.)

On the good side, fewer allegations surfaced last year (690 as opposed to 889 in 2004) and 5,760,333 children have now had some safe-environment training. As of 2005, 94.8 percent of children in Church schools and agencies have been through such a program.

One reason for the lower rates of compliance with the Charter’s provisions is that the standards have been tightened. In 2003 and 2004, dioceses were credited for having plans for “safe-environment training.” Now compliance requires that the training has been completed.

Twenty-one dioceses were judged noncompliant for training of Church staff and volunteers who have regular contact with children.

The same tightening of standards happened with another Charter provision: background checks on all employees and volunteers. Five dioceses have not yet completed background checks.

Granted that the number of those trained and background-checked already is over seven million, it is understandable that there is not 100-percent compliance yet.

Missing From the Picture

The Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Beaumont, Texas, were excused from participating in the 2005 audit because of the devastating damage they suffered last August and September from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, respectively. That’s understandable.

But the absence of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Massachusetts, is not.

Bishop Fabian L. Bruskewitz explained Lincoln’s nonparticipation by saying that the Charter is “only an advisory document” and “not a law of the Catholic Church.” This is technically true, but the issue of clergy sex-abuse is not the place to argue this point.

Cyrille S. Bustros, the new eparch of Newton who took over in August 2004, has not explained why he did not participate.

Apply a Little Fraternal Correction

The National Review Board was created by the bishops in 2002 to review the annual report from the Office of Child and Youth Protection and make recommendations based on it. This group of 13 eminent laypeople—judges, doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and educators—now calls for “strong fraternal correction” of the two bishops who chose not to participate.

The term “fraternal correction” comes from Matthew 18:15-20 where Jesus explains how to deal with a brother who sins against you: First, meet with the person; if that doesn’t work, take two or three witnesses; if that doesn’t work, take it to the whole Church; if that is unsuccessful, “then treat him as you would a gentile or a tax collector.”

The nonparticipation of two bishops in the audits is not a “sin” per se, but the credibility of all the bishops is at stake here. “...[T]heir refusals go against all of the efforts for the Church to be open and transparent in addressing child protection and reaching out to victims to help with their healing,” said National Review Board chairwoman Patricia O’Donnell Ewers.

When the Charter was adopted four years ago, many people thought the bishops as a group finally understood the extent and gravity of the clergy sexabuse crisis. In November 2002, the bishops pledged to respond to the demands of the Charter “in a way that manifests our accountability to God, to God’s people and to one another.” They vowed to work “within each of our provinces, as an expression of collegiality, including fraternal support, fraternal challenge and fraternal correction.”

This is no time to back off from that commitment. Otherwise, the slogan that accompanies this audit, “Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal,” will be empty words.—B.B.

The audit report covering 2005 is available at www.usccb.org/ocyp/OCYP REPORT.pdf. The text of the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People can be found at www.usccb.org/ocyp/charter.shtml.


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