Released in March 2008, the 2007 Report on the
Implementation of the Charter for the Protection
of Children and Young People sums up five
years of accomplishments in the U.S. dioceses
and eparchies to ensure that no child in
a Catholic setting is ever molested again. It
also points out the challenges that remain.
The Charter requires that “for even a single act of sexual
abuse of a minor, which is admitted or established,...the
offending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed
from ministry and, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical
state.” When an allegation is made, he is usually put
immediately on administrative leave until the facts can be
established. To extend the umbrella of safety for children and
young people, the Charter prescribes background checks for
all who work with children in the Church and training on
how to provide a safe environment. (The Charter text is
available at www.usccb.org/ocyp/charter.shtml.)
Since June 2007, Judge Michael R. Merz has been the
chairman of the National Review Board, the 13-member
lay group set up by the U.S. bishops in 2002 to monitor
compliance with the Charter. Previous chairs include Gov.
Frank Keating, Justice Anne Burke, Nicholas Cafardi and Dr.
Patricia O’Donnell Ewers.
A graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard Law
School, Judge Merz has been a trial judge for seven years for
the Dayton, Ohio, Municipal Court and for 24 years for the
federal court based in that city. Judge Merz has also taught
at the University of Dayton School of Law and at the Ohio
Judicial College since 1979.
He has served the Archdiocese of Cincinnati on its pastoral council for the past six years and has volunteered
for several community organizations.
Thirty-five years ago, Judge Merz married
Margot LeBreton Merz. She has a D.Min.
in spiritual direction, and has taught at
Catholic and Protestant seminaries, and at
Catholic and public universities. She is now
director of Corazon, a ministry of adult
faith formation and spiritual growth. They
have two children and two grandchildren.
Judge Merz, who sees this issue through
the lens of a father, grandfather, judge and
survivor of abuse by a Church employee, was
interviewed in his courthouse office last
Q. What is the good news in the 2007 report on implementing
the Charter for the Protection of Children and
A. It showed 178 dioceses/eparchies to be in
full compliance with every article of the
Charter. That’s out of the 190 dioceses/
eparchies that participated. It represents a little
more than a 93.6-percent compliance
rate. (See sidebar for background
on the Charter, audits and the work of the
National Review Board.)
Q. Why are some jurisdictions still not
meeting the goals of the Charter?
A. Anchorage, Baker, Baton Rouge, Boston,
Denver, Galveston-Houston, Las Cruces,
Rockville Centre, San Francisco, Tulsa, the
Archdiocese for the Military Services and the
Eparchy of St. Nicholas for Ukrainians (based
in Chicago) failed to have 100 percent of
those who come in contact with children in
a parish, with children in Catholic schools or in religious education
participate in “safe-environment” programs (Article 12).
Two archdioceses (Anchorage and Denver) had problems with the reporting of allegations of sexual
abuse of minors (Article 4), but
those were resolved after the audit had
been done but before this report was
Las Cruces and San Francisco were
having problems doing background
checks on all their employees and
volunteers (Article 13). [Galveston-Houston had a problem in this area at
the time of the audit, but this was rectified
before the report was published.]
Q. But there are 195 dioceses/
eparchies. Which ones chose not to
A. We had 97.4 percent of the dioceses
and eparchies participating. The Diocese
of Lincoln (Nebraska), the Syriac
eparchy (New Jersey), the Melkite
eparchy of Newton (Roslindale, Massachusetts),
the Chaldean eparchy in El
Cajon (California) and the Ukrainian
eparchy in Parma (Ohio) refused to participate
in the 2007 audit process. [The
eparchies, however, did participate in
the study done by the Center for
Applied Research in the Apostolate
(CARA), based at Georgetown University.]
Q. Can anything be done to compel
them to participate? Is it that the
eparchies do not feel that they must
respond to directives of the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops since they
represent Eastern Catholic Churches?
A. No, I don’t think it’s that. Audits
are not cheap. Eparchies cover a lot of
geographical territory, which makes
the audits more expensive. The 2007
audit was accomplished by having one
or two auditors on site in each
diocese/eparchy, under the direction
of the Gavin Group.
The Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, is
a case unto itself. They don’t participate
either in the audits or in providing data
to CARA. Bishop Fabian Bruskewicz
says he is observing the canonical
norms, as he is obliged to do by the law.
[Bishop Bruskewicz says that following
the Charter is optional.] I suppose he
thinks he is answerable to only the
pope. Why would anyone insist on his
personal prerogative when what we are
dealing with is the protection of children?
I don’t understand.
In my letter which accompanied this
report to Cardinal Francis George, the
president of the bishops’ conference, I
said that Bishop Bruskewicz’s refusal
to participate, “though undoubtedly
within an ordinary’s canonical power,
scandalizes the faithful.”
Fewer Incidents Being Reported
Q. CARA is charged with collecting
information on new allegations of
sexual abuse of minors and the clergy
against whom those allegations were
made. Does that show any trends?
A. I think it does give some indication
of trends. New reports of allegations
of sexual abuse continue to fall within
the curve that emerged in the “Nature
and Scope” study that was completed
in 2004. Incidents peaked in the 1970s
and early ’80s, and then there’s been a
sharp drop-off. We need to find out
why that happened.
Q. Was it the seminary training they
A. The preponderance of offenders
reported in the “Nature and Scope”
study are priests who were trained
before Vatican II. Nobody coming out
of the seminary immediately began
abusing. There’s a lapse time for everybody.
And we’ve got to figure out why.
That is why it is really important to
do a serious social-science study of the
pattern, instead of accepting people’s
off-the-cuff explanations, like suggesting
that the sexual revolution hit
Catholic priests the same as everyone
else, but 10 years later. Or suggesting
this all could have been avoided if
Catholic priests were allowed to marry.
Or suggesting gay priests be eliminated.
None of these things will explain the
data we now have.
Q. Is that the reason for the upcoming
“Causes and Context” study?
A. Yes, that’s precisely what we’re studying.
The “Causes and Context” study is
ongoing, but needs more funding. The
bishops pledged a million dollars for
this study, and have already released, I
think, $400,000. There are other sources
from which we are trying to raise the
money. We’ve made applications to
several federal agencies that would ordinarily
fund studies of this kind, like
the Centers for Disease Control. And we
have made some requests to various
foundations and individuals who are
known to contribute to Catholic causes.
So at present we are not expecting to
have to go back to the bishops for more
Q. Is the goal of 100-percent compliance
with providing safe-environment
programs to all children and everyone
who comes in contact with them
A. First, there’s the difficulty of the
sheer number of individuals in each
category who need to receive safe-environment
training. Second, they
move around. People change parishes.
People enroll their kids in religious education
and then pull them out. Or they
go one week and not the next week. If
they are not there when the training is
done, how do you keep track of that?
To me, it’s a wonder that, with as
mobile as our population is, pastors
can keep decent records of those who
have been baptized and have made
their First Communion.
Think about a diocese with lots of
Hispanic immigrants, some of whom
may be here illegally. The public library
here in Dayton, when I was on the
board, had a big Spanish section, but
couldn’t get people to take out library
cards because they were afraid the
police will get into the library records.
Let me say something about background
checks, too. We think right
now that approximately 20 percent of
the active priests in this country are
foreign-born. Doing background checks
on them is not easy. Sometimes countries
don’t keep the kind of criminal
records we do. People from different
cultures may have different attitudes
about whether sexual conduct with a
15-year-old is appropriate or not.
Occasionally, some layperson will
write in complaining that he’s been an
usher for 50 years and nobody ever
raised questions about his integrity
before. And the answer is that just last
year in Diocese Y an usher of 50 years was caught with his hand in the pants
of some kid in religious ed classes. 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.
Q. What evidence exists that safe-environment
programs are effective?
A. We have good anecdotal evidence.
We had one case last year where first-grade
kids who had just finished a safe-environment
training program were
out in the park for recess. A couple of
them said to the teacher, “That guy
over there looks funny.” It turns out
that he was on the F.B.I.’s “10 Most
Wanted” list as a sex offender.
I believe, however, we need to do
some serious scientific study of the
effectiveness of these programs. Once
we’ve got the “Causes and Context”
study fully funded, that will be our
next research goal. We’ve had some
preliminary discussions with top
experts in the country about designing
an effectiveness study.
The Catholic Medical Association
recently denounced safe-environment
training as ineffective. I found their
study disappointing. All they did was a
literature review of programs in public
schools in the 1980s. We had offered to
collaborate with them, but they were
not interested in collaboration. Their
review of the literature was highly selective.
If you want to find out whether a
program works, you test kids before
they take the program and then you
test kids after and you see if there is a
change in their awareness and you see
over time what the changes in reporting
Dr. David Finkelhor of New Hampshire
reviewed some of the more recent
studies for us [the National Review
Board]. One conclusion he reached was
that safe-environment training may
not prevent the first incident of abuse,
but it teaches kids to call abuse by its
right name and it gets them to report
a first instance. Then we’ll have an
intervention in the abuse career of the
perpetrator and get him off the street,
rather than having repetition after repetition.
Q. If you compare the money spent
on safe-environment training to
other costs like legal fees and settlements,
it’s like 2.2 percent. Isn’t that
a good investment?
A. Right. And if you were confident
that the money spent on settlements
was able to heal the survivors, it would
be worth it. But now we’re getting the
testimony of lots of survivors who had
gotten million-dollar-plus settlements
who say that money doesn’t provide
healing. Money may pay for counselors
and psychologists, but, of itself,
it doesn’t heal.
We’ve had a lot of survivors say that
they would take less money if they
could just get either the perpetrator or
the bishop who put him in that position
to say, “I made a mistake.”
Q. Since 2004 the number of credible
allegations of sexual abuse and victims
has gone down each year, but
the number of offenders has gone up
by five percent. Is this progress?
A. Sure. Part of the phenomenon of
reporting sexual abuse is that the victim
learns that it is O.K. to report it.
There’s no secret about that. I myself
am a survivor of Church abuse—not
by a cleric but by a Church employee.
I had never spoken publicly about it
until this entire crisis started breaking
in early 2002. This is not something
everybody talks about even if they are
not greatly traumatized. Now it’s O.K.
to talk about it.
Q. Should the fact that 82 percent
of the victims who have reported
abuse were male and 18 percent were
female send up a red flag about
homosexuality as being part of this
A. Whether the flag is red or not, it’s a
data point that definitely has to be
considered. It is a different pattern from
society at large. Typically, we know
from victimization studies about child
abuse outside the Church, in society at
large, that girls are more likely to be
abused than boys and, in addition, that
boys underreport abuse. The fact that
we have such a high percentage of
abuse of males is definitely something
that needs explanation.
In the “Causes and Context” study,
we hope to figure out the extent to
which this is opportunity, the extent it
is sexual orientation. When we were
kids, it would have been more likely our
parents would have let me, a boy, go for
a weekend on a camping trip with a
priest they knew, than you, a girl. That’s
likely to be some piece of the explanation.
Q. Are there other things which make
the pattern of abuse in the Church
A. This is not classic pedophilia in
many ways, although there’s some of
that. A few of the abusers have abused
lots and lots of little kids. Almost 50 percent
of the offenders that we know
about offended only once—or at least
we know about only one offense they
committed. And the bulk of the offenses
are against 10- to 14-year-olds.
Most true pedophiles prefer their victims
younger than that.
Q. Will all these lawsuits and settlements
end sometime soon?
A. Yes. My understanding is that virtually
all of the California cases have
been settled that were opened after the
window of opportunity was extended
to older cases. Now if New York, Ohio
or any other states would extend the
window, then we might have a whole
new round of litigation. The Charter ought to help limit future liability as
Q. Is a new Church growing out of
A. I think we are making good progress.
I am very encouraged in a couple of
places. There are reformers saying, “We
ought to watch bishops more carefully.”
An important step in the right direction
is serious lay involvement in the
Church. The diocesan financial councilors
should have been taken more
seriously. Nobody in the Vatican has
told the U.S. bishops, “We don’t want
any more of that National Review
Board—get rid of those people.” That’s
a good sign.
Transparency in the Church has to be
learned as a way of life. That is part of
what Teresa [Kettelkamp, the executive
director of the bishops’ Secretariat
of Child and Youth Protection] meant
in her cover letter to this report when
she spoke about incorporating the Charter and its articles into the daily fabric
of the Church.
There’s a conflict now between calls
for transparency and people bemoaning
the loss of privacy. It is hard to
know exactly where we’ll come out on
Q. Nearly eight million priests, deacons,
teachers and school employees,
volunteers and others have
received training on how to protect
children in the United States during
the last five years. That’s an impressive
achievement. But does this
account for the “issue fatigue” people
Q. Ms. Kettelkamp also referred to
the problem of issue fatigue. Why
should people keep paying attention
to this issue when in some cases it’s
cost them their parishes?
A. Parents need to stay alert to the risks
of child sexual abuse. As citizens, we
can’t have juries going back to the idea
that “It’s just sex.”
But there’s no way one could maintain
the red-hot heat that happened
between January and June in 2002.
That’s not healthy, either. I don’t think
we’re seeing issue fatigue resulting from
people trying to comply with the Charter.
We continue to have high levels of
The Charter is up for renewal in 2010.
I’ll start being concerned about issue
fatigue if revisions to the Charter weaken it, if we start seeing push-back
like, “Well, we don’t need to do the
audits so frequently” or “I’m not going
to do safe-environment training anymore
because I don’t believe it’s effective.”
Then I’ll be really concerned.
Q. How has serving on the National
Review Board affected your faith?
A. Well, I suppose I have met a much
broader spectrum of practicing
Catholics than I would have associated
with in my parish here in Dayton.
When you see people who have been so
badly hurt by folks acting in the name
of the Church, it’s a trial, it’s a test. It’s
not ever pleasant work and it challenges
your loyalty to the institution.
But it doesn’t challenge my faith.
I’m a cradle Catholic and my family,
on my father’s side, has been Catholic
forever. So it is hard for me to separate
my faith and the institution of the
I don’t know of any other board
member who has said, “Well, this really
shakes my faith in God.” But nearly
everyone I’ve worked with on the
National Review Board has felt that
this issue challenged their sense of the
purity of the Church.
It’s just tough work. It’s not so much that we’ve had much interaction with
abusing priests, but we’ve seen some of
the cover-up stuff that is really unbelievable.
You also see an awful lot of pain
on the part of bishops who thought
they were getting good advice and
doing the right thing. And in retrospect
you have to ask them, “How
could you have thought that?” And
many of them are saying to themselves,
“How could we have thought that?”
So it’s live-and-learn in a sense, but
learn at what a price. What a price!
Q. How do you respond when victims
and their families express their anger
A. Well, I think the most important
response is to listen. The anger that
survivors or their supporters have is a
healthy response to what they’ve suffered.
Heaven knows it’s healthier than
depression or self-destructive behavior,
and so you listen. And you keep on
listening because each survivor’s got a
different piece of anger. He’s got his or
her own anger to get out. So you listen.
That’s the first, second and third thing
you do: listen. And you hope that,
when folks are ready to move beyond
anger to healing, you’ve got some
decent response to make to them.
Q. Are you getting the cooperation
from the bishops that you expected?
A. You have to distinguish between the
United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops as an organization and the
bishops as ordinaries and pastors. Some
of them are more cooperative and collaborative
than others. But the bishops’
Committee for the Protection of
Children and Young People has become
more collaborative in the last couple of
years, I think. I’ve got a great relationship
with Cardinal Francis George [the
president of the conference]. I’ve got his
cell phone number and he’s got mine.
When something comes up, we can
call one another.
Q. Did Pope Benedict’s meeting, when
he visited Washington, D.C., in April,
with five people who were abused
A. It has changed things, I hope. I
haven’t tested this empirically—I
wouldn’t know how to—but I hope it
has changed the perception of some
in the survivor community that the
Vatican just doesn’t get it. I don’t see
how any bishop could say he doesn’t
have time to meet with survivors. You
know if the pope’s got time, any bishop
ought to have time. It was the best support
on the issue that we have had.
The pope came here and actually
devoted more of his visit to that issue
than to any other thing. That was
Nicholas P. Cafardi, former chair of
the National Review Board, tells the
pre-2002 story in his recent book,
Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops’
Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of
Children (Paulist Press).
Scandal becomes national after 10,000 pages of court documents in lawsuits
against the Archdiocese of Boston are published.
U.S. cardinals and USCCB officials meet with Vatican officials regarding
sexual abuse of minors by clergy.
Meeting in Dallas, the U.S. bishops approve the Charter for the Protection
of Children and Young People and Essential Norms. They establish
the National Review Board and a USCCB secretariat to monitor
compliance with the Charter and issue an annual report. The bishops
call for several studies.
Kathleen McChesney is named to head the Secretariat of Child and Youth
Essential Norms are confirmed by the Holy See.
First diocesan audit findings are released.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice releases its “Nature and Scope” study.
Dioceses and eparchies pay $93,364,172 in settlements.
Dioceses and eparchies pay $386,010,171 in settlements.
Charter and Norms are reconfirmed. Bishops pledge to spend up to $1
million on the second study (“Causes and Context”).
Dioceses and eparchies pay $220,099,188 in settlements.
Dioceses and eparchies pay $420,385,135 in settlements.
The Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, the National Review
Board and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issue their
five-year report (www.usccb.org/ocyp/annualreport.pdf), which is
published in March 2008.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice projects completion of the “Causes
and Context” study.
The seven articles in St. Anthony Messenger’s June 2003 special issue,
“Crisis in the Church: Our Search for Healing,” remain available
on this web site.