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Bishops backslide big-time

Sexual abuse compliance audit less than promised

By John Ryan          Send a link to a friend

[DEC. 4, 2004]  BLOOMINGTON -- On Nov. 17 at their biannual meeting in Washington, D.C., the Catholic bishops of the United States voted 189-35 to adopt an annual sexual abuse compliance audit process that was a dramatic departure from what had been promised by the bishops when they met in Dallas in 2002.

In the words of a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, the bishops decided to "scale back their method of sex-abuse compliance audits, replacing the independent field investigators that have visited dioceses for the last two years with a self-reporting system in which dioceses fill out questionnaires." The report said that the system, which will take effect next year, "was presented by a bishops' committee as one of several 'tweaks and fine-tuning' in the implementation of the child-protection charter adopted in 2002."

As Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, put it: "This is not 'tweaking,' it is 'gutting.'"

Under the new plan, only those dioceses that have not received a clean bill of health from the 2004 on-site audits, will continue to receive such audits. All other dioceses, estimated to be about 90 percent of all dioceses, will self-report in the future, using a questionnaire. A church official will be able to safely check "yes" or "in compliance" to every single box on the self-report form, knowing that there will be no one to validate its accuracy.

Catholics should not be misled by releases from Catholic news agencies stating "Catholic bishops OK new round of audits for 2005."

More to the point is the observation by Barbara Blaine that we're "basically back to square one, where we have no choice but to trust in many of the same men whose repeated deceit and misconduct led to the molestation of thousands of innocent Catholic youngsters."

Adding to the concern Catholics should have over this reversal in commitment is the manner in which the bishops made this decision. The website listing topics to be discussed prior to the bishops' November meeting mentions, "The agenda will include permission requested by the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse to proceed with plans for a 2005 audit process." There was no mention of any modifications to the audit process. After the meeting, no news releases were forthcoming that explained what the bishops had done. Even now, no explanation for the action taken appears on the website.

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As Barbara Blaine commented: "This entire mess seems like a 'bait and switch' maneuver. Victims, Catholics and journalists were led to believe that a routine decision to continue the audits would be made. Instead, a very different decision was made. It was couched in carefully crafted terms as just 'more of the same.'"

Kathleen McChesney, chair of the Office for Child Protection and Safety under the auspices of the Bishops' Conference, announced her resignation from that office, as many believe, in protest to this maneuver by the bishops.

On the floor of the Bishops' Conference, just before voting on the audit resolution, Portland (Maine) Bishop Richard Malone bravely addressed his brother bishops: "I do have a bit of a concern about the reception of self-reporting by our people, at least by many of them at this point. I don't believe that in every case we have enough distance from the crisis to be confident that our credibility is adequately restored for self-reporting to be accepted as trustworthy, at least generally."

Apparently only 34 out of the 224 assembled bishops agreed with him.

In a letter of appeal to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who is the newly elected vice president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Barbara Blaine wrote: "Please Cardinal George, use your new position as vice president of the USCCB to prod your brother bishops to reconsider this ill-fated and most destructive backpedaling. It is risky and unwise. Please help see that it is at least re-examined in a full, careful public discussion, if not fully reversed."

Given the trusting and generous response Catholics in the Diocese of Peoria have made to Bishop Jenky's "Rooted in Faith" campaign, we would hope he would acknowledge that trust with a show of support for such a "full, careful public discussion."

[John Ryan, regional director for Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Peoria]

For more information on Voice of the Faithful, visit www.votfpeoria.org.

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