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."
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.
[to top of second column
in this commentary]
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