Issue Date: December 10, 2004
'Streamlined' or 'scaled-back'?
New procedures for 2005 abuse audits approved
By JOE FEUERHERD
Auditors will visit fewer dioceses next year to determine diocesan compliance with church child protection programs than underwent on-site inspections in 2003 and 2004. Instead, beginning next year, dioceses judged compliant with the U.S. bishops 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People can choose to self-report their findings.
The new methodology, approved by the bishops at their November meeting, is, according to its proponents, a natural and welcome evolution in the three-year-old audit process. Critics, however, say the bishops are institutionalizing a retreat from pledges of accountability they made at the height of the clergy sex abuse crisis in 2002.
The first round of audits, conducted in 2003, found 90 percent of U.S. dioceses in compliance with the charter, which calls on dioceses to establish offices to conduct outreach to abuse victims, develop procedures to deal with abuse allegations (including the establishment of local review boards), promote standards of conduct for those who have regular contact with children and young people, and implement diocesan-wide safe environment programs. Further, the charter committed the bishops to institute background checks for all diocesan employees and volunteers and to restrict transfers of suspected clerical abusers.
For 2005, the bishops will require full-scale audits only for those dioceses judged noncompliant in 2004; focused on-site audits will be conducted in those dioceses with specific deficiencies in their programs. The remainder of the dioceses can report their findings to the Boston-based Gavin Group, the firm hired to conduct the reviews, or they can request an on-site review.
To some victim advocates the new procedures reek of continued cover-up. Self reports, especially by bishops on these issues, are virtually worthless, said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). Its like telling grade school kids that they can give self-report cards.
Not so, said Sheila Horan, deputy director of the bishops Office of Child and Youth Protection. The new process, she said, will be a combination of on-site self-audits, and targeted audits for specific areas that may not be up to par, rather than every diocese having an on-site audit. Further, she said, the questionnaire sent to self-reporting dioceses will be detailed and specific. The self-reports will be reviewed by outside auditors, compared to previous audits, and read in the light of any complaints made against the diocese, she said. If there is a sufficient issue that arises there very well could be an on-site [visit] to clear up any troublesome issues that might arise or a perceived compliance issue, said Horan.
Santa Fe, N.M., Archbishop Michael Sheehan spoke for many bishops when, as the revised procedures were being discussed, he offered his support.
The last two years weve had the audits in all of our dioceses, and they were a lot of work, took a lot of time, a lot of energy, not only for the dioceses but also for auditors who came and spent the whole week with us, said Sheehan. There was a great deal of effort made in these last two years and the audits weve had. So Im grateful for a simplified procedure that will be much easier to fulfill. I think it will also ensure that the dioceses are following the policies adopted.
Earlier this year, dozens of bishops urged that the 2004 audits be delayed, some saying that the process was too expensive and time-consuming (NCR, May 11). At their June closed-door meeting, the bishops voted to move ahead with the 2004 audits.
Joe Feuerherd is NCR Washington correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 2004
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