U.S. Bishops’ Second Annual Sex Abuse Report Is Disappointing

[The US Bishops' Office of Child & Youth Protection recently its second annual report on how dioceses are implementing the June 2002 Dallas Charter to stem the tide of clergy abuse. Attorney Linda Pieczynski, the Call To Action Board's principal spokesperson on the abuse crisis, filed this report.]

The second implementation report on the Dallas Charter reinforced the belief among progressive Catholics that the sex abuse crisis is far from over. While most of the new 898 reports of abuse in 2004 are actually about events that took place decades ago, the document demonstrates that victims continue to come forward. Given the psychological dynamics that sexual abuse survivors experience in revealing the abuse, it is conceivable that the number of new allegations will continue to be high for many years. Accusations were made against 622 priests and deacons [this past calendar year], 29% of whom were still in active ministry. 96% of all dioceses were in compliance : at least on paper : with the Dallas guidelines. In 2004 alone, $139 million was spent in settlements.

What the report doesn't say...

The report is more significant for what it unintentionally reveals about the shortcoming of the Dallas Charter than for the content of the report itself:

First, the report is not based on true audits as they are customarily conducted. Rather the information relied on is reported by each diocese during on-site visits. In 2005 it is expected that most of these visits will cease as those dioceses found to be in compliance with the Charter in 2004 will switch to "self-reporting" audits.

Secondly, the outgoing director of the Office of Child Protection, Kathleen McChesney, admitted that there is no way to know whether anything required by the Charter is actually effective. No one knows whether the child safe-environment programs prevent child sexual abuse or whether there is meaningful outreach to victims. Victims themselves have reported that in many cases they are not being treated better than in the past.

Finally, last year it became known that Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Nebraska refused to cooperate with the John Jay statistical study` though he did submit to the 2003 audit. In 2004 he defied the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and refused to participate in the audit : the only bishop in the country to do so. The USCCB failed to point this out in its press release, just referring to the number of dioceses participating. Bruskewitz has suffered no adverse consequences for his lack of cooperation, either from his fellow bishops or from the Vatican. This demonstrates that "fraternal correction" is meaningless as a means of encouraging recalcitrant bishops to follow the promises made in Dallas.

What of National Review Board recommendations?...

It is important to remember that this second audit report only shows that minimum standards have been met by the dioceses. The major recommendations made in February 2004 by the National Review Board (NRB) have not been implemented. No discussions have been held regarding changing the ways bishops are selected. No bishops have been held accountable for their roles in the cover-up of the scandal. Church documents are still being withheld. Parishes are closing and bankruptcy actions are proceeding in the courts. The bishops have much work to do to regain the trust of the people.

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