- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Lincoln’s Catholic Diocese will participate in the next sex abuse audit conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, ending its position as the only diocese in the nation not taking part.

Bishop James Conley announced his decision to participate in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People annual audit of the 195 U.S. dioceses and eparchies in a recent column for the Lincoln diocese newspaper, the Lincoln Journal Star reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1NKaMoM ).

The annual audit began in 2002, in response to increasing allegations of longtime sexual abuse of children by clergy and possible cover-ups of abuse. The Lincoln Diocese took part in the audit that first year, but has declined to participate in the 13 years since.

That was the decision of Conley’s predecessor, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who had contended that the abuse survey was pointless and that he wouldn’t assume wrongdoing by the diocese and its priests.

Conley, who came to the diocese in 2012, said changes in process led him to reverse the diocese’s longstanding position.

Conley wrote in his column that “the audit process has improved” since its beginning in 2003.

“It now appears to offer some clear benefit to dioceses that undergo it, with minimal interference in the ministry of the church,” he said. “It can help bishops hold themselves accountable, and it can offer the virtue of transparency - an assurance that the church takes child protection seriously.”

But Conley defended Bruskewitz’s longtime position, saying that legitimate questions were raised about the audit’s purpose, practices and methodology in 2003.

Rachel Pokora, a longtime Nebraska board member of Catholic reformist group Call to Action, called Conley’s announcement “a happy surprise.”

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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