- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

U.S. Catholic bishops say they have rapidly clamped down on sexual abuse by priests in their jurisdictions, according to an internal survey of the nation's 195 dioceses.
The bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse says that 92 percent of all dioceses now have a publicly stated policy on the issue, 80 percent have a clear protocol for complaints and 74 percent have independent review boards that monitor the local bishop's policy.
The survey of what the bishops have done since adopting an anti-abuse charter in June was released last week by Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop Harry J. Flynn, chairman of the panel.
"We not only got a quick response from dioceses, but the information they shared with us shows how committed they are to putting the charter into effect," he said.
Under the charter, the bishops formed a national review board of lay Catholics to monitor their compliance. The board recommended the August survey, and at its meeting last week hinted that bishops were not moving quickly enough to implement the charter.
Victims' groups such as Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the bishops' internal review is not trustworthy.
"We think that [a] 'self-report' by the bishops needs to be taken not with a grain of salt but with a mountain of salt," SNAP President David Clohessy said. "Remember, these are men most of whom covered this up for decades. We need to be cautious in accepting at face value whatever they report."
A month ago, SNAP had culled from newspaper reports 13 cases in which bishops did not follow the charter in cases of accused priests. "We believe most dioceses, in one form or fashion, are not in compliance with the letter or spirit of the charter," Mr. Clohessy said.
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People requires bishops to openly address abuse problems, to take swift action regarding accused priests and to allow an independent council to know of complaints and disciplinary actions taken.
Archbishop Flynn said the bishops have been attacking sexual misconduct for several years, and that the rapid compliance found by the survey shows the new measures are "part of an ongoing process" already in place.
Meanwhile, a concern to protect the rights of priests has been growing. The Rev. John P. Beal, chairman of church canon law at Catholic University of America, writes in a forthcoming article in the Jesuit magazine America that the charter rides roughshod over normal rights of the accused.
The charter's onus on priests is "profoundly disturbing," he said, arguing that normal canon law is sufficient because it "will not provide a safe haven for the truly guilty."
Still, news reports from Rome this week said the Vatican is likely to back the U.S. bishops' streamlined procedures for retiring or dismissing accused priests.
The bishops' survey, in which 186 of 195 dioceses responded, also showed that of all dioceses:
Eighty-two percent have procedures to check the background of clergy, ministers and volunteers who work with minors.
Seventy-four percent have talked with local religious orders about stricter policies.
Sixty-eight percent have a "coordinator" for immediate care of victims of sexual abuse by church staff.
Sixty-five percent have a "safe environment" program to detect and prevent child sexual abuse.
Sixty-three percent are in states that include clergy on the list of convicted child abusers who must report their addresses.
Sixty-one percent have a statement on standards of behavior for clergy and personnel.
Fifty-four percent have a policy to report past or old cases of abuse to civil authorities.


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