- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

An audit of America’s Roman Catholic bishops yesterday said the Catholic Church is following the reforms it had adopted to prevent sex abuse by clergy, but 20 of the 194 dioceses, including the Diocese of Arlington, are behind on setting up safeguards for children.

Arlington, it said, had no method — other than self-reporting — of checking the credentials of diocesan priests, employees and volunteers who have regular contact with children. It was ordered to begin criminal background checks for all such employees and to update its “safe environment” program for children and translate it into Spanish.

In response, the Arlington diocese said it had conducted criminal background checks on its 157 priests after a September visit by investigators.

Elsewhere, the church has made “solid progress” in fulfilling the mandates of a charter ordered by U.S. bishops in a historic June 2002 meeting in Dallas, said Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We bishops are keeping our word.”

The charter, which demanded accountability from all U.S. dioceses, established a Boston-based group of former FBI investigators, the Gavin Group, to conduct one-week “audits” of the dioceses this summer and fall.

Its resulting 400-page “Report on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” said the majority of dioceses (157) had fulfilled the charter. Thirty-four dioceses, including Arlington, were lagging, and three had not complied at all.

The Archdiocese of Washington got three commendations for its “significant steps” in conducting background checks and establishing review boards on sexual abuse and protection of children.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore, one of two in the country that has published the names of sexual abusers who were priests, was cited for the “excellence” of its program in four commendations. However, it was told to answer personally — no voice mails — calls to the number designated for potential sexual-abuse victims.

David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the auditors relied too much on information furnished by the bishops, had little or no access to personnel documents and was not a true audit, in the financial sense.

“What’s startling is how low the bar was set,” he said. “Dioceses are getting kudos for having a written communications plan, a formal complaint procedure, a code of conduct for priests, all of which may have little relevance in helping victims heal or preventing future abuse.”

The audit showed a mixed review of how fast the nation’s Catholic bishops are working to implement the charter. Although 90 percent of the dioceses, as of yesterday, had complied fully with the charter, several, including the dioceses of Omaha, Neb., and Anchorage, Alaska, were far behind. Several of the dioceses came into compliance since the report was released early last month. Three dioceses — Phoenix, Cincinnati and Alexandria, La., — had to have two audits.

During their first visit to Cincinnati, auditors said, five priests suspected of having committed sexual abuse had not been removed from ministry, and the Archdiocese of Cincinnati was undergoing a grand-jury investigation by the Hamilton County prosecuting attorney.

By the second audit in November, the priests had been removed, and Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk had filed a no-contest plea with the county for not reporting sexual abuse of minors.

As for the Alexandria and Phoenix dioceses, both of their bishops either were transferred or resigned this year. Other bishops brought in as overseers quickly brought both dioceses closer to compliance.

Auditor visits, which cost $9,600 each, involved up to six investigators, who interviewed victims, diocesan officials, priests and local police. Former FBI agent Bill Gavin, founder of the Gavin Group, said 90 percent of the dioceses were in compliance with the audit as of yesterday, but there were “large discrepancies” in how abuse was being addressed.

Three dioceses failed to complete the audit, including the Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, which is so tied up in lawsuits that a complete audit is impossible, officials said. The Eparchy (a kind of non-geographical or specialized diocese) of St. Thomas and the Armenian Exarchate of New York also were found to be seriously out of compliance. Both are small bodies that minister to immigrant Catholics.

Yesterday’s press conference was held two years to the day of the publication of a massive investigation by the Boston Globe on sexual abuse by 70 Boston-area priests. The series, which eventually won a Pulitzer Prize, spawned criminal investigations across the country.

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