WASHINGTON – The report on the progress of eliminating clergy sex abuse scandal was released, Tuesday, Dec. 6, on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. Former FBI officials hired by the U.S. Conference of Bishops conducted the internal audit, which showed that 90 percent of the 195 U.S. dioceses were honoring their pledge to stamp out sexual abuse, but were still in need of administrative guidance.
The audit said bishops were largely following the current plan, which dictates how priests who molest children should be punished and requires bishops to enact safeguards against abuse. The plan was adopted 18 months ago in an effort to protect children and restore trust in the church’s shattered leadership after a scandal over prelates who sheltered guilty priests.
"What the American public will see when thy examine this report, it an extraordinary report card," said William Gavin, a former FBI official whose company, the Gavin Group of Boston, conducted the audit.
Nonetheless, the audit showed several problems in conducting the policy, namely inconsistent record –keeping, inadequate tracking of accused priests and a lack of comments from victims on how bishops could improve their responses. Overall, bishops should do more to fulfill their pledge to reach out to victims and their families, through one-on-one meetings and other means, the report said. Also, studies were needed to measure whether abuse-prevention programs were effective and were being followed in individual parishes, where most children are involved in the church. The investigators recommended a survey of the many victims who were not interviewed for the audit to ask them how bishops should handle abuse cases.
"We have a long way to go in that area," said Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent and head of the bishops' watchdog Office of Child and Youth Protection, which oversaw the audit.
Among the 20 dioceses judged not fully compliant are the archdioceses of New York; Anchorage, Alaska; and Omaha, Neb. Four dioceses were not audited for various reasons. Nearly 70 percent of dioceses received at least one commendation for exceptional progress in some area, such as communicating well with parishioners. The Archdiocese of Chicago was praised for its work helping victims obtain counseling.
The investigators, however, also found that some accused clergy could not be located, and that five priests accused in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati still were in ministry at the time of the audit, a violation of the policy. The clergymen have since been removed, and the Cincinnati diocese was deemed to have come into compliance.
Jim Post, president of the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful, created in response to the scandal, said the audit was an important step toward reform.
"The most important thing is the report stresses things that have to be done to create a safer environment in churches and schools," Post said.
Some victim advocates said the bishops had too much control of the study. Bishops recommended whom the auditors should interview in the diocese. The report also said auditors were unable to view personnel files to determine whether bishops were complying with the policy's ban on transferring offenders among dioceses.
Gavin insisted the audits were comprehensive and accurate. Investigators did not view personnel records because of state privacy laws. Otherwise, he said, "We had free rein."
"For the most part, it was not a refusal to adhere to the policies. It was a lack of understanding of how to do so," Gavin said.
A potentially more important study, also commissioned by the bishops, will be released Feb. 27. It will attempt to tally every church abuse case in the country since 1950.