The 15th annual report on the U. S. bishop’s “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” was published earlier this month. The report publishes for the bishops the results of the audits of the dioceses and eparchies (administrative districts of the Eastern Catholic Churches) of the United States in their compliance with the charter, from July, 2016 to June, 2017. There is bad news and good news.
First, the bad news. Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, which oversees the audits, is concerned that some dioceses are growing lax in their implementation of the charter.
According to the article on the “Catholic News Service” website linked above, Cesareo, “was most concerned by signs of general complacency such as a shortage of resources available to fully implement programs, failure by some dioceses to complete background checks in a timely manner and, in some cases, poor record keeping. Cesareo wrote that this ‘apparent complacency’ could indicate that some in the church think ‘sexual abuse of minors by the clergy is now an historic event of the past.'”
While the vast majority of dioceses and eparchies participated in the audit, there were two eparchies and one diocese that did not. Of 63 dioceses and eparchies that received on-site audits, three eparchies were judged non-compliant. All 191 dioceses that participated in the audits were judged compliant. That all but one diocese participated in the audits and all of those that did were compliant is good news. But, is there any reason why a diocese or eparchy would not participate in these audits? Is there any reason why a diocese or eparchy would not be compliant with the charter? There ought to be 100% participation in the audits and 100% compliance with the charter. Continued diligence is the only way to ensure that a repeat of the horrors of the mid-1960’s to the mid-1980’s is never repeated.
More bad news: The report says that 654 adults came forward with 695 allegations. These allegations date mostly from decades ago. There were 24 new allegations made by minors over the course of the audit year made against Catholic priests (as far as I can tell from the article, no allegations were made against deacons). Of these, six were substantiated. By comparison, there were two substantiated allegations made in the 2015 to 2016 audit year. These six allegations came from three different dioceses, and four of those six allegations were against the same priest. That means that three priests were credibly accused of abuse over the course of the audit year, and each were removed from ministry. Eight of the new allegations were unsubstantiated and three were “unable to be proven.” This doesn’t mean the allegations were false, only that they couldn’t be substantiated or proven. The investigations of these eleven have been closed. Five allegations were still being investigated at the time the audit year closed. If you’re counting, that’s 22. The CNS article doesn’t address the remaining two new allegations. All allegations, new and old, were reported to the civil authorities.
There is good news. First, even though a handful of diocese and eparchies didn’t participate in the audits, and three eparchies that did were non-compliant, it should be recognized that the vast majority of the Church in the U. S. takes the audits seriously and are complying with the charter. Canon Law doesn’t require that dioceses or eparchies participate, so the fact that the vast majority do is good. Second, the report speaks to the Church’s efforts to ensure the safety of children in her charge. In the audit year, more than 2.5 million background checks were performed on clergy, employees and volunteers and more than 2.5 million adults and 4.1 million children were trained in how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to report suspected abuse.
While 24 new allegations are too many, it helps to keep things in perspective. There were hundreds of new allegations almost every year over the course of the twenty-year period between 1965 and 1985. According to the John Jay Report, there were 10,667 allegations of abuse over the years from 1950 to 2002, involving 4,392 priests, representing 4.0% of the total number of priests in active ministry over those decades. That’s an average of 205 new allegations each year, but John Jay reports that the incidents of abuse was not equal over those decades. There was a sharp increase in abuse from the 1960’s to 1980’s, peaking in the mid-1970’s. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s (the years after the introduction of reforms by the bishops to prevent abuse), there was an even sharper decline in the number of new allegations.
There were 37,181 Catholic priests in the United States in 2017. 24 allegations against priests in the 2016 to 2017 audit year represents 0.00064% of these priests (the actual percentage is lower, since at least one priest was the subject of multiple accusations). Even though old allegations continue to be made, and even new allegations continue to be made, that represents considerable progress. The reforms the bishops adopted in the late 1980’s have worked remarkably. I contend that no other institution has experienced such progress, and some, like the entertainment industry, aren’t even trying, choosing to continue to cover up the abuse that takes place.
The Church needs to continue to work diligently to protect children, and vulnerable adults, as well. There can be no let up in efforts to ensure that the day arrives soon that no new allegations are made against any priest, that no child is subjected to abuse. Nothing short of zero is acceptable.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.