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Report says most dioceses have policies,
procedures on sex abuse

By Jerry Filteau
Catholic News Service

Most U.S. Catholic dioceses already have a written sexual abuse policy, procedures for dealing with complaints, a diocesan review board, and a coordinator of pastoral outreach to victims, according to a report released Sept. 20.

Of the 195 dioceses surveyed in August, 186 -- 95 percent -- responded to the nine-question survey.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent the questionnaire to diocese's Aug. 7 in response to a request by the bishops' new National Review Board for a quick overview of where dioceses currently stand on policies and procedures to implement the bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People."

In the charter, the bishops set national policy on standards dioceses are to meet in sexual abuse prevention and response. The charter also established the National Review Board to monitor compliance in all dioceses.

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, chairman of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse, called the responses "very encouraging."

"We not only got a quick response from the dioceses, but the information they shared with us shows how committed they are to putting the charter into effect," he said.

The questionnaire also addressed such areas as reporting sexual abuse allegations to civil authorities, setting standards of ministerial behavior, background checks on church personnel, "safe environment" educational programs for the detection and prevention of sexual abuse, and dialogue with heads of men's religious orders on the status of members in religious life.

Of the 186 dioceses that answered the survey, 179 -- 92 percent of all dioceses -- said they have a written policy on sexual abuse that is available to the public. Of the six dioceses -- 3 percent -- who said they did not, five said they were preparing one.

The percentages on each question throughout the report added up to 95 percent of all dioceses because of the 5 percent that did not respond.

On having procedures that are publicly announced and readily available in printed form for making a complaint, 156 dioceses, or 80 percent, said yes. Of the 29 dioceses, or 15 percent, that said no, all planned to comply by the end of the year.

On having a diocesan review board in compliance with charter requirements that most members be lay people not employed by the church, 149 dioceses -- 76 percent -- said yes. Of the 34 which said no, 25 replied that they planned to comply by the end of the year. Three responses were classified as incomplete.

The report said 133 dioceses -- 68 percent -- reported having an assistance coordinator who aids in the immediate pastoral care of victims of sexual abuse by church personnel. Of the 52 -- 27 percent -- who said they did not, 24 said they planned to comply by the end of the year.

As a result of diocesan efforts to combat sexual abuse in the 1990s, a number of larger dioceses had already hired victim outreach or advocacy coordinators, but the mandate for such a post in every diocese was new with the charter.

The committee said some dioceses "indicated they were slow to implement the charter due to financial reasons. Stating their rural location, lack of funding, small support staffs or other individual circumstance, nevertheless they would be contacting possible volunteers for review boards and implementing the charter as soon as possible within reason."

Responding to a two-part question on reporting allegations to civil authorities:

-- 123 dioceses -- 63 percent -- said their state includes clergy as mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse. Of the rest, 54 said no and nine answers were incomplete. Some dioceses -- especially the eparchies, or dioceses of Eastern Catholic churches, which were also covered by the survey -- have territory in two or more states.

-- 105 dioceses -- 54 percent -- said they also report past or old cases to civil authorities. Of the others, 48 said no and 33 answers were incomplete.

Other survey questions and the responses were:

-- On having a "statement or policy describing appropriate standards for ministerial behavior for clergy and other church personnel," 118 -- 61 percent -- said yes. Most of the 66 answering no said they were in the process of reviewing and updating personnel handbooks to comply with the charter. Responses of two dioceses were incomplete.

-- On having a "safe environment" program to train and educate clergy, staff, teachers, parents and youth in detecting and preventing sexual abuse, 127 -- 65 percent -- said yes. Of the 56 answering no, most said they were exploring implementation by year's end of the "Virtus" (Latin for "virtue") child abuse prevention program developed by the National Catholic Risk Retention Group, which is already widely used by dioceses. Three responses were incomplete.

-- On having procedures to check the background of clergy, church ministers and volunteers who have regular contact with minors, 160 dioceses -- 82 percent -- said yes. Of the 23 that answered no, most said they are developing procedures or revising older ones. Three responses were incomplete.

-- On being in dialogue with superiors of religious orders, 144 dioceses -- 74 percent -- said yes. Of the 39 that said no, most said such a meeting is scheduled before the end of the year and seven said they have no religious-order priests working in their diocese or eparchy. Three responses were incomplete.

Archbishop Flynn said the reason most dioceses could report having charter-mandated policies and programs in place just two months after adopting the charter was that the charter itself was based on steps many dioceses had already taken over the previous decade or more.

"The charter is part of an ongoing process" to combat and prevent sexual abuse in the church, he said.