Posts Tagged ‘Child Protection’

Where Do Things Stand on the Sex Abuse Crisis?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

The news from the recent US bishops’ meeting came as a shock and disappointment to many Catholics – the Holy See blocked a vote on any plan to address the latest developments in the sex abuse crisis until after a world-wide meeting of the heads of national bishops’ conferences in February. And many are deeply frustrated because there is a lack of information about why this was done and what’s going to happen.

I’ve been hearing lots of angry questions about the situation from friends and correspondents. There is a plethora of opinion and speculation online, much of it colored by various ideological positions. There is a lot of mis-information, and lack of information, being spread through the media and the blogosphere.

I’d like to offer some of my thoughts and explanations to try to clarify where I see things being. Note that these are my personal opinions. They’re not official positions of the Archdiocese and I have no special inside information. But I am involved in child protection, so I’m going to use that experience to try to make some sense of things.

Why did Rome stop the bishops from acting? 

Just to review, the US bishops were holding their semi-annual meeting in Baltimore. The main issue on the agenda was how to address the sex abuse crisis, particularly the question of how to hold bishops accountable. There were two inter-related proposals on the table – to establish a lay-led commission to review complaints against bishops and to define a code of conduct for bishops. At the last minute, a letter was sent from the Holy See asking (in reality, a nice way of ordering) the bishops to postpone any vote on any kind of proposal until after the meeting that the Holy Father called in February to discuss the matter with the presidents of all the regional bishops’ conferences around the world.

It’s impossible to say why the Holy See stopped the bishops from adopting an American policy, because nobody in Rome explained the reasoning behind the decision. All we were told was that decisions should be deferred until after the February meeting. For Americans, this is, perhaps, the most frustrating part of what happened, since we are used to much more open debate about policy options. Many feel deeply offended and angry, and see this as another example of condescending clericalism and a culture of secrecy. Some have also found it bewildering to stop our bishops from voting on a plan that was going to have to be approved in Rome anyway, and wonder whether there is some kind of hostility to America going on.

It’s clear to me that the Holy See needs to be much more open about what they’re doing and why — especially because one of the most damaging parts of the sex abuse crisis was the loss of trust because of all the secrecy.

Why can’t the US Bishops just adopt their own policies for the US?

American Catholics naturally want our American bishops to offer solutions to our American problem. We respect the principle of subsidiarity, according to which there’s a strong preference that local bodies resolve local problems if possible, and that larger bodies only get involved if local solutions don’t work. Our experience since 2002 with the Bishops’ Charter shows that our bishops are perfect capable of developing successful ways to deal with sex abuse on a national scale.

So for many people, Rome’s decision to postpone any action on the US bishops’ plan, before there was a chance to see if it would work, seems to violate subsidiarity. On the other hand, the Holy Father may be convinced that the sex abuse crisis (including the problem of misconduct and poor governance by bishops) can’t be answered on a nation-by-nation basis and requires a world-wide discussion, if not a world-wide response. It’s hard to tell because Rome’s reasoning hasn’t been made public.

Regardless of the reasons, once Rome made the request (i.e., order) to our bishops, they had no choice but to comply. Unity with the Holy Father is an essential part of the collegiality among bishops and the catholicity of our Church, and great deference has to be given to his wishes.

One pragmatic matter is crucial to understand: the Church is present in virtually every country in the world. We in America are used to dealing with a good government with fair courts and laws, a free press and wide-open discussions. But in most other countries, dioceses operate in a completely different environment, with open hostility and persecution from their governments, limited free press and fear of retaliation for speaking one’s mind. So what may make perfect sense in one country or diocese could be a disaster in another. The Holy See has the difficult job of trying to make world-wide policy that will work in all nations.

So does Rome have a plan?

Again, we don’t know, because nobody at the Holy See has publicly proposed anything yet. The Vatican has just announced the names of some of the people who will be involved in the planning of the February meeting (none of whom are laypeople), they haven’t had any formal meetings yet, and there haven’t been any real hints about the actual agenda. Public statements by some of the organizers have been very general and have suggested that the meeting will only be the beginning of a longer process of developing policies.

That kind of statement is just astounding to me – we are very far from the beginning of the crisis, and we need to move quickly towards ending it. The crisis is now, not in the future. We need to see a sense of urgency and a concrete plan that has much more involvement of the laity, especially experts in the field, and much more openness and accountability.

For all those reasons and more, I think it’s reasonable to be skeptical that the February meeting will result in any concrete proposals. In the past, high-level meetings run by the Holy See have usually been better at discussing general principles than for adopting practical policies. Just think of the most recent Synods of Bishops for examples.

There was also some discussion at the US bishops’ meeting of strengthening the role of archbishops in supervising the bishops in their province and in evaluating allegations of misconduct by them. There were even hints that this proposal might be favored in Rome. There is some merit to this idea, since it relies on existing structures, but it makes many Catholics nervous. Having bishops overseeing other bishops, unless they also have robust transparency and involvement by laity or independent investigators, will likely be perceived by many as perpetuating the kind of clericalism that has been a major part of the problem in the past. The Archbishop McCarrick case has been seen as a prime example of the failure of bishops to self-police.

In any event, it seems clear to me that to regain the trust of American Catholics, Rome will have to come up with more than just additional statements about how serious the problem is, how concerned they are, how committed they are to preventing abuse, and how serious they are about developing policies. There’s already been a lot of talk, and people are impatient for action.

What can our bishops do in the meantime? 

Seeing our bishops’ hands tied by the Vatican is very upsetting, because that means there are very few things they can do on the national scale while waiting for the February world-wide meeting. Cardinal Dolan and two other prelates have been appointed to a special task force to study the issue, and we can hope that there will be some positive results from that and an avenue for input from the laity in that process. And we can also hope that after the February world-wide meeting, the US Bishops will have the ability to adopt particular policies that would apply in the unique situation of the US.

Individual bishops, however, can use this time to increase their communication with the laity, particularly by being completely transparent about the cases that have arisen and how they have been handled, including apologizing for mistakes. The bishops can also be transparent by explaining the procedures they already have in their dioceses and how they can hold their brother bishops accountable. Greater attention can also be paid to the problem of unchastity among the clergy. More bishops are following Cardinal Dolan’s example and setting up compensation plans for victims of abuse, and more should also follow his example by calling on an independent monitor to evaluate what the diocese has been doing.

These steps help, but they don’t eliminate people’s impatience over the need for a strong national solution.

Is the Vatican dragging its feet on the Archbishop McCarrick case?

Not at all. The first allegation against the Archbishop was evaluated last Spring by our review board and found to be substantiated. That case was then sent to Rome, the Holy Father removed the Archbishop’s faculties to function as a priest and bishop, he resigned from the College of Cardinals, and he has been assigned to live in prayer and penance. A second allegation was made public this summer in the newspapers. It was referred to Rome, and they then sent it back to us for investigation. According to our protocols, we referred the case to the local District Attorney to determine whether there is any possibility of a criminal prosecution. Once they have concluded their handling of the case, we will conduct our own investigation and all the evidence will be submitted to our review board. If any other allegations are made, they will be handled the same way.

Investigating these kinds of cases takes time, and we all wish things would move faster. But the Holy See has been following its law and procedure, the DA’s offices have followed theirs, and so have we. These things can’t be rushed. We also have to make sure that the Archbishop, like anyone else, receives due process. People often forget that even the American justice system moves very slowly. The Bill Cosby sexual assault case took three years from the filing of charges through two trials, and the Larry Nasser/US gymnastics sex abuse case took over a year and a half for the criminal cases to end in guilty pleas (but the civil cases are still going on). Unfortunately, real life is not like an episode of “Law and Order” where everything is neatly wrapped up in sixty minutes.

Evaluating the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick is only part of the issue, though. The larger question is about how he was able to advance in office despite widespread rumors and even legal settlements about his misconduct. That’s a serious question that Rome will have to eventually answer.

Aren’t the bishops and the pope worried about losing Catholics? 

Many Catholics are baffled by what they see as the tepid and confusing response by Church leaders and think that the bishops “just don’t get” the level of anger and alienation they feel. What happened at the bishops’ meeting was more fuel for that feeling, and there’s a grave concern that ordinary Catholics are going to leave the Church in frustration.

We Catholics have great reverence for our Church, and our faith is inevitably shaken when Church leaders let us down. Throughout her history, the Church has struggled with scandals and failings in ourselves and our leaders. A quick read of St. Paul’s letters shows that in vivid detail (1 Corinthians is a good example). The offenses and failures of the clergy undermine our trust in their sincerity about the faith itself – people rightly think, “if they act that way, why should I believe anything they say?” Of course, we know that the validity of the sacraments and the integrity of the faith don’t depend on the worthiness of the ministers. And Church history is also a good lesson in patience and perspective – we’ve survived many, many crises before, thanks to the protection of the Holy Spirit.

But still, there is a critical element of trust that our bishops need to regain, before too many people are disillusioned and join the ranks of the “nones” – those who say they’re believers but who don’t belong to any church – or the legion of “ex-Catholics”.

What can lay people do about this?

Because complaints of clergy misconduct are handled according to internal Church processes (under the Bishops’ Charter and the Canon Law), it’s hard to see how regular lay people can get more involved. There is no clear avenue right now for raising complaints about bishops, and it’s hard to tell how Rome handles those complaints or even if anyone is listening to them.

One thing that is absolutely necessary is for people to respectfully let their bishop know how they feel about this situation and how much they want to see some positive action. The only way they’ll “get it” is if we give it to them – politely and reasonably. I know that some people are withholding donations to their bishops’ appeal to send a message, but I don’t think that gets the job done — that money goes primarily to the pastoral and charitable work of the dioceses, so the only people being deprived of money are the needy people who will lose services.

The most important thing that lay people can do is to pray for our bishops and priests, and especially for victims, and to lead blameless and holy lives ourselves. Good Christian lives are the best way to attract people to the Gospel, and to heal the wounds of sin.

How can the Church operate this way?

We Americans are very impatient and practical by nature. When there’s a crisis we want solutions right away. If there’s a natural disaster, we expect the President and the Governor to be on the next plane and for FEMA, the Red Cross and the military to be on the ground within hours — forget about red tape, just get the job done. We hold them all to a high standard and any slips are put under a microscope immediately.

Americans are also used to our government officials explaining in detail (both officially and through unofficial statements, leaks, etc.) why particular policies are being put forward, and we are comfortable with extensively debating about them. When our government isn’t open with us about what policies are being developed, we are immediately suspicious and often resort to conspiracy theories. Americans have an ingrained allergy to government secrecy, and we really believe in the expression that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.

As a result, the deliberate pace and closed manner with which the Church operates can be bewildering and intensely frustrating to Americans. Most people, including many Catholics, don’t realize that the Church isn’t organized like a corporation with branch offices on every corner and policies that can be changed in a minute by the CEO. There are elements of both localism and universalism in the Church that work together and are sometimes in tension. Each diocese is governed by a bishop who has very broad authority, but the diocese is still part of the universal Church and the bishop is responsible for maintaining unity with the Holy Father. The Holy Father has ultimate governing authority over the Church, but he has to respect the autonomy of individual bishops. National bishops’ conferences like the USCCB are really coalitions like the Chamber of Commerce, and don’t have any actual governing power over individual dioceses.

The Church also operates under its own internal legal system. The Canon Law is a complex and ancient body of law that is very different in concept from our Anglo-American common law system. It reflects very rich and deep theological principles about the nature of the Church, and it has detailed standards and procedures that have developed over centuries. It is not designed for rapid-fire pragmatism like you would find on a TV court reality show or a legal thriller novel. The Holy Father has the authority to change Canon Law, but, as with any legal system, changes have to be done very carefully to avoid interfering with or undermining other important principles. For example, it would be easy to streamline a criminal trial to make it faster, but that can’t be done in a way that endangers due process rights or the presumption of innocence.

The Church operates in a way that is very strange to Americans. It’s hard to get used to, and sometimes even harder to explain.

What’s the take-away?

Ultimately, of course, our faith is not in man or in institutions but in Jesus Christ, and we believe that His saving power works even though imperfect people like our clergy and ourselves. As St. Paul said, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

For the last 15 years, the Church has been implementing the Bishops Charter and has made tremendous strides in protecting children from sexual abuse and addressing past misconduct. The current state of things is very frustrating and there’s no easy answer, but we can’t lose hope. We will just have to continue working the best we can through the imperfect system that we have, with faith that the Holy Spirit is always active and guiding us.

What We’re Doing about Sex Abuse

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

The Church is once again facing the tragedy of child sexual abuse. My Public Policy Office recently had an open discussion with a group of young adults about the crisis, as part of our monthly Discussion and Discipleship series. It was clear in that discussion that it would be valuable to let people know in detail what efforts the Archdiocese has made to respond to and protect against child sexual abuse. Since I am also the Safe Environment Director, I put together this overview of what we’ve done and what we’re doing.

The vast majority of clerical sex abuse took place before 2000.

It’s important to understand the true scope and nature of the problem. Independent analysis by John Jay College and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University (which can be found here) confirm that the vast majority of reported offenses took place between the 1960’s and 1980’s, then declined sharply. The allegations that we have received in the Archdiocese follow that same pattern, as do the offenses reported in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Since 2015, there has been an average of 7 reported cases nationwide that are contemporary (i.e., they happened in the same year they were reported). Thank God, here in the Archdiocese we have not had a substantiated contemporary claim since 2011.

Obviously, the only acceptable number of cases is zero. But the fact is that we are primarily talking about a historical problem — one that was very badly handled by the Church at the time and which we can never, ever let happen again.

The 2002 Bishops Charter was a decisive moment.

In the aftermath of the revelations in 2002 about abuse in Boston, the Bishops adopted the Bishops Charter on the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter requires that: all allegations of child sexual abuse must be reported to law enforcement; every diocese is to have an independent review board to evaluate the legitimacy of these allegations; any priest who is found to have abused a child must be permanently removed from ministry (the “Zero Tolerance Policy”); and every diocese must establish a child protection (typically called “safe environment”) program to implement preventive measures. It also requires that pastoral assistance be offered to all victims of abuse and that dioceses cannot demand that settlements of lawsuits be kept confidential.

The Charter led to a fundamental and comprehensive change in the way that the Church addresses sexual abuse of minors. The Archdiocese has vigorously implemented the requirements of theCharter and, in fact, has adopted policies that are above and beyond the CharterAll of our policies are online and can be consulted by anyone. 

All allegations are reported to the authorities and thoroughly investigated. 

Under our policies, “Child Sexual Abuse” and “Sexual Misconduct” are defined very broadly, to include virtually any sexual offense under state and federal law, as well as Canon Law and Catholic moral teaching. We deliberately defined the offenses as broadly as we could, in order not to miss any kind of conduct that harms children. We also included offenses against vulnerable adults (e.g., those who cannot make decisions due to a developmental or cognitive impairment) in the category of offenses against minors, and other offenses against adults.

The first contact we usually have with a complainant is by email, but some people also call. We have a form on the Safe Environment Office website that allows a person to write out the basic facts of their complaint, and our phone numbers are also listed there. We get back in touch with them as soon as possible (usually within one business day), and we then interview them over the phone. This is done either by me or by our Victim Assistance Coordinator, Sr. Eileen Clifford. This is a hard conversation. For many, this is the first time that they’ve told anyone or the first time they’ve ever spoken to someone who will believe them and do something for them. For just about all of them, it’s the first time that anyone has apologized to them.

Once we see that the allegation is credible (i.e., it isn’t obviously false or absurd) and we identify the priest, we report it to the appropriate District Attorney. We give them all the information we have and we fully cooperate with their investigation. We have an agreement with the DA’s not to remove the priest from service at that point, so that they can investigate the case fully, but if there’s a current threat to children we will place the priest on leave right away.

Unfortunately, virtually all of the allegations we receive can’t be criminally prosecuted because they’re too old. In New York, the statute of limitations for most criminal sex offenses is five years after the victim turns 18. As a result, the authorities share the results of their investigation and refer the case back to us to handle.

We then conduct our own investigation. Our interest is in finding the truth, regardless of where the chips may fall. We have hired a firm of retired federal law enforcement agents to ensure independence and transparency in the investigations. We have two in-house attorneys (I’m a former state and federal prosecutor, my colleague is a very experienced civil litigator) to help them. The accused priest is notified of the allegation and he is given an attorney to represent him. We interview the complainant and any possible witnesses, and search for any other relevant evidence. The accused priest is also interviewed, and we follow up on any leads that he gives us.

The key thing is to find any independent evidence that bears on the allegations, to try to determine what (if anything) happened. These cases are very difficult to investigate, because the alleged conduct took place so long ago and our complainants were very young at the time (mostly under 14). Memories are tricky and fade or change over time, witnesses are dead or missing, no physical evidence has survived, and many victims don’t report things right away so there’s no contemporary record of it.

When all investigative steps have been taken, the results are presented to our independent review board for a decision. This board consists of distinguished members of the community – judges, doctors, lawyers, a woman religious and a senior priest. They review all the information we’ve gathered, and sometimes they ask that the complainant and the priest give live testimony. Their task is to decide whether the allegation is substantiated – essentially whether it is more likely than not that the offense took place. Our experience is that at least three-quarters of the allegations are supported by sufficient evidence.

The Zero Tolerance Policy in Action.

As required by the Charter, anyone (clerical or lay) who is found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor is removed permanently from ministry and/or employment. Since the Charter, approximately 50 priests who had been in active service or retired were permanently banned from ministry. We’ve had many more credible  complaints against priests who are dead or were already expelled from ministry.

This is the “zero tolerance policy” in action. There are no second chances, no return to ministry after psychological testing, and no moving offenders around. Those days are over forever.

Once that has happened, the Canon Law process begins to have the priest “laicized” (i.e., degraded from the clerical state, or “defrocked”). This can only be done by the Holy See, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This can take a long time, because the file of documents that have to be submitted is very large, the number of experts who can do that is limited, and the office at the Vatican that handles the cases is very overworked. But we still do this with every substantiated case against an active priest.

Our Policy on Sexual Misconduct also covers offenses committed against adults, including sexual harassment, conduct in violation of professional standards within a pastoral or counseling relationship, and sexual acts that involve abuses of positions of power. The “zero tolerance policy” applies here too. Any person who commits a criminal offense against an adult is reported to law enforcement and if the allegation is substantiated they too will be permanent removed from ministry or employment. Persons who commit sexual harassment may also be punished and even fired, depending on the severity of the offense.

All victims who come forward are offered help.

The Charter requires that every diocese appoint a Victim Assistance Coordinator whose responsibility is to provide pastoral care to victims. Our coordinator is often one of the first contacts for victims, and she offers them support, including help getting professional counseling. Any victim, no matter how old the offense, is offered help. In addition, in 2016 the Archdiocese instituted anIndependent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that offers financial awards to victims. Over 350 victims have taken advantage of this program.

How do we know you’re doing all of this? 

The Charter requires that every diocese be annually audited to ensure that the requirements were being implemented. The audit is conducted by outside experts, and it involves statistical evidence, examination of files, and personal interviews.  The Archdiocese has been found to be fully compliant with the Charter in thirteen consecutive audits since the Safe Environment program became fully operational in 2005. All the policies and procedures of the Safe Environment program are also subject to the on-going oversight of our independent review board.

Every year, a report is published on the U.S. Bishops’ website, summarizing the results of the audits of every diocese in the United States. Statistical information about abuse cases is also submitted to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University for analysis, and their results are also published in the bishops’ report. These multiple levels of transparency will hold us accountable for implementing the Charter and our Policies.

What are you doing to protect children going forward? 

The Charter requires that every diocese implement a child protection policy, which we call our Safe Environment Program. Everyone whose duties involve contact with minors must be screened, including a background check for criminal convictions and sex offender status; they have to obey our policies and Code of Conduct; and they have to complete a class in child protection. The training includes how to identify warning signs of victims and offenders, how to respond and report incidents, and the requirements of our Code of Conduct and other policies (e.g., electronic communications, social media, and proper professional boundaries). We currently have approximately 49,000 people (clergy, employees and volunteers) whose duties involve contact with minors.

Since 2003, the following steps have been taken:

130,000+ background checks have been completed;
114,000+ clergy, employees, and volunteers have received training on keeping children safe;
129,000+ children received age-appropriate, morally sound safety training during the 2017-2018 school year.

The bottom line.

No system of child protection is infallible. Mistakes are always going to be made. Any failure is a horrendous tragedy. But perhaps this brief outline shows that we are doing everything we reasonably can to address the crimes of the past, and prevent anything like that from happening ever again. We can always improve these efforts and we’re constantly reviewing them to make them better. The Cardinal’s appointment of Judge Barbara Jones as an outside evaluator and monitor of our programs is proof of that, and I’m very optimistic about strengthening our program even more.

Zero Tolerance for Abuse

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

[I was invited to submit an op-ed to the Catholic News Agency about important remarks the Holy Father made about child protection, stressing that the laity must be held to the same zero tolerance policy as the clergy. The article appeared here and with their permission I’m reposting it here. I should stress that the opinions expressed here are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Archdiocese of New York.]

In his September 20 remarks to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Pope Francis stated the important point that “the Church, at all levels, will respond with the application of the firmest measures to all those who have betrayed their call and abused the children of God.” That reaffirmation of the Church’s commitment to child protection cannot be said too often or too strongly.

The Holy Father then went on to say something new and very significant: “The disciplinary measures that the particular Churches have adopted must apply to all those who work in the institutions of the Church… Therefore, the Church irrevocably and at all levels seeks to apply the principle of ‘zero tolerance’ against the sexual abuse of minors.”

This is an unambiguous call to action. The Church in the United States has been a world leader in child protection, and we have an opportunity now to lead again.

Since its adoption in 2002, the Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has been the foundation for the Church’s immensely successful efforts to provide a safe environment for children in our institutions and to ensure accountability for the implementation of those efforts. As successful as the Charter has been, however, it has always been missing a very significant piece — on its face, it only applies to cases of misconduct by clergy and not by laypeople.

For example, the term “sexual abuse” is defined in the Charter by reference to a canon law provision that applies only to the clergy. The definition is ambiguous, and fails to provide sufficient guidance about what behaviors are proscribed. This leaves diocesan officials to rely on an ad hoc standard of their own creation or on potentially differing opinions of theologians, civil or canon lawyers, or review board members.

This is not a good practice — “sexual abuse” cannot mean one thing in one diocese and a different thing in another, one thing when it applies to clergy and another when it’s a lay person.

The Charter’s definition of “child pornography” suffers from the same problem. The only guidance in the Charter is a reference to a Vatican document that has an empty and unhelpful definition that is limited to conduct by clerics. An ambiguous standard for this heinous crime isn’t acceptable, and it must apply to laity as well.

In addition, although the Charter discusses procedures for handling cases involving the clergy, it says nothing about how to handle cases about lay persons. And most importantly, while the Charter clearly applies the “zero tolerance” policy of permanently removing an offending priest or deacon, there is no defined penalty for lay persons who have committed an offense.

This is a very significant gap. We must assure everyone that no person, lay or cleric, will be permitted to be with children if they have committed an offense. Failing to do so leaves an erroneous impression that sex abuse is uniquely a problem with the clergy, which ignores all the evidence of the incidence of sex abuse and unfairly stigmatizes our priests and deacons.

This omission could have an impact on the credibility of our child protection programs. The annual audit requires information about background check and training of lay people and detailed information about clergy abuse cases, but no information is gathered about cases involving lay people. Including the laity explicitly under the Charter will ensure a greater level of accountability and trust.

One would expect that every diocese has already adopted policies that cover lay people as well as clergy. We certainly have in the Archdiocese of New York. But local policies don’t send a strong enough message. The Charter is the public expression of the United States Church’s full commitment to child protection. It is imperative that we make absolutely clear that the same rigorous standards apply to all who work with children, across our entire nation.

This is not hard to do. Clear and usable definitions of “sexual abuse” and “child pornography” can be developed that unambiguously cover laypeople. We can draw on the vast experience reflected in state and federal law, which define numerous sexual offenses with great detail and specificity. Uniform disciplinary procedures for handling lay cases do not have to be developed at the national level, since those will be shaped by local personnel policies and laws. Nor do we have to worry about inconsistency with canon law, since that only applies to clergy cases.

It can also be stated plainly that all allegations will be immediately reported to law enforcement and full cooperation will be given to the authorities. All dioceses probably already do this — in the Archdiocese of New York we have strong protocols for cooperation with law enforcement. But again, a strong statement in the Charter will demonstrate our commitment across the nation.

Most important, after the Holy Father’s mandate, it is vital that the “zero tolerance” policy clearly applies to the laity. There can be no room for doubt about that.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been working on a revision of the Charter, and it has not yet been finalized. The Holy Father’s timely call to action now gives the Church a great opportunity to be proactive and ensure that our rigorous policies apply equally to all who work with our children.