Posts Tagged ‘Safe Environment’

The Crisis — Causes, Effects, and an Answer

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Two recent events have once again brought the issue of clerical sexual abuse to the forefront here in the Archdiocese. The first is a source of great sadness and anguish. The second is the source of indispensable wisdom about the causes and effects of sexual abuse in our Church.

The List

The first event is release of the list of 120 Archdiocesan clergy who were either (a) credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor or possessing child pornography, or (b) the subject of a claim that our Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) considered eligible for compensation.

The distinction between the two categories is important. Some of the clergymen on the list whose cases where our independent lay Review Board found that an allegation was credible and substantiated. It’s essential to note that neither the Review Board nor the IRCP is a court of law, they’re not bound by the evidence rules under civil or criminal law, and – most important – in the case of many of the IRCP cases the clergymen were either dead or already out of ministry and thus did not have the opportunity to defend themselves.

This list has gotten a lot of attention. And it will not be the last bit of bad news that we hear – far from it. But some very important facts haven’t gotten enough attention. No clergyman is currently in service who has had a credible allegation of child sexual abuse. The vast majority of the cases are old – most occurred between the 1960’s and the early 1990’s. There have been no credible claims against a clergyman who was ordained since the Bishops’ Charter was adopted in 2002. And we have only had two credible cases since 2002, although there are two others that are still pending in the criminal justice system. We have clearly been successful in mitigating the damage and risk.

Still, even one case is too many, and we have devoted enormous resources to preventing any further offenses and responding appropriately to any new allegations. Failure is simply unacceptable.

There is one thing that is particularly significant about this list, something that is missing from it – the victims. Behind the name of each one of the clergymen on that list there are victims, in some cases only one, but in other cases many. Over 350 victims received compensation from the IRCP, and there are more who never applied. Each one of those victims was betrayed, desecrated, violated and assaulted by one of the men on the list. The effect on them, their pain and suffering, and in many cases the destruction of their lives, cannot be adequately reflected in any list. Someone said to me recently that they feel sorry for the clergymen whose names are on the list. I understand that sentiment, but my primary sympathy is for the men and women whose names will never be revealed, who have suffered and continue to suffer in silence and anonymity.

Pope Emeritus Benedict 

The other recent event is something that should get much more attention, because it gets directly at the heart of the causes and effects of the scandal – an article written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on “The Church and the scandal of sexual abuse”.  This provides the key to understanding the deeper significance of the list and of the entire contagion of sexual abuse. It also shows us the way to hope out of this darkness.

Benedict identifies a number of key causes that led to the scandal. First and foremost, he finds its roots in the 1960’s in the sexual revolution:

… in the 1960s an egregious event occurred, on a scale unprecedented in history. It could be said that in the 20 years from 1960 to 1980, the previously normative standards regarding sexuality collapsed entirely, and a new normalcy arose…. Among the freedoms that the Revolution of 1968 sought to fight for was this all-out sexual freedom, one which no longer conceded any norms.

This is undeniably true, as anyone who lived in the 1960’s and 1970’s could attest. The traditional morality that insisted on the link between sex and marriage, and sex and procreation, was swept away and replaced with a new mindset in which sex was merely a form of entertainment for which the only ethical rule was consent. And, as Benedict points out repeatedly, once the traditional moral standards were eliminated, there was nothing to stop some people from justifying sex with minors.

The second key cause was the internal collapse of Catholic moral theology, which had traditionally been rooted in Scripture and natural law, and which held firmly to the doctrine that there are some acts that are never morally acceptable. This was also swept away by academic theologians, bishops, and poorly formed priests who instead held to a morality that in effect served as a permission slip to sin. This was further facilitated by a rejection of the authority of the Church to pronounce definitive doctrines on matters of morality. Benedict says,

In the end, it was chiefly the hypothesis that morality was to be exclusively determined by the purposes of human action that prevailed. While the old phrase “the end justifies the means” was not confirmed in this crude form, its way of thinking had become definitive. Consequently, there could no longer be anything that constituted an absolute good, any more than anything fundamentally evil; (there could be) only relative value judgments. There no longer was the (absolute) good, but only the relatively better, contingent on the moment and on circumstances.

In other words, anything could be considered morally acceptable under the “right” circumstances and with the “right” motives. It is easy to see where this leads – to a regime of no rules, of “anything goes”, where everyone is the ultimate judge of what is good and evil, and where “the Church should stay out of the bedroom”. Of course, once authentic morality is pushed “out of the bedroom”, any kind of sexual act becomes justifiable, including sex with minors.

According to Benedict, this corrosive anti-morality was conveyed to priests in flawed seminary formation and reinforced by bishops who “rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern ‘Catholicity’ in their dioceses”. Does anyone seriously doubt that this happened? One of the major initiatives of the papacies of Popes John Paul and Benedict was to push back against the “dictatorship of relativism” and to restore authentic Catholic moral doctrine – that was the purpose of the great encyclical Veritatis Splendor.

Benedict then shines a light on the heart of the matter. While speaking of the effort to make changes in the Canon Law to permit better enforcement of its criminal law in cases of abuse of minors, he says this:

In fact, it is important to see that such misconduct by clerics ultimately damages the Faith. Only where faith no longer determines the actions of man are such offenses possible…. A society without God – a society that does not know Him and treats Him as non-existent – is a society that loses its measure. In our day, the catchphrase of God’s death was coined. When God does die in a society, it becomes free, we were assured. In reality, the death of God in a society also means the end of freedom, because what dies is the purpose that provides orientation. And because the compass disappears that points us in the right direction by teaching us to distinguish good from evil…. Why did pedophilia reach such proportions? Ultimately, the reason is the absence of God.

Of course this is true. Nobody can legitimately and truly believe in God, and know and love him in their heart, and commit such heinous acts.

The loss of God can be seen vividly, Benedict argues, in the lack of reverence for the Eucharist and a lack of understanding of the true nature of the Church. For many, the Eucharist is treated as a mere ceremony to mark family events, without any sense of the Real Presence of Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity – in the Blessed Sacrament. The lack of reverence for the Body of Christ cannot help but lead to a lack of respect for the image of God that is in the body of every human being.

Likewise, the Church is seen only as a political apparatus that can be re-made by us into whatever we wish. Benedict sees the falsehood in that view: “The crisis, caused by the many cases of clerical abuse, urges us to regard the Church as something almost unacceptable, which we must now take into our own hands and redesign. But a self-made Church cannot constitute hope.” This, he argues, is the agenda of the Evil One, who wants to lead us away from God – by considering the Church as purely a human entity created for human ends that is thoroughly corrupted by the evil acts of some of her members. This message of despair causes people to look at the list of offenders, reject the Church and turn away from God. That road leads to destruction.

The Answer

Benedict offers a solution to the problem. It isn’t a pragmatic program, agenda for legal reform, or bureaucratic structure. As such, it won’t satisfy anyone who sees the problem of clerical sexual abuse as purely a human phenomenon. All those things are vitally important but they aren’t sufficient. Benedict offers instead a response that gets to the real root causes:

It is very important to oppose the lies and half-truths of the devil with the whole truth: Yes, there is sin in the Church and evil. But even today there is the Holy Church, which is indestructible. Today there are many people who humbly believe, suffer and love, in whom the real God, the loving God, shows Himself to us. Today God also has His witnesses (martyres) in the world. We just have to be vigilant in order to see and hear them….

Today’s Church is more than ever a “Church of the Martyrs” and thus a witness to the living God. If we look around and listen with an attentive heart, we can find witnesses everywhere today, especially among ordinary people, but also in the high ranks of the Church, who stand up for God with their life and suffering.

There are many who will look at the list of offenders and despair. But the true response to the list and to the crisis in general is instead one of hope. God offers us, through his Church, all we need to deal with both the causes and effects of this terrible scandal of sin. Prayer for and with those who suffer, the intercessory help of our Blessed Mother and the saints, acts of reparation, devotion to Divine Mercy, and above all the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist – all these will help us to be witnesses to the great goodness of God, to reject all the lies of the Evil One, and to purify the Bride of Christ so that nobody will ever suffer from abuse again.

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.