Voice of the Faithful Completes First Online Independent Review of Diocesan Compliance with Child Protection Guidelines; average rating, 67%
BOSTON — Voice of the Faithful has released the first independent online review of the level of compliance of all U.S. Catholic dioceses with child protection and environmental safety guidelines. The average overall score was 67%, with the most frequently obtained score being 63.5%. Although some dioceses did well, no diocese reached 100% and three dioceses scored in the 20s.
The study is the first independent analysis of child welfare and safe environment policies in all U.S. dioceses. VOTF operates independently of the institutional structure of the Church, and the study is not an audit like those conducted by the Bishop’s National Review Board in the United States. Titled “Report 2022: Measuring Abuse Prevention and Environmental Protection Programs as Reported Online in Diocesan Policies and Practices,” the report is released in April as the month is designated in the United States as the Month National for the Prevention of Child Abuse. The report’s findings include:
“The scale of clergy sexual abuse cases within the Church indicates that historical responses to accusations of abuse by the hierarchy were inadequate; these responses protected the institution’s reputation for supporting victims and preventing further child abuse within the Church. The hierarchical construction of a privileged, secretive, irresponsible, and male-only institution provides the backdrop that foments a culture of leaders who enabled the protection of abusers and church leaders above the best interests of the victims and the suffering of children. The steadfast defense of this already damaged institution ignores the need to remedy faulty structures, such as the bishops’ deficient adherence to their own standards, as well as a lack of urgency and decisive action that would demonstrate their professed will to protect and heal.
Some recent examples illustrating the report’s findings include: the admission by the former head of the Diocese of Albany, Bishop Howard Hubbard, that the diocese routinely moved priests accused of child sexual abuse between parishes without inform the police, the families of the victims or the parishioners; Portugal investigation which received 290 church sex abuse complaints in 90 days and many more are expected; and recent similar surveys in Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain; the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report; and other investigations dating back to The Boston Globes report on clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston in 2002, which led to the creation of VOTF.
“The Church most often asserts that such investigations reveal only historical abuses,” said Patricia T. Gomez, VOTF administrator and co-chair of the child protection task force. “But our report, as an indication of commitment to child protection, does not show that a widespread cultural shift towards safer environments for children has taken place, and we will not experience the extent of current abuse before a while because victims usually don’t report it for decades.
To conduct this study, VOTF reviewers studied 177 websites, those of 176 US Catholic dioceses and the Archdiocese for the Army, USA. Reviewers used a worksheet with 33 questions in the following 10 categories: policy; code of conduct; report abuse; background checks; prevention, education and training; Contact information; annual audit report; diocesan boards of review; list of accused clergy; and victim support. The study used diocesan websites because the internet is so widely used for information, and the extent to which a diocese’s website provides safe environment policies and procedures is an indication of the Bishop’s commitment to protect children and prevent further sexual abuse by clergy.
“This (report) will surely foster a constructive conversation about how to monitor and improve the safety of children in the church environment,” said David Finkelhor, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory. “The report is sensible, systematic and well-designed.”
The top five rated dioceses were Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 95.5%; Winona-Rochester, Minn., 93.5%; Venice, Florida, 92.5%; Baltimore, Maryland, 92.5%; and Richmond, Virginia, 89.5%. The five lowest rated dioceses were Shreveport, Louisiana, 22.5%; Lubbock, TX, 23.5%; Corpus Christi, Texas, 27%; Military services, 38.5%; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, 41.5%.
The VOTF report made the following points:
- Content on the diocesan safe environment webpage should align with diocesan child protection policies. Any lack of consistency calls into question the diligence given to environmental and child protection efforts and the diocesan commitment to transparency.
- Comprehensive abuse prevention efforts should include criminal background checks for all employees, clergy, and volunteers, as well as mandatory abuse prevention education and training for all groups.
- Dioceses must fully disclose credible information about accused defendants, such as name, current status, past assignments, etc.
- Diocesan review committees should ensure that Charter for the protection of children and young people– related policies and procedures are up to date and clearly stated.
- Compulsory participation in annual audits and a time-limited period for correcting shortcomings should be enforced.
The report concluded on the particularly important role of parishioners in the protection of children: “There is a key role for parishioners in ensuring the protection of children in our parishes. Parishioners should work with diocesan and parish Safe Environment staff to reinforce diocesan-level safety guidelines and ensure safety measures are enforced in their faith communities. Living in the life of Jesus, the whole People of God can be transformed into a sacramental community where children, young people and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected in safe environments.
The Voice of the Faithful® mission is to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the faithful can actively participate in the governance and direction of the Catholic Church. VOTF’s goals are to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, support priests of integrity, and shape structural change within the Catholic Church. More information is at www.votf.org.
Voice of the faithful
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