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Louisville, KY Archdiocese Unveils New Abuse Policies

by Peter Smith, The Courier Journal
August 28, 2003

The Archdiocese of Louisville today unveiled new policies on preventing and responding to the sexual abuse of children, aiming to avoid a repeat of the crisis that cut deeply into the church's credibility and treasury.

The policies, designed to make all of the archdiocese's parishes, schools and agencies safe for children, match and in some cases are stricter than current state and church laws on sexual abuse.

The policies echo the decision by Catholic bishops nationwide to bar any priest from the ministry for even a single confirmed instance of sexual abuse, and they also call for the immediate dismissal of any lay employee or volunteer who is involved in abuse.

The archdiocese will now also report all accusations of sexual abuse of minors to police, even if brought by an adult who was abused as a child. Previously the church had followed the letter of Kentucky law, which required the reporting of abuse only if the alleged victim was still a child.

Other forms of sexual misconduct can also lead to firing or lesser discipline under the new policies. They include sexual harassment, such as unwelcome sexual advances or conduct, and sexual exploitation, defined as sexual contact that an employee has with an adult under his or her ministerial or therapeutic care.

The archdiocese will also hold more than 25 training sessions for church workersthis fall in conjunction with the Center for Women and Families, a local organization advocating for victims of domestic and sexual abuse. The sessions will focus on detecting, preventing and reporting sexual abuse. The archdiocese will also work with the center to adopt a "safe touch" program in the Catholic school curriculum, teaching children how to protect themselves.

The archdiocese released the policies as it works to regroup from the $25.7 million settlement paid this summer to 243 victims of sexual abuse by priests and others connected with the church over the past half-century. The archdiocese has also reduced its budget, cut one-fifth of its staff and raised parish assessments paid to support the archdiocese. Eleven lawsuits remain pending.

"No child or adult should ever experience abuse at the hands of a church minister, Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly wrote in a letter introducing the new policies. "Past failures add urgency to the need to take decisive action in the future."

Key elements of the policies "include the mandate to respond with compassion and care to victims of sexual abuse, to report all instances of child abuse to authorities, and to remove offenders permanently from ministry," he wrote.

The policies are designed to harmonize with Kentucky state law and with new, stricter policies adopted last year by American bishops and approved by the Vatican. They update previous policies that the archdiocese had published on sexual abuse in 1993. The policies now appear on the archdiocese's Web site, www.archlou.org, which also provides links to church policies and other information on sexual abuse as well as to organizations that deal with the issue.

Highlights of the policy revisions:

  • Under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved last year by bishops and ratified by the Vatican, any priest who has sexually abused a child even once will be permanently barred from ministry. The case will be reported to the Vatican for possible removal of the offender from the status of priest.

  • Lay employees and volunteers who abuse will also be dismissed.

  • Members of parishes, schools or agencies where an abuser has served will be notified of the abuse and informed how to report other allegations.

  • A victim assistance coordinator will contact accusers, providing support, counseling and information about an investigation's progress. Kelly has appointed two staff members involved with counseling at the Catholic Family Center, Dr. Tom Robbins and social worker Brenda Marshall, to serve that role. The coordinator will advise and advocate for victims making a complaint.

  • In some situations, the coordinator can provide funds for therapy and information about local support groups.

  • Criminal background checks will be conducted on all employees and volunteers, as they have been on potential priests and teachers in recent years.

  • The policies say the archdiocese "presumes that victims/survivors who come to the Church about sexual abuse, exploitation, or harassment are being truthful" and "is committed to responding … with justice and compassion."

  • All priests and other church employees are required by Kentucky law to report abuse to authorities. Although the previous policy alluded to the existence of reporting requirements, the new policy spells out the statute far more explicitly and provides phone numbers for reporting abuse in each of the archdiocese's 24 Central Kentucky counties.

  • Even when a victim approaches the archdiocese as an adult, the archdiocese will report the abuse to police unless the victim brings "serious reasons" not to.

  • Priests are still not required to report abuse learned about in the confessional, an exception allowed under Kentucky law.

  • The archdiocese will investigate all allegations but defer such inquiries if police have an active investigation.

  • Accused priests and employees will be placed on leave pending results of the investigation.

  • A review board will weigh the results of investigations and recommend disciplinary actions to the archbishop, who makes the final decision. As required by the bishops' charter, Kelly last year appointed a panel, whose nine members include priests as well as experts in medical, legal and abuse issues.

  • Similar investigations take place with other cases of sexual misconduct, and allegations of rape or other criminal conduct must be reported to police. An employee confirmed to have engaged in sexual exploitation or harassment might be fired, placed on restricted assignments or allowed to continue working only under a "behavior contract" spelling out expectations.

  • If an allegation cannot be substantiated, the board will recommend whether to return the accused to work and under what conditions.

  • If someone has been falsely accused, the archdiocese "will work with the accused to restore his or her good name," inform the affected parish and advise the accused on legal options.

  • All employees must agree to a two-page Code of Conduct spelling out proper boundaries for behavior with children, including having two adults at all events, never touching children when alone or taking overnight trips alone with them. Many of the abuse cases that came to light in the recent archdiocesan scandal involved children who went alone with priests on field trips or overnight stays.

  • The archdiocese pledges a "commitment to transparency" in dealing with media and parishioners, balancing it "with due regard owed to the privacy and reputations of all persons - accused, victims and others."



Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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