The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
to Cardinal George
November 24, 2004
His Eminence Francis Eugene Cardinal George
Dear Cardinal George:
We are troubled by Americas Catholic bishops decision last week to (in the words of a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter) scale back their method of sex-abuse compliance audits, replacing the independent field investigators that have visited dioceses for the last two years with a self-reporting system in which dioceses fill out questionnaires.
This description, we feel, is an understatement.
What in fact took place was a nearly total reversal of what bishops pledged in Dallas in June of 2002, of what took place in 2003 and 2004, and of the bare minimum steps of what Catholics and victims deserve and have come to expect.
In a nutshell, outside audits have basically been replaced by self-reporting. The decision essentially ends what already minimal oversight remained on how individual bishops were implementing the much-touted Dallas Charter.
As you know, for the last two years, small teams of auditors have visited every diocese in America. They have looked for evidence that bishops are living up to the commitments they made to respond better in sexual abuse cases (as spelled out in the Dallas Charter). In the years ahead, thanks to this new decision, we suspected fewer than 10% of all dioceses will receive such visits.
Anyway you spin it, that is a stark backtracking from an important pledge. And it has taken place barely two years after the promise was made. The end result: well all just have to take bishops at their word that they are living up to the Charter. No outside person or body will be able to ascertain whether this is in fact true. Were basically back to square one, where we have no choice but to trust in many of the same men whose repeated deceit and misconduct led to the molestation of thousands of innocent Catholic youngsters.
We are also troubled by the deceptive way in which the matter was described both before and after the meeting. Again, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, The system, which will take effect next year, was presented by a bishops' committee as one of several "tweaks and fine-tunings" in the implementation of the child-protection charter adopted in 2002.
But this is not tweaking. It is"gutting.
You can stare in a mirror and call it an x-ray. But that doesnt make it so. You can use a written self-survey and call it an audit. But that doesnt make it so.
Before, during and after the June 2002 US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in Dallas, annual audits were repeatedly and emphatically promised by dozens of bishops.
USCCB President Wilton Gregory bragged about the audits as an unprecedented means to hold ourselves accountable to our people. A National Office for Child and Youth Protection will report annually on our successes and failures in implementing our commitment in all our dioceses. http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2002/02-113.htm
These audits, we were told, were a sign of how seriously bishops now took sexual abuse and would ensure that they would not backslide on their public commitments to do better in future. By the frequent use of the word annual we were of course led to believe that these audits would take place every year.
From the outset, we felt that the Charter was vague and weak. Weve doubted the effectiveness of an audit process based purely on the voluntary cooperation of historically secretive bishops. Weve worried about the effectiveness of auditors who were basically getting paid by the bishops they were supposed to be auditing. We were upset that auditors spoke with only a handful of victims across the country.
Still, in our view, even a flawed audit is better than no audit at all. Even a brief visit by an audit team is better than no visit at all.
The Decision Itself
Last Wednesday, by a 189-35 vote, bishops adopted an audit process for 2005. Sadly, it is a drastic departure from what has been promised.
Under this new plan, only those dioceses that were found not in compliance will have on-site audits next year. According to last weeks Pittsburgh Post Gazette, for example, This third audit would be streamlined, with dioceses that already have a clean bill of health able to submit self-reports. http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04323/413542.stm
In 2003, 90% of Americas dioceses passed these audits. http://www.snapnetwork.org/usccb_reports/010704_most_dioceses_pass.htm
Therefore, it is logical to assume that when the final results are in for the 2004 audits, roughly the same pattern will hold true. So instead of having 100% of the dioceses visited, roughly 10% of the dioceses will be visited. Again, by any standard, this effectively guts the only process that even approaches real oversight.
Without auditors physically visiting dioceses, a church official can safely check yes or in compliance to every single box on a self-report form, knowing that no one will check the accuracy of his responses.
Would we let building owners with terrible safety records conduct unsupervised, written, self-surveys on their compliance with fire codes? Would we let convicted drunk drivers get behind the wheel of school buses based on conduct unsupervised, written, self-surveys? How can we in good conscience, after just two short years, allow bishops to grade their own compliance with their own weak, vague policies?
Given the horrific crimes that have taken place, often with the complicity of bishops who are still in office, this reckless move simply invites backsliding.
Adding insult to injury, some in the hierarchy describe this process as self-auditing. In our view, the phrase self-audit is an oxymoron. No doctor tells a cancer patient, after one decent check up, 'OK, from now on you can do annual self x-rays at home.'
We need to be strengthening oversight, not weakening, oversight. This is premature and reckless backsliding.
Before the November meeting, a media advisory appeared on the USCCB web site. It listed topics to be discussed at the Washington conference. The advisory contained just one phrase about the audits: The agenda will include. . . permission requested by the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse to proceed with plans for a 2005 audit process. . . (http://usccb.org/comm/archives/2004/04-203.htm)
No mention was made of any modifications, large or small, to the audits.
At the meeting itself, material provided to bishops before the vote was downright deceptive.
A memo from Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul said The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse . . .unanimously recommends . . that we approve a plan to conduct a national audit again for 2005. Again, no mention of any modifications.
(The memo alludes to possible changes eventually, which clearly implies that no real changes are planned now.)
After the meeting, no news release was forthcoming that explained what the bishops had done.
Even now, no explanation appears on the USCCB web site for the action that was taken last week.
And Catholic news agencies are presenting last weeks action inaccurately. Catholic bishops OK new round of audits, claims a Catholic News Agency headline. The story continues: Church leaders also authorized a third-round of annual audits of all U.S. dioceses to determine whether they are complying with the bishops' policies on preventing clergy sex abuse. (http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=2489)
Again, no mention is made of the fundamental change in the process.
The Catholic News Service is reporting that the bishops Approved streamlining the process for the 2005 diocesan audits related to sex abuse. (http://nationalcatholicreporter.org/update/bn111904a.htm) Again, no mention of the drastic reversal that was made.
In short, Cardinal, this entire mess seems like a bait and switch maneuver. Victims, Catholics and journalists were led to believe that a routine decision to continue the audits would be made last week. Instead, a very different decision was made. It was couched in carefully crafted terms as just more of the same. But it is not. It was a dramatic departure from what was promised in Dallas, what took place the last two years, and what we were all led to believe would happen.
We echo the concerns of Portland (Maine) Bishop Richard Malone. On the floor of the Bishops Conference meeting last week, he said I do have a bit of concern about the reception of self-reporting by our people, at least by many of them at this point. I don't believe that in every case we have enough distance from the crisis to be confident that our credibility is adequately restored for self-reporting to be accepted as trustworthy, at least generally.
Please, Cardinal George, use your new position as Vice President of the USCCB to prod your brother bishops to reconsider this ill-fated and self-destructive back-pedaling.
Letting this decision stand will further erode the trust of the laity in the church hierarchy, will deepen the already severe betrayal many victims feel, and will enable some bishops to withdraw from the relatively belated and begrudging steps toward reform that they have been forced to take.
It is risky and unwise. Please help see that it is at least re-examined in a full, careful public discussion, if not fully reversed.
Thank you for your consideration.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests