US - SNAP and VOTF Ask for Credible Church Audits
For immediate release:
December 13, 2004
David Clohessy (SNAP) (314) 566-9790
Suzanne Morse (VOTF) (617) 680-2131
Lay Catholics and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors Urge National Lay Panel to Address Backsliding Concerns
Newton, MA and St. Louis, MO - December 13, 2004 - Two national groups concerned about the clergy sex abuse crisis are urging a national Catholic panel to re-institute credible, independent "audits" that look at how bishops now handle child molestation cases. In November, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted to employ "self-audits" for the implementation of child safety protection policies among Catholic dioceses, replacing on-site visits by retired FBI agents with self-surveys in perhaps as many as 90% of America's 194 dioceses.
Both Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) want to see that decision reversed and have asked both the president of the USCCB and the National Review Board (NRB) to re-examine the decision. Yesterday, both groups formally asked the NRB to intervene. The NRB is a committee of prominent Catholic lay men and women who have been appointed by bishops to monitor the abuse crisis.
"We request that you forthrightly ask the bishops to rescind this action," said James E. Post, president and Kristine Ward, vice president of Voice of the Faithful, in a letter to NRB Chairman Nick Cafardi. "Trust is on the line. If the bishops do not work to restore it, the Church will remain in jeopardy in the United States. You are in the front lines of holding them accountable. It is a solemn obligation."
The move is "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" according to SNAP's letter, signed by SNAP president Barbara Blaine and national director David Clohessy.
The new procedure "essentially ends what already minimal oversight remained" by replacing on-site visits with "self-reporting" on how bishops are handling molestation cases, SNAP claims.
In 2005 and beyond, according to the bishops' new plan, on-site audits will only take place in dioceses that failed audits in 2004. Roughly 90% of the dioceses passed in 2003.
"Anyway you 'spin' it, that is a stark backtracking from an important pledge," SNAP says. "The end result: we'll 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. We're 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."
The group recently wrote Spokane Bishop William Skylstad (US Conference of Catholic Bishops president), and Chicago Cardinal Francis George (USCCB vice president) to "prod your brother bishops to reconsider this ill-fated and self-destructive back-pedaling."
Neither cleric has responded yet.
Voice of the Faithful has also recently written Bishop Skylstad, asking for his reconsideration of the self-auditing program. Saying that "relying on self-audits will do little to ensure the safety of children and young people in Catholic parishes, nor will it advance the need Catholics have to see Bishops accountable for their actions in the past and future," Voice of the Faithful president James E. Post explained, "Our members believe self-audits serve neither the concerns of Catholic parents nor helps rebuild the Church. We remain willing to help the Bishops devise an auditing process that will strengthen trust in the Church, and hope to work with you on such an endeavor in the future." A full text of that letter is available at Voice of the Faithful's website at http://www.votf.org/Press/pressrelease/120604.html
Two SNAP members meet with the National Review Board Sunday morning but received no indication of whether the Board would consider their request.
Below are copies of both organizations' letter to the NRB. They were hand-delivered on Sunday.
Voice of the Faithful's letter to National Review Board Chair Nicholas Cafardi
December 12, 2005
Nicholas P. Cafardi, Chairman
National Review Board
As Assembled in Chicago, IL
Dear Chairman Cafardi and members of the National Review Board:
On behalf of the national membership of Voice of the Faithful, we wish you well as you assemble in a working session with your new members.
In the matter of the bishops of the United States changing to a self reporting system in 2005 for auditing of sexual abuse cases by clergy, we request that you forthrightly ask the bishops to rescind this action.
We know from the John Jay Report that in 50 years of self auditing every year was a failure. We know that the bishops failed in what should have been their highest priority, the protection of the innocent and the vulnerable.
Trust is on the line. If the bishops do not work to restore it, the Church will remain in jeopardy in the United States. You are in the front lines of holding them accountable. It is a solemn obligation.
This season of Advent holds all of the longing of the Old Testament for redemption. We firmly hope that you will have Joseph's faith and Mary's willing heart as you consider actions that should seek to protect every child as though each one were the Christ Child.
James E. Post, President
Kristine Ward, Vice President
Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests' Letter to National Review Board Chair Nicholas Cafardi:
December 12, 2004
Nicholas P. Cafardi, Chair
The National Review Board
3211 Fourth Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20017
Dear Mr. Cafardi:
Congratulations on your appointment to chair the National Review Board. We are writing on behalf of the thousands of victims of clergy sexual abuse in our organization with the hope that we will be able to develop a close and productive relationship with you and the new board.
We are troubled by America's 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.
We have written Cardinal George with our concerns and have yet to receive a reply.
The bishop's decision, we fear, is nearly a 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: we'll 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. We're 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, in our opinion, "gutting."
You can stare in a mirror and call it an x-ray. But that doesn't make it so. You can use a written self-survey and call it an audit. But that doesn't 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. We've doubted the effectiveness of an "audit" process based purely on the voluntary cooperation of historically secretive bishops. We've 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 month, 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 week's 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 America's dioceses passed these audits:
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 week's 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, Mr. Cafardi, 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 month.
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 month, 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, Mr. Cafardi, use your new position as Chair of the National Review Board to prod the 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.
Barbara Blaine SNAP President 312/ 399 4747
David Clohessy SNAP National Director 314/ 566 9790
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