AP Investigation Lays Bare the Failures of Diocesan Review Boards
A new investigation by the Associated Press has shared with the public a disappointing and depressing truth that survivors and advocates have been talking about for years: that internal church review boards too often put the reputation of the institution above care for survivors and the protection of children. Now that this report has been widely published, we hope the public will join our calls for dramatic change into how dioceses handle allegations of abuse.
Diocesan review boards ostensibly exist to be a tool for church officials to investigate and respond to allegations of clergy abuse. But the report by the AP contains numerous experiences of survivors who felt like the review board existed to do the opposite and instead investigate the survivor who brought the claims forward and not the accused priest. Some boards do not even bother to hear from the survivor directly before dismissing their claims as “not credible” or “unsubstantiated,” terms that vary wildly from diocese to diocese.
Making matters worse, review board members are often kept secret from the public, allowing church officials to stack the boards with people who are sympathetic to the church. In some cases, priests accused of abuse have themselves served on these boards. It is no wonder then why so many survivors leave the review board process feeling victimized instead of validated. Similarly, keeping the identities of review board members secret means far fewer victims will step forward. What victim will report abuse fearing they may see their boss or next door neighbor or biggest customer sitting on that church panel when they walk into the room?
As the new head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for The Protection of Children and Young People, Kansas City Bishop James Johnston must take steps to reform these boards immediately. He can start by demanding that all dioceses around the country make their review board rosters public. He can follow that demand up by creating clear evidentiary standards, uniform across every diocese, that emphasize a focus on the credibility of the person coming forward and making an allegation, not adhering to some arbitrary number of accusers in order for an allegation to be “substantiated.”
Review board have long been a problem and we are grateful for this report for drawing attention to the many problems that exist with boards today. We hope that this pressure from the public and the media will finally make church officials recognize these problems and take steps to fix them. And we urge anyone who is considering reporting their abuse to make sure and report to secular law enforcement officials first.