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The Bishops' So-Called 'Audit' - A Closer Look

By David Clohessy and Barbara Blaine

It was all over in basically one day.

For months, teams of so-called auditors traveled the country, in an unprecedented effort to look at the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal diocese-by-diocese. It resulted in a 388-page report that netted a day's worth of glowing headlines about the supposed progress bighops have made on the issue.

Sadly, it seems to have ended here.

Few journalists or pundits apparently took the time to read the report carefully. Had they done so, subsequent news reports might have been a bit more sanguine.

We in SNAP read every single page. We hoped that our initially negative reaction to the report would fade over time. In fact, the reverse has happened. The more we learned and read, the most upset we became about the details of the document.

A thorough look at the "commendations" in the report showed how shockingly low the bishops had set the bar for themselves.

Several dioceses were praised for "early recognition of the problem of sexual abuse" and writing a policy sooner than others; in reality most of these bishops were simply sued a few years before their colleagues. (Frank Bruni and other writers suggest that many such policies were suggested in the wake of the Father James Porter debacle by church PR staggers and mandated by church insurance companies in the early 1990s.)

The Diocese of Boise, for instance, adopted a sex abuse policy as far back as 1999 (For this, they were commended!). The Diocese of Bismark received kudos for the bold move of publishing its policy "in pamphlet form." -- as did the Diocese of Spokane. And the Diocese of Fairbanks was applauded for figuring out how to "effectively distribute" its policy. For those who aren't print-oriented, the Diocese of Charleston won praise for its "easy-to-use flow chart" that shows how it responds to abuse allegations. The Bridgeport Diocese was commended for "instituting administrative procedures to ensure that parishes are participating" in abuse programs.

Policies are apparently very popular with bishops, because they don't stop with sexual abuse. Several were commended for their public relations policy. The Pittsburgh diocese got pats on the back for having "a well known diocesan spokesman." (As Dave Barry would say, "I'm not making this up.") Not to be outdone, The Diocese of Richmond was praised for "issuing a press release" and "holding a press conference." The Lake Charles diocese is apparently a tad behind the curve regarding communications. Still, it won a citation for "actions taken in furtherance of a communications policy."

Atlanta was one of several with "an excellent communications policy, which reflects a commitment to openness and transparency." Quite odd. In Dallas, America's bishops adopted a national pledge to be 'open and transparent.' Yet bishops adopt this same pledge 18 months later, back home, and get publicly commended for it.

But it gets worse. There's another whole set of commendations that just contradict with reality. And it is proof positive that the Bishops' report is not all it's cracked up to be.

The Sacramento diocese, for example, is cited for "exceptional" service to victims. But it's the only diocese in America facing several fraud lawsuits by abuse victims. Why? Because when already wounded and distrustful victims call the diocese for help, they end up talking to a church-paid lawyer who, incidentally, fails to disclose that she's an attorney. When victims learn the truth, they end up feeling further betrayed and traumatized.

The report commends "the excellence of diocesan outreach program" for victims of the Grand Rapids diocese. In fact, this was the first diocese to start a church-sponsored support group for victims. But the group fell apart after one meeting, when participants discovered their allegedly confidential discussions were passed on to the diocesan defense lawyer.

The Worcester bishop is given applause for his "commitment to openness and transparency." He's so committed to it, in fact, that he tried to force it upon the local SNAP support group, by issuing a subpoena for the self-help organization's records. (Under intense public pressure, he backed off.)

In all fairness, it's not all plans, procedures, and policies. The report documents real action. Jackson Mississippi's bishop is cited positively for "appearing on a televised panel discussion regarding sexual abuse." Admittedly, plenty of bishops refuse to speak on this horrific problem, except through their well-trained PR staff or news releases. But the bishops are so desperate to find a 'silver lining' that they applaud one TV appearance?

More action: St. Louis' archbishop gets a commendation for "visiting a parish recently affected by allegations." I'm told that some 30 priests in that heavily Catholic city have been publicly accused of sex crimes against minors. Yet the shepherd of the flock is commended for only going to one of those hundreds of afflicted parishes.

And still more action: Amarillo gets a "commendation" for its "thorough implementation relative to removal of priests from ministry who are subject of credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors." -- hardly something to be praised for, not only is it the legal and moral thing to do, it is a practice mandated to the Bishops by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Remember that is Dallas, under the heat of public scrutiny, the Bishops told us: "It's all about helping victims heal and preventing future abuse."

Why then is the Hartford diocese favorably singled out for sponsoring and supporting a conference" for the benefit of priests," (with no mention of the subject matter or content?) The Syracuse diocese gets praise for "diligence" in "assisting offending priests." Which begs the question: howexactly, does that help victims heal or prevent future abuse?

It's a mind-numbing 333 page document. weread every page (from Allentown PA with kudos "for expanding the Healing the Body of Christ program to address concerns of clergy" to Youngstown OH, with kudos for "communicating the identity of advisory board members to the public.")

When it was all said and done, we couldn't help but think about the trek America's Catholic bishops have made in less than two short years. From the blazing heat of Dallas in June, they've moved to the cool climate of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota where "every child is above average" and every bishop, apparently, is "way above average."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests