USCCB Abuse Audit Reports More than 4,400 Allegations in 2019 Alone
The annual audit of child protection efforts by the US Catholic Church has shown that there is still a lot of work to do. More than 4,400 allegations of clergy sexual abuse were reported in 2019 alone. We are concerned that there are even more allegations that have not yet been reported, and we are especially concerned about what is being done about those church leaders who have enabled abuse.
The recently-released audit from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops details that 4,434 allegations were made against clergy in 2019. According to the report, these allegations were largely made by attorneys, apparently the result of efforts across the country to reform the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Consequently, survivors of clergy abuse were able to come forward and have their allegations heard in open court. Thanks to those reforms, more abusers have been identified and communities are better informed.
Of great concern to us is that at least 37 of the 2019 allegations involve cases of child sexual abuse perpetrated against today’s children by clergy in active ministry. Clearly, the oft-repeated claim that abuse is a problem from the 1970s and 1980s does not hold water. Child sexual abuse is still ongoing today. There is no doubt in our mind that this problem continues because of the consistent minimization and downplaying of abuse that we have seen from bishops, archbishops, and cardinals. Church officials pretend they're reporting on a past problem when in fact thousands of proven, admitted and credibly accused clerics who have committed or concealed child sex crimes remain 'under the radar,' living and working among unsuspecting neighbors, friends, co-workers and even relatives.
Another concerning fact is that this audit does not even represent 100% of US dioceses. Three eparchies – the Eparchy of St. Mary Queen of Peace, the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle and the Eparchy of St. Nicholas of Chicago -- declined to participate. It is difficult to understand how such an important audit can just be waved away by these three bishops without any sort of condemnation or punishment from the USCCB. In addition, this audit shows that only 60% of parishes nationwide perform policy and safety audits on their own. Finally, it was disturbing that the audit noted a “failure to publish reporting procedures in the various languages in which the liturgy is celebrated; poor recordkeeping of background checks; dysfunctional Diocesan Review Boards; lack of a formal monitoring plan for priests who have been removed from ministry; failure to update policies and procedures in light of the 2011 Charter revisions.” That these problems have been identified by the bishops' own audit tells us that Catholic officials are much better at talking about preventing abuse then they are at actively working to prevent abuse.
Church leaders often tout their policies as the main bulwark against cases of abuse, but if barely more than half of all parishes are conducting policy and safety audits, how can parishioners and the public be sure that best practices are being enforced? We believe that the Charter should mandate these audits as a means to ensure that these policies are more than just words on paper.
Much work needs to be done and we remain convinced that the best avenue for change is through secular, elected officials like attorneys general. Every single sitting attorney general should be investigating cases of clergy abuse in their state, identifying enablers and removing them from power, and ensuring that hidden abusers are made known to their communities so that children and the vulnerable will be safer. The only way for an institution to change is from the outside.
Stats and charts and claims about the past may be helpful. But they are not what is most needed. What is critical at this point is two-fold: seeing and knowing the images and whereabouts of the still-living child abusers and exposing and punishing the still-living 'enabling' clerics who are ignoring or hiding those criminals.
CONTACT: Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (firstname.lastname@example.org, 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)