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New report on abuse shows ‘need for continued commitment and diligence’

The 18th annual report on U.S. diocesan and eparchial compliance with the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People found a total of 4,250 clergy sex abuse allegations for the 2019-2020 audit year, about two-thirds of which stem from lawsuits, compensation programs and bankruptcies.

Almost all of the allegations – 4,228 – are historical in nature, meaning the alleged victim is now an adult and the abuse happened in years or decades past, according to the report. The other 22 allegations were made by minors that were minors as of June 20, 2020.

In a letter to Archbishop José Gomez, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at the start of the report, Suzanne Healy, the USCCB National Review Board chair, called the 4,228 allegations “a reminder that the pain of the past remains and we as a Church must continue to reach out to all who have been harmed regardless of when the event occurred.”

Six of the 22 allegations made by minors are substantiated. Seven of the allegations have ongoing investigations. Three were unable to be proven. Two were unsubstantiated, and four fall into an unspecified “other” category, according to the report. The number of both the substantiated and total allegations by minors dropped compared to the 2018-2019 audit year data where there were 9 substantiated and 37 total allegations by minors.

Gomez noted the rarity of new cases of clergy sex abuse against minors in the report’s preface.

“This year’s audit documents, once again, that new cases of sexual misconduct by priests involving minors are rare today in the Catholic Church in the United States,” Gomez said, adding that the offenders of the substantiated cases were removed from ministry and every allegation was reported to law enforcement.

“As we know, one allegation of abuse is too many,” Gomez continued. “But my brother bishops and I remain firmly committed to maintaining our vigilance in protecting children and vulnerable adults and providing compassion and outreach to victim-survivors.”

The 2020 report – released on Nov. 9 –  is based on audits from July 1, 2019-June 30, 2020.

The 4,250 clergy sex abuse allegations were reported by 3,946 people. 838 of those allegations were substantiated. 173 were unsubstantiated. 825 were unable to be proven. 991 have ongoing investigations, and 1,423 fall into the “other” category. In this case, the report states “other” could mean the allegation was referred to a diocese, compensation fund, or unknown.

The more than 4,000 allegations is on par with the figure from the 2018-2019 audit year when the total number of allegations tripled from the year prior due to statute-of-limitations changes in multiple states that gave victims a window to sue Church institutions for past abuse. Many dioceses also have victim compensation programs in place for victims with credible claims of abuse.

The report notes out of the gate that the August 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed hundreds of alleged cases of clergy sex abuse led to similar inquiries from governments nationwide. Missouri and Colorado released reports during the 2020 audit year.

Dioceses and eparchies that participated in the survey portion of the report – 195 out of 197 – reported that they spent $311,980,666 in costs related clergy sex abuse allegations.

The annual report is put together by two organizations. The Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), housed at Georgetown University and StoneBridge Business Partners based in Rochester, New York. The report, which is typically released in June each year, was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With its Nov. 9 release, the 2020 audit comes a week before the nation’s bishops will meet in Baltimore for their fall general assembly.

CARA carries out the second part of the report, “2020 Survey of Allegations and Costs,” which is the survey portion of the report. StoneBridge carries out the first part, which is the compliance report. StoneBridge compiled the information through on-site audits of dioceses and eparchies and by reviewing diocesan documentation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 10 dioceses were physically visited, and 51 others were visited utilizing remote technologies for a total of 61 on-site visits.

The report identifies two dioceses and two eparchies that were non-compliant for one or more of the 2002 charter’s articles, which, according to Healy, reinforces “the need for continued commitment and diligence.”

The Dioceses of Fort Worth and Helena were found non-compliant with Article 2 of the Charter, which includes multiple components related to a diocese/eparchy’s response to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, according to the report. However, the report states each diocese’s bishop called a meeting of their Diocesan Review Boards to bring them to compliance.

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy and Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark Eparchy were both found non-compliant with Articles 12 and 13 of the Charter. The former requires safe environment training for youth and adults. The latter requires background checks for all clerics and adults working with minors.

“The bishops of these Eparchies were provided with clear assessments and recommendations to address the areas in which they were found lacking,” the report states.

The Eparchy of St. Mary Queen of Peace and the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle did not participate in the audit or data collection for this audit period, according to the report. Dioceses and eparchies cannot be required to participate under canon law.

The report also indicated concerns that were found on the 61 on-site visits.

60 percent of the dioceses/eparchies visited showed “dysfunction of Review Boards including lack of meetings, inadequate composition of membership, not following by-laws of the Board, members not confident in their duties, lack of rotation of members and lack of review of Diocesan/Eparchial policies and procedures,” according to the report.

25-40 percent of Dioceses/Eparchies visited didn’t have a child protection policy or code of conduct that included language regarding child pornography, the report shows.

It further reports 15-25 percent of dioceses/eparchies visited didn’t have reporting procedures printed in all of the principal languages the liturgy was offered, or displayed at parishes and schools. In the same percentage of dioceses/eparchies visited there were some clergy, employees and volunteers that were not trained, or background checked that had contact with children.

The USCCB press release with the report, however, states that in 2020 the Church’s investment in protective services increased by 15 percent. This included “over 2.5 million background checks conducted on clergy, employees and volunteers.”

Deacon Bernie Nojadera, the USCCB Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection executive director stated in a letter to Gomez and Healy at the start of the report that the measures of the charter “are working on a national level,” but noted vigilance is still necessary.

“Though the Church’s efforts are admirable, constant vigilance is still required and the commitment of the clergy and lay faithful remains necessary,” he wrote. “The efforts of the Church will hopefully change the culture, and this will only work if everyone follows the rules.”

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