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Report: New cases of sexual misconduct rare, but cases from past are still being reported

The following story appeared in the November 19 Idaho Catholic Register.

Washington D.C. (Catholic News Agency and Idaho Catholic Register) – There are signs of progress in efforts to prevent sexual abuse of children, with under two dozen new allegations of recent abuse by clergy, according to the latest report on abuse in the Catholic Church in the United States.

At the same time, more than 4,200 allegations of historic abuse were reported. Also, about 35 percent of dioceses and eparchies still lack a for-mal process to audit parishes for child protection practices.

The annual report on Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People was released Nov. 9 by the U.S. Bishops’ Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection. It is the 18th report since the charter was implemented in 2002.

Suzanne Healey, chair of the Nation-al Review Board, said the audit identified 22 allegations of abuse occurring recently. In each case, civil authorities were notified of the allegation so that local law enforcement could address the problems as needed.

“The fact that 4,228 allegations received were historical in nature (cases where the alleged victim is now an adult and the abuse happened decades ago) is also 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,” Healey said in a letter that was included in the report.

“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,” U.S. bishops’ conference president Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles said in the preface to the report.

“According to this latest audit, last year there were 22 current allegations nationwide involving minors; of these about one-quarter have been substantiated to date. Those offenders were re-moved from ministry. Every allegation was reported to law enforcement.”

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

About 65 percent of dioceses or eparchies, including the Diocese of Boise, have a formal internal process to audit parishes for safe environment practices, but the remaining 35 percent are a matter of concern because of “the potential for abuse,” Healey said.

THE DIOCESE OF BOISE received an onsite audit this year that covered the time period between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2021, according to Mark Raper, chancellor for the Diocese.

The longer 3-year time period for the audit is new, Raper said. During years that an onsite audit is not conducted, the Diocese submits a thorough writ-ten report and, previously, the onsite audit covered only the year of the visit. Now, however, auditors also review the two previous years of written re-ports that have already been submitted.

The Diocese of Boise was found to be compliant with all required areas of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The auditors recommended that the Diocese of Boise offer a renewal of the Safe Environment training to coincide with the already required renewal of criminal background checks of all diocesan employees and volunteers who work with children, youths and young adults, Raper said.

The Diocese of Boise was com-mended by auditors for including topics such as bullying and suicide prevention as part of its online training.

THE REPORT, conducted by the Rochester, New York-based consulting firm StoneBridge Business Partners, said almost all of the 33,469 Catholic clergy had gone through child protection training and background checks.

The report said between 98 and 99 percent of the 6,662 candidates for ordination had received the training as background checks, as has 164,279 educators, and more than 2.1 million volunteers at Catholic institutions.

Safe environment trainings focus on child sexual abuse, but also have ramifications for combatting elder abuse, financial malfeasance, human trafficking, bullying, sexual harassment, boundary violations, and abuse of power.

THE U.S. BISHOPS’ conference president again apologized to abuse victims.

“On behalf of my brother bishops I again want to express our sorrow and apologies to every person who has suffered at the hands of someone in the Church,” Archbishop Gomez said. “While we cannot give you back what has been taken from you, we do commit ourselves to doing everything in our power to help you to heal and to fight the scourge of abuse in the Church and in the wider society.”

Deacon Bernie Nojadera, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said the pandemic might have had some effects on abuse reporting. However, he said the report shows that charter abuse prevention measures are “work-ing on a national level.”

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

“The ministries of Safe Environments and Victim Assistance are here to stay,” he added. “The protocols and procedures for letters of suitability, background checks, and safe environment training are the norm. By the grace of God, the Church is working toward being accessible, accountable, and safe.”

DESPITE IMPROVEMENTS in abuse prevention efforts, past instances of clergy abuse continue to be reported by victims.

Of the 4,250 new allegations against clergy tallied in the latest report (4,228 “historical” and 22 new), only 173 were considered unsubstantiated. The allegations came from 3,924 adults and 22 minors.

“It should be noted that the vast majority of these reports were historical in nature,” said the report. Statistical graphs of the dates of reported abuse incidents continue to show a bell curve that peaks in the 1970s.

In 2019, 4,434 total allegations were received, compared to 1,451 in 2018 and 693 in 2017. The number of allegations reported in 2019 was “significantly high” due in part to some states’ changes in their statute of limitations, allowing much older cases to be brought forward.

Allegations were also received as a result of lawsuits, compensation programs, and bankruptcies, the report said.

Total costs to dioceses and eparchies increased by about $33 million, includ-ing some $19 million in settlements and $14 million in attorneys’ fees. Since 2014, total costs are close to $312 million.

In the year ending June 30, 2020, some 2,771 clergy were accused. Of those, only 87 were in active ministry. Of the accused, 1,501 had died, 264 had been permanently removed from ministry, 158 had been dismissed from the clerical state, and 75 had been temporarily removed from ministry. Fifty-four had resigned, and 186 were categorized as “other,” including retirees.

Those wishing to read the entire report can go to:

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Diocesan Pastoral Center

FAX: (208) 342-0224

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