10 Years After Catholic Sex Abuse Reforms, What’s Changed?

Whilst this article was first published in the American secular  press, and speaks particularly about the impact of Safeguarding, it will apply also in the UK and is therefore an interesting perspective.

By

Catholic Sex Abuse

In this Sunday, May 6, 2012, photo, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York gestures during a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Erik M. Lunsford)

(RNS) When the nation’s Catholic bishops gather in Atlanta next week (June 13-15) for their annual spring meeting, a top agenda item will be assessing the reforms they adopted 10 years ago as revelations of widespread sexual abuse of children by priests consumed the church.

The policy package they approved at that 2002 meeting in Dallas was known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, or the Dallas charter, for short. With it, the bishops vowed to finally put an end to the abuse and secrecy. They also pledged to help raise awareness about the plague of child abuse in society.

But is anything different — in the church or in the country — 10 years later? Here’s a look at what has changed, and what has not:

One, law enforcement is more assertive

The chief criticism of the 2002 reforms was that they did not include any means of disciplining bishops who fail to follow the charter. Each bishop still answers only to the pope — and Benedict XVI has so far declined to penalize any of them.

But that hasn’t stopped law enforcement officials from pursuing churchmen when the church will not — a marked change from the deference that police and district attorneys once showed the hierarchy.

Witness the ongoing trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the longtime head of priest personnel for the Philadelphia archdiocese and the first cleric ever to face trial for covering up for abusers. The headline-making story was in many ways a trial in absentia of former Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died shortly before the trial started, and Cardinal Justin Rigali, who retired under a cloud last year after a grand jury indicted Lynn and others.

Similarly, in Missouri, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph is facing trial in September on charges that he failed to report credible allegations that one of his priests had a trove of child pornography and a suspicious interest in young children. The priest was arrested and charged, and Finn could become the first bishop ever convicted of a crime in connection with the scandal.

Two, progress in other countries is halting

While the U.S. bishops have made important strides in addressing the plague of clergy abuse, the Vatican and church leaders in other countries have been reluctant to push for similar steps elsewhere.

Only last year, in the wake of abuse revelations in Italy, did the Vatican give the bishops in every country a year to draw up their own guidelines. In May, the Italian bishops’ conference became the last national hierarchy in Western Europe to publish abuse policies, but they made it clear that the bishops have no legal obligation to report suspected cases to police.

Three, the Catholic Church may be the safest place for children

Whatever its past record, the Catholic Church in the U.S. has made unparalleled strides in educating their flock about child sexual abuse and ensuring that children are safe in Catholic environments.

Over the past 10 years, Catholic parishes have trained more than 2.1 million clergy, employees, and volunteers about how to create safe environments and prevent child sexual abuse. More than 5.2 million children have also been taught to protect themselves, and churches have run criminal background checks on more than 2 million volunteers, employees, educators, clerics and seminarians.

Allegations of new abuse cases continue to decline, as they have since 1980, and appear to reflect the effectiveness of some of the charter’s policies as well as ongoing efforts to increase screening of seminarians and to deal with suspected abusers before they claim multiple victims.

Four, other denominations are starting to face the issue

What for years was seen as a “Catholic” problem is increasingly being recognized as a blight for all religious communities to one degree or another.

After a series of sexual abuse incidents in recent months, Christianity Today, the flagship evangelical magazine, called for action in an editorial declaring that “all faith-based institutions can no longer afford to assume that predators are somewhere’out there,’ over the clean Christian rainbow. They are not just in college locker rooms and Catholic rectories either. They are on our evangelical faculty and work in our community nonprofits…”

Orthodox Judaism has also been struggling with the issue, after revelations that some communities are thwarting efforts to address the problem or report allegations and suspects to police.

Court rulings may add impetus to reform efforts. Last May, a jury in Florida found that the Florida Baptist Convention was liable for failing to adequately check out a pastor and church planter who was later convicted of abusing a 13-year-old boy.

Five, Americans are realizing it’s not just a problem for religion

Former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is set to go on trial on Monday (June 11) for sexually abusing boys under his charge, a scandal that rocked an iconic college program and brought down legendary head coach Joe Paterno, who died earlier this year.

The story was so shocking that it has reverberated beyond Penn State and focused attention on child abuse in all sports.

In addition, the sexual abuse of students by teachers has made headlines as it rarely did before, and a 2010 jury verdict holding the Boy Scouts of America liable for abuse that was detailed in secret files for decades alerted people to the dangers lurking in that venerable organization.

Whether further changes are in the offing for the Catholic Church or U.S. society is unclear, and may well depend on whether there are further scandals to keep public attention, and pressure, focused.

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14 Responses to 10 Years After Catholic Sex Abuse Reforms, What’s Changed?

  1. toadspittle says:

    .
    “Five, Americans are realizing it’s not just a problem for religion.”

    Several contentious points in the piece, but Toad will limit himself to this one.

    Of course, it’s obvious child molestation is not solely a problem for religions.
    Although the revelation that the best one can say for Catholicism is that is no worse than any other religion is hardly a glowing recommendation for religion in general, is it?

    Have nothing to do with any of them, would seem to be the implicit advice.

    So why all the uproar about Catholic pedophile priests? Probably because if an atheist shoe salesman in Ohio sodomises a child, he won’t have a bishop to step up and cover and lie for him, and then move him to Kansas to cover both their sorry asses, will he?
    That’s really what this is all about.

  2. The Raven says:

    “So why all the uproar about Catholic pedophile priests? Probably because if an atheist shoe salesman in Ohio sodomises a child, he won’t have a bishop to step up and cover and lie for him, and then move him to Kansas to cover both their sorry asses, will he?
    That’s really what this is all about.”

    Whereas the atheist social worker will be moved at will around the country and will have their immediate superiors cover up and lie for him.

    And so will the atheist teacher.

    The difference is that the state institutions are both in denial and protected from scrutiny.

    This touches a nerve for me because I played a very minor part in trying to help the families after one of the care-home abuse scandals became public; and I was utterly unable to help a young man who had been repeatedly raped and who was given just enough compensation to kill himself with drink and drugs but not enough to turn his life around. And he was certainly not given an apology by the local authority responsible, which also limited it’s enquiry to the specific home that the accused last worked in; oddly enough no-one more senior was disciplined either.

    The plain fact is that we, as a civilisation, have been totally culpable at dealing with child abuse and now we are judging the Church (and the Church alone) for its actions in the sixties and seventies by our newly enlightened standards, while turning a blind eye to the total failure of secular institutions to address present-day problems (vide the “grooming” cases in Bradford, which, to say the least, required the complicity or acquiescence of social workers).

  3. JessicaHof says:

    It is a societal problem, and those who focus on Catholic churches have a polemical agenda which they don’t mind enlisting abused children into; that, to me, is disgusting. I never met a Catholic who was not both ashamed and angry. I am a teacher, but I do not expect everyone to think I am an abuser because some teachers are abusers. Every vocation/profession which comes into contact with children attracts abusers. Satan, who is always prowling about seeking whom to devour, uses this crime to try to undermine the Church. No one should aid and abet that.

  4. toadspittle says:

    .

    “…we are judging the Church (and the Church alone) for its actions in the sixties and seventies by our newly enlightened standards, while turning a blind eye to the total failure of secular institutions to address present-day problems …”

    That is, in my opinion, simply not true Raven. I don’t accuse you of lying, but of being mistaken. Read the piece again. It refers to the Penn State debacle, for one.
    In the case you quote, it seems that the miscreant was punished, but not the secular equivalent of his bishop, if I read you correctly.

    Shame, I would say. But bosses and bishops seem to be fireproof.

    Catholics put their heads on the block by publicly condemning various kinds of behaviour – gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia being up the sharp end.
    But when their own bad behaviour comes back to bite them, they start screaming “Pesecution, Bias! We’re no worse than anyone else!”

    Very true. And no better either.

    So a little less judgement of others might be a good idea.

  5. The Raven says:

    Toad

    The vast majority of the cases involving the Church are more than thirty years old. The Penn State case concerns abuse that was going on until the earlier part of this year. We are judging the conduct of the Church (and by this, I mean the institutional response to abuse) thirty years ago by standards that we are only just starting to implement in secular society.

    In the case that I mentioned, only the perpetrator was punished: the men and women who had turned a blind eye to complaints, ignored abuse and enabled his continuing offending over a period of thirty years were neither investigated nor dismissed: they are sleeping soundly on their local authority pensions, while the young man that I knew is lying in a suicide’s grave.

    The Church is at least able to discern right from wrong, even when it fails to act according to that discernment. It is entitled to proclaim the truth on gay “marriage”, abortion, infanticide, the exploitation of women, the exploitation of workers, the murder of the old, infirm and crippled, and, yes, the sexual abuse of children (something that the Church, as an institution, has always roundly condemned).

    By any measure, most of the attacks on the Church based on the child abuse crisis have majored on hysterical distortions of the facts (for example, the NYT’s gruesomely dismal account of the Murphy case) and have been instrumentalised by pressure groups to re-enforce their existing attacks on the Church (e.g. the radical protestants and evangelical atheist obsessives who clog up the Daily Telegraph blogs).

    I’m not calling it “persecution”, but I will call it bias and I will call it hypocrisy of the worst stripe.

    The Church’s failure to be better in implementing its ideals than any other part of society does not give it an especial handicap in proclaiming the truth: other voices in the world (and I am thinking of secular states, political movements and pressure groups) are far behind the Church in addressing the issue of child abuse but feel free to evangelise their views on moral issues (hence the proposed introduction of legislation on gay “marriage”).

  6. toadspittle says:

    .
    “The Church is at least able to discern right from wrong, even when it fails to act according to that discernment.”
    A rather dispiriting admission, Raven. Surely a far graver sin than not being able to discern anything at all?

    There is considerable truth in what you say, and your defence of the Church does you credit (which is, I know, not your motive.)
    My point is that, because the Church sets itself up, very properly – as an arbiter of moral conduct – it should not complain too vociferously when the shortcomings of some of its members are subjected to closer scrutiny than those of, say, shoe salesmen.

    It’s like the police. We are particularly upset when they commit crimes.
    More than we are when criminals do. We expect crime from them.
    If the police then start protesting, “Why are you always picking on us, we’re no worse than anyone else,” We are entitled to raise an eyebrow.
    At least Toad would, if he had one.

  7. The Raven says:

    “It’s like the police. We are particularly upset when they commit crimes.
    More than we are when criminals do. We expect crime from them.
    If the police then start protesting, “Why are you always picking on us, we’re no worse than anyone else,” We are entitled to raise an eyebrow.
    At least Toad would, if he had one.”

    Very true, Toad, but, to stretch your analogy, we would raise our eyebrows even further if the police stopped policing because some of their numbers were proven to be malefactors.

  8. 1 says:

    .
    “…we would raise our eyebrows even further if the police stopped policing because some of their numbers were proven to be malefactors.”

    Is that really what would happen, if some coppers turned out to be crooks, Raven?
    You seem to have stretched the analogy so far that it has snapped.

    Am I suggesting that the Catholic Church should call it a day because a few priests do sinful things?

    All I am suggesting is that Catholics ought not to be too surprised when they draw – what seems to them -excessive criticism.
    It is not.
    It goes with the territory, so to speak.

    As I’ve written before, it’s a variation on, “Dog bites priest; no story. Priest bites dog; story.”

  9. JabbaPapa says:

    THIS : Two, progress in other countries is halting

    While the U.S. bishops have made important strides in addressing the plague of clergy abuse, the Vatican and church leaders in other countries have been reluctant to push for similar steps elsewhere.

    Only last year, in the wake of abuse revelations in Italy, did the Vatican give the bishops in every country a year to draw up their own guidelines. In May, the Italian bishops’ conference became the last national hierarchy in Western Europe to publish abuse policies, but they made it clear that the bishops have no legal obligation to report suspected cases to police.

    … is a VERY misleading comment !!!

    1) it falsely claims that the situation in one country somehow means that the whole international situation is therefore defined. WRONG

    2) In fact, the Italian Bishops Conference has pointed out that Italian *secular* Law provides no legal obligation for the reporting of sex abuse crimes, as a criticism of the Italian secular Laws.

  10. kathleen says:

    Catholics put their heads on the block by publicly condemning various kinds of behaviour – gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia being up the sharp end.

    Yes, excellent response from Raven to this (and other) statements from Toad.

    I would add that not only is the Church “entitled” to proclaim the truth on such evils as mentioned above, but she has a moral duty to do so….. given to her by Our Saviour Himself.

  11. 1 says:

    .
    Well put, Kathleen. And the Catholic Church is notable – not only for its ability to dish out criticism, but also for its easy-going willingness to take it from others.

  12. teresa says:

    I see no connection between the critics of gay marriage and child abuse cases.

    It is like two persons who are quarrelling, and one said: “I don’t agree with you because a member of your family once did something bad”. Bad way of argumentation, but that is what people do all the time. As soon as the Catholic Church points out what she finds destructive in the modern culture, people cry loud “child abuse” and thus try to suffocate the voice of the Church and deprive her of the freedom of opinion and expression.

  13. 1 says:

    .

    “I see no connection between the critics of gay marriage and child abuse cases.”

    Teresa says. Well, Teresa, if what you are saying is, “I see no connection between the critics of gay marriage and the critics of child abuse cases.” I would suggest the connection is that both are being rather critical.
    However, if you are not saying that, I don’t really know what you are saying.
    So will wait to be informed.

    “As soon as the Catholic Church points out what she finds destructive in the modern culture, people cry loud “child abuse” and thus try to suffocate the voice of the Church and deprive her of the freedom of opinion and expression.”

    Paranoia.
    Utter. Naked. Hysterical. Nutty.
    Or so Toad thinks.
    Most people haven’t got a clue what the Church “finds destructive,” and if they did, they’d just shrug and say, “Well, they’re Catholics – why should we expect anything different, and who are they to talk, in any case?”

    Toad might be wrong, of course. (Particularly as he he expects to read very shortly that Ben’s butler has died, in mysterious circumstances.)

  14. 1 says:

    .
    “As soon as the Catholic Church points out what she finds destructive in the modern culture, people cry loud “child abuse” and thus try to suffocate the voice of the Church and deprive her of the freedom of opinion and expression.”

    I believe Teresa is misreading the situation here. This will help. The real reason people cry “Child Abuse” when they hear the words “Catholic Church” is not what she fancifully alleges above – it is merely because the two disparate elements have become synomonous in many peoples’ minds. Rather like “Eggs and Bacon,” or “Laurel and Hardy,” or “Being and Nothingness.”

    It’s a common state of affairs.
    When Toad, in Spain, tells people he’s English, the usual response is, “Ah! England! Bad Food! Soccer Hooligans!”

    Same thing.
    We must be charitable, though, to the ignorant..

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