U.S. Reforms: Progress

The annual audit of U.S. diocesan compliance with The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was adopted by all U.S. dioceses in 2002, is a lesser-known aspect of the reforms put into place in Dallas that year.

People hesitant to trust the Charter or its roll-out or the bishops is understandable. In my experience the Charter has been implemented quite thoroughly as regards child safety. In a sense, that reform is most easy to quantify; e.g., large numbers of actual volunteers, employees, religious and ordained whose backgrounds are checked and who are trained can be counted. The increasingly few exceptions can be accounted for; e.g., illness/treatment, or advanced age. Vigilance is crucial. No system is without vulnerabilities. Yet, the child protection program keeping minors safe from the abuse we endured is impressive. A copy of the most recent 2019 Report on progress can be found here. (If you’re short on funds but want to read this report, please contact Teresa here.)

Article 1 of the Charter is harder to measure. It addresses the need for survivors to receive care, including pastoral care. Therapy support varies from diocese to diocese, as do programs such as discussion groups and prayer services. Implementation involves survivors and family members opting into programs of care, which we often naturally and wisely distrust. Even where survivors and families may be interested, different dioceses (and religious orders) vary widely in offerings.

Progress in active programs is also difficult to relate and report. Many of us take a long time to feel safe with the Church even now–or ever. Where pastoral care is offered, it is almost impossible to quantify the impact in any meaningful way–except for storytelling. This makes the progress hard to audit as well, particularly given the need for privacy.

This magazine and other programs offer survivors and family members opportunities to relate stories and, through storytelling, relate personal experiences, strength, and resilience. Some are offered within the Church and many are offered beyond the Church. Our Catholic Story is a small effort to record faith stories related to the abuse scandal, and recordings continue.

Most recently, Stonebridge has provided audits. Last year, Stonebridge prepared a video report as to the progress of auditing during the pandemic and the effects of the lock-down on data collection. The report identified consistency in maintaining child-protection training, no doubt due to that training being able to shift online fairly quickly. The impact on pastoral care for survivors was not a big focus here, although outreach efforts in which I worked this year included zoom events. The Archdiocese of Chicago offered a virtual prayer service, and many dioceses, like Arlington (VA) continued to offer regular online group support sessions.

In the video below, you’ll hear detail about data collection to give you an idea of the level at which the auditor defines accuracy of collection each year. It will also identify, as reports do each year, a topic in need of focus for improvement, in a process of “continuous improvement” which to date has been applied by the USCCB to implementing the Charter. Year after year the bar has been raised in implementing the Charter reforms in keeping with best practices used for any large institution or organization development.

This public video report identifies the diocesan review board as needing a new level of improvement. For background, the review board is a lay group of highly qualified specialists in the area of abuse; e.g., forensic or similar psychologists or psychiatrists, retired law enforcement or retired judges with sex crimes experience, social workers, and survivors. They review investigations of accused clergy–and often ask for more information–as they make recommendations to bishops about whether accusations made by victims are substantiated by the evidence or credible.

How Review Boards in dioceses and in religious orders function is covered in several videos found on the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is a forum for diocesan bishops, not the religious orders) website, but this one is particularly helpful. (I wish one that described how review boards function as a process were available, but there is not one.)

Our FREE Spirit Fire Global Broadcast Series on Abuse and Faith will cover Review Boards for a full show. You can find the agenda here.

For now, here is what the auditors had to say about the focus for the 2021 audit process, based on its preliminary findings.

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