Key Points on Child Protection in the Archdiocese
The vast majority of clerical sex abuse took place before 2000.
Independent analysis by John Jay College and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University confirm that the vast majority of reported offenses took place between the 1960’s and 1980’s, then declined sharply. The allegations that we have received in the Archdiocese follow that same pattern, as do the offenses reported in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report. Since 2015, there has been an average of 7 reported cases of clerical sexual abuse nationwide that occurred during that time. The only acceptable number is zero, but the fact is that we are primarily dealing with a historical problem that was, tragically, badly handled in the past.
The 2002 Bishops Charter was a decisive moment.
In the aftermath of the revelations about abuse in Boston, the Bishops adopted the Bishops Charter on the Protection of Children and Young People. The Charter requires that: all allegations of child sexual abuse must be reported to law enforcement; every diocese is to have an independent review board to evaluate the legitimacy of these allegations; any priest who is found to have abused a child must be permanently removed from ministry (the “Zero Tolerance Policy”); and every diocese must establish a child protection (typically called “safe environment”) program to implement preventive measures. It also requires that pastoral assistance be offered to all victims of abuse and that dioceses cannot demand that settlements of lawsuits be kept confidential.
The Charter led to a fundamental and comprehensive change in the way that the Church addresses sexual abuse of minors. The Archdiocese has vigorously implemented the requirements of the Charter and, in fact, has adopted policies that are above and beyond the Charter. This can be seen in a number of ways, which are described below.
All allegations are now reported to the authorities and investigated.
Whenever an Archdiocesan official receives an allegation of child sexual abuse by a cleric, we report the allegation to law enforcement and fully cooperate with their investigation. The Archdiocese also conducts our own investigation, relying on independent investigators, and the results of the investigation are presented to the independent review board. Even allegations against deceased priests, or those who have already been removed from ministry, are reported to law enforcement and investigated.
The Zero Tolerance Policy has been a success.
In keeping with the requirements of the Charter, anyone (clerical or lay) who is found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor is removed permanently from ministry and/or employment. Cases involving priests are then sent to Rome so that the person can be removed from the clerical state (often called “laicized” or “defrocked”). Since the Charter, approximately 50 priests who had been in active service or retired were found to have committed sexual abuse and permanently banned from ministry.
There are no second chances, no return to ministry after psychological testing, and no moving offenders around. Those days are over forever.
What about sexual abuse of adults?
Our Policy on Sexual Misconduct also covers offenses committed against adults. Any person who commits an offense against an adult is reported to law enforcement if their conduct constitutes a crime, and they are subject to disciplinary action including permanent removal from ministry or employment, depending on the severity of the offense.
All victims who come forward are offered help.
The Charter required that every diocese appoint a Victim Assistance Coordinator whose responsibility is to provide pastoral care to victims. This may include support for professional counseling. Any victim, no matter how old the offense, is offered help. In addition, in 2016 the Archdiocese instituted an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program that offers financial awards to victims. Over 350 victims have taken advantage of this program.
Oversight and transparency have been implemented.
The Charter established an independent National Review Board to provide oversight of how the Charter is being implemented nationwide. The Charter requires that every diocese be annually audited m to ensure that the requirements were being implemented and that an annual report would be published with the results of these audits. These audits are conducted by outside auditors in a three-year cycle, with one of those years being an on-site audit while the others are done by the submission of reports. The audit involves statistical evidence, examination of files, and personal interviews. At the conclusion of the audits, an annual report is issued by the National Review Board and published on the U.S. Bishops’ website. Statistical information about abuse cases is also submitted to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University for analysis, and their results are also published.
The Archdiocese has been found to be fully compliant with the Charter in thirteen consecutive audits since the Safe Environment program became fully operational in 2005. The auditors often give suggestions on how to improve our policies and practices, and we have taken their advice and made constructive changes. All the policies and procedures of the Safe Environment program are also subject to the oversight of our independent review board.
How have the policies of the Archdiocese developed over time?
In 1993, the Archdiocese first adopted a formal policy to deal with sexual abuse complaints. The policy committed the Archdiocese to fully investigate all allegations, encouraged victims to report offenses to law enforcement, and established an advisory board to consult about specific cases. If a cleric was found to have committed an offense, he would be removed from ministry for evaluation. It was possible under this policy that a cleric could be returned to ministry after a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse if it was deemed that there was no further risk to children. At the time, this policy was praised by independent parties, including the New York Times.
In 2001, a new policy was adopted. Under this policy, any time an Archdiocesan official received an allegation of child sexual abuse by a cleric, the person would be urged to report the matter to law enforcement. Full cooperation was given to any investigation being carried out by law enforcement and child protection officials. Under this policy, any personnel of the Archdiocese who were found to have committed sexual abuse of a minor were removed permanently from ministry and/or employment. This Zero Tolerance Policy pre-dated the Charter and continues to this day.
In 2002, the Charter began to be implemented in the Archdiocese, in coordination with the existing policy. A safe environment program was established along with an independent review board to evaluate sexual abuse complaints. Also in 2002, a formal agreement was entered between the Archdiocese and the ten county District Attorneys within our geographical area. Under this agreement all allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors were to be immediately reported to the District Attorneys. Beginning in 2005, formal policies were adopted that governed the Safe Environment program. These polices have been regularly updated to meet new circumstances.
In 2016, the Archdiocesan Policy on Sexual Misconduct was fully revised, with updated definitions of offenses and clarified rules of procedure. In 2018, the Policy was modified to conform to amendments to the Charter adopted by the bishops.
What kind of offenses are covered by the Archdiocesan policies?
Under our policies, “Child Sexual Abuse” is defined to include any sexual act between an adult and a minor; soliciting sexual acts or sexual materials from a minor; possession of child pornography; providing sexual materials to a minor; indecent exposure that may be witnessed by a minor; and any other offense against a minor prohibited by civil or canon law. Anyone found guilty of a single act of child sexual abuse is banned permanently from ministry or employment — the “Zero Tolerance Policy”.
The following kinds of acts constitute “Sexual Misconduct” in violation of our policy: any sexual act with another person without consent; any sexual conduct that is a violation of civil law; sexual harassment; the use of archdiocesan computers to possess, obtain, or transmit sexual materials; and sexual conduct in violation of appropriate professional standards within a pastoral or counseling relationship. This would cover sexual acts that involve abuses by persons in positions of power. Anyone who commits one of these acts is subject to punishment up to being permanently barred from ministry or employment, based on the severity of the act.
The policies protect not only minors, but also vulnerable adults who habitually lack the use of reason and persons of any age who lack the capacity to give consent due to a mental or developmental condition or disability.
What does the Archdiocesan “safe environment” program do?
Everyone whose duties involve contact with minors must: (1) be screened, including a background check for criminal convictions and sex offender status; (2) abide by the Safe Environment Policies, the Policy Relating to Sexual Misconduct, and the Code of Conduct; and (3) complete Safe Environment training appropriate to their position. The training includes how to identify warning signs of victims and offenders, how to respond and report incidents, and the requirements of our Code of Conduct and other policies (e.g., electronic communications, social media, and proper professional boundaries). If any person is not in compliance with these requirements, they may not work or volunteer with minors. We currently have approximately 49,000 people (clergy, employees and volunteers) whose duties involve contact with minors.
Since 2003, the following steps have been taken:
130,000+ background checks have been completed;
114,000+ clergy, employees, and volunteers have received training on keeping children safe;
129,000+ children received age-appropriate, morally sound safety training during the 2017-2018 school year.