Thursday, March 24, 2011

"The Charter Remains Strong": The Mothership, on Abuse

As foreseen some weeks back, the fallout of last month's second grand jury into the archdiocese of Philadelphia figured prominently at this week's meeting of the USCCB Administrative Committee -- the first gathering of the 30-prelate body (the Stateside bench's top authority outside its twice-yearly plenary sessions) to be held under the presidency of Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York.

Just before 5pm Eastern, the Conference President issued the following statement at the Admin's behest:
In light of the recent disclosures about the Church’s response to the sexual abuse of minors by priests, I have been asked by my brother bishops, gathered for the recent meeting of the Administrative Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to offer reassurances that this painful issue continues to receive our careful attention, that the protection of our children and young people is of highest priority, and that the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that we adopted in 2002 remains strongly in place.

Over the past nine years, we have constantly reviewed the high promises and rigorous mandates of the Charter, as we continually try to make it even more effective. Thanks to the input of our National Review Board, Catholic parents, professionals, the victim-survivor community, law enforcement officials, and our diocesan victim-assistance coordinators, we keep refining the efficiency of the Charter. We want to learn from our mistakes and we welcome constructive criticism. In fact, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a long-planned review of the Charter scheduled for our June meeting.

The arrival of April, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, provides us the providential opportunity to unite with all Americans in a renewed resolve to halt the scourge of sexual abuse of youth in our society.

We bishops recommit ourselves to the rigorous mandates of the Charter, and renew our confidence in its effectiveness. We repeat what we have said in the Charter: “We make our own the words of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II: that the sexual abuse of young people is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God” (Address to the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers, April 23, 2002). We remain especially firm in our commitment to remove permanently from public ministry any priest who committed such an intolerable offense.

The annual outside audits by forensic experts will continue, checking that we remain faithful to the processes in place to protect our young people, promote healing of victims/survivors and restore trust. We also thank our diocesan review boards, and those who lead our extensive programs of child protection and background checks for all priests, deacons, teachers, youth workers and volunteers in our expansive apostolates to young people.

In short, the progress made must continue and cannot be derailed; we want to strengthen it even more; we can never stop working at it, because each child and young person must always be safe, loved and cherished in the Church. We are encouraged in this resolve by the words of Pope Benedict XVI to the bishops of the United States during his Apostolic Visit in 2008: “It is your God-given responsibility as pastors to bind up the wounds caused by every breach of trust, to foster healing, to promote reconciliation and to reach out with loving concern to those so seriously wronged.“
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In a prior Mothership intervention on the Philadelphia case, the conference's lead guardian of the "zero-tolerance" policy enacted at Dallas in 2002 said the second grand-jury report had "put a cloud over everything" the US church had accomplished on the abuse front over the decade since.

Speaking to Catholic News Service, the director of the USCCB Office for Child and Youth Protection, Teresa Kettelkamp, said that the findings had "demoralize[d] so many people who have worked so hard" to make the "spirit and the letter" of the Charter and its Essential Norms take hold in the church's life.

"We have a good charter and a good audit," the OCYP director added, "but we'd be foolish and irresponsible not to take a fresh look at everything we do."

Along those lines, any review of the Dallas protocols will likely need to revisit the particular law's mechanisms of enforcement. At the Charter and Norms' inception at the bishops' June 2002 plenary, the conference's more conservative powers won out, leaving the aforementioned audit and fraternal correction on a provincial scale as the means of assuring the compliance of the nation's 197 dioceses and eparchies.

While several prominent commentators have seen fit to deem the scandals' latest eruption as a "failure" of the Dallas standards, the Philadelphia church was found to be compliant with the Charter at the last audit of the local churches, which took place in 2009.

From 2002 until the present, the OCYP audits have been conducted by The Gavin Group, an independent investigative firm founded by a veteran FBI agent.

Back in the River City, meanwhile, tomorrow brings the second round of pre-trial hearings for the two priests, laicized cleric and lay teacher charged with abuse, and Msgr William Lynn, the first diocesan official on these shores indicted on allegations of a cover-up.