Auditors find archdiocese in compliance on abuse prevention

The Archdiocese of Boston announced March 13 that independent auditors found the archdiocese in full compliance last year with the U.S. bishops‘ policies and procedures promulgated to address the sexual abuse of minors.

The archdiocese’s compliance with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ 17-article “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” indicates progress since the 2007 audit, when 64 parishes were found noncompliant with Article 12 concerning “safe environment” religious education training programs.

“Our commitment to protect children remains steadfast,” said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley. “While I am pleased with the progress we have made, we must be ever vigilant in our efforts in order to assure the safety of our children and to restore the confidence of the faithful in the Church.”

“I think it reflects that we have done a lot of work, that the parishes are on board,” said Deacon Anthony Rizzuto, Director of Child Advocacy for the archdiocese.

The national audit, completed annually by The Gavin Group, an independent firm retained by the USCCB in 2003, was established to monitor the implementation of the charter’s statutes, established in 2002 as a response to clergy abuse crisis.

The 2008 audit was conducted by two teams. A parish team visited a total of 50 parishes. A second, administrative team interviewed pastors, Catholic school principals, directors of religious education and administrative staff members, “anyone that has anything to do with teaching children, being around children, or custodial supervision of children,” said Rizzuto.

As a result of the parish-level audit, The Gavin Group determined that four parishes had not implemented the “safe environment” requirements of the Charter: St. Brendan in Bellingham, St. Michael in Hudson, Immaculate Conception in Salem and St. Pius V in Lynn.

Three of the four have since implemented programs, while one remains noncompliant.

The archdiocese is working closely with the remaining parishes “in an ongoing effort to bring them into full compliance,” said Kelly Lynch, a spokesperson for the archdiocese.

Despite these “challenged” parishes, the USCCB maintained the archdiocese’s compliance as a whole, under the determination that it is doing all that it can to protect children, said Father John Connolly, Jr., Special Assistant to the Cardinal.

Also on March 13, Cardinal O’Malley released his formal response to the recommendations of an internal review board which conducted its own review of the archdiocese’s abuse prevention efforts.

The archdiocese’s Office of Child Advocacy began work in 2003 with its internal Review Board and Implementation and Oversight Advisory Committee to conduct a two-year appraisal of the archdiocese’s compliance with its Policies and Procedures for the Protection of Children.

The report, entitled “Children First”, was published in 2006 and provided a thorough evaluation of the policies and procedures in place and also set forth recommendations intended to strengthen and enhance the archdiocese’s child protection and survivor outreach efforts.

Cardinal O’Malley’s formal response to “Children First” came in a letter to IOAC Chairperson, M.J. Doherty.

The release of the cardinal’s response was timed to coincide with the close of the IOAC and review board’s six-year term, said Father Connolly.

In his letter, the cardinal outlines the status of archdiocesan implementation of their recommendations in three major areas: pastoral outreach and healing, safe environment programs, and changes in systems and practices.

“The findings and recommendations set forth in “Children First” have provided the archdiocese with a clear understanding of what has been accomplished already, as well as guidance on how to improve upon our ongoing efforts to provide safe environments for children and to support survivors and all people who have suffered as a result of clergy sexual abuse,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley.

“Since the report was first received, many of the recommendations have already been adopted and others are in the process of being implemented,” he wrote.

The central recommendations set forth in “Children First” called the archdiocese to extend pastoral support and outreach, strengthen and expand its religious education programs, and create a mechanism for tracking reports of child abuse and neglect.

Since the formation of the IOAC in 2002, Doherty said she has seen remarkably rapid change in the archdiocese.

“A concrete expression of change is the archdiocese’s continuing commitment to zero tolerance, policies of administrative leave, mandated reporting protocols, safety education, and pastoral outreach, with the daily acts of honest judgment and true charity such a commitment requires,” said Doherty. “In safety education, attaining full compliance with the provisions of the Charter is certainly one measure of change.”

In his letter, the cardinal expounds on the status of archdiocesan implementation of the recommended changes, including:

-- a monthly Mass program specifically for survivors and family members;

-- a parish by parish campaign of outreach to ensure the conduction of safe environment training;

-- two additional curricula alternatives to the original “safe environment” programs; and

-- a new protocol for tracking abuse allegations that allows for the measure of compliance and policy effectiveness.

“As a community of faith, the archdiocese has learned that Roman collars, religious vows, and Church buildings do not make us or the Church organization exempt from the ills -- the sin, sickness and crime -- that afflict the rest of humankind, especially in our society,” said Doherty.

“Rather,” she said, “the Gospel must commit us to a greater transparency, a greater confrontation of the reality of sin and the need for conversion in the very systems of management and communication we use.”

In his letter, Cardinal O’Malley emphasized the archdiocese’s commitment to transparency and openness, as evidenced by the release of annual financial reports, which include information on abuse settlements and related costs, as well as its ongoing effort for augmented disclosure of information about accused clergy and the status of cases against them.

In his conclusion, Cardinal O’Malley announced the merger of his consultative bodies -- the IOAC and review board -- that served complimentary yet discrete functions, said Deacon Rizzutto.

The change will “combine the work of the present IOAC and review board into a single newly constituted review board,” wrote the cardinal.

“Now that strong child abuse preventions programs have been developed and established in the archdiocese, and we move beyond the atmosphere of crisis into one of implementation and vigilance, I think that combining all advisory functions into a single board will better serve the needs of the archdiocese,” wrote Cardinal O’Malley.

Despite the work that has been done, “the abuse crisis isn’t an event, it’s a human reality,” said Father Connolly. “Every single person who is a Catholic in the Archdiocese of Boston has been and remains to be affected by the abuse crisis,” he said, “and that is why we do what we do -- both the audit and the ‘Children First’ report.”

“What the audit helps us do and what the ‘Children First’ report helped us do is to recognize that there are people among us who have been hurt as direct direct family members of victims, parishioners who thought these priests and deacons were men they could admire, trust and respect,” said Father Connolly. “Their foundations have been pulled apart in many respects.”

Under the direction of Barbara Thorp, the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach provides free counseling to all individuals directly affected by the abuse crisis. The office currently provides one-on-one counseling for nearly 300 survivors and has provided healing aid to over 800 individuals since 2002.

“The deepest hurt is a spiritual hurt,” said Thorpe. “But, while it has been such a dark time, we are now seeing a great longing and yearning of people for God and for a way to reconnect and have that deep spiritual connection again.”

“Over these past four-plus years, there have been just under 500 51As filed through the Archdiocese of Boston,” said Father Connolly. “Over 90 percent of these have been domestic reports [of child abuse and neglect].”

“51A” refers to the section of Massachusetts law that deals with requirements for reporting allegations of child abuse or neglect.

“It is a great thing that now we have demonstrable evidence that people know what to do and that kids are coming forward,” he said. “It demonstrates the efficacy of the training programs.”