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Abuse allegations down, but challenges remain, say US bishops in report

Audit organization noted that many dioceses ‘have taken certain measures that go beyond the specific requirements of the charter’

Abuse allegations against Catholic clergy and religious in the U.S. declined last year, but challenges remain regarding protecting vulnerable adults and ensuring online safety, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On July 14, the USCCB’s Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection released the “2022 Annual Report – Findings and Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

USCCB President Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services said in his preface the report was “a milestone accounting of the continued efforts in the ministry of protection, healing, and accompaniment.”

The document — covering the period July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022 — consists of a progress report from the secretariat; an audit report conducted by the Rochester, New York-based consultants StoneBridge Business Partners; and a survey of abuse allegations and costs by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University.

Now in its 12th year of performing the audit, StoneBridge visited 62 dioceses and eparchies, 48 in person and 14 virtually.

The report itself is the 20th of its kind since 2002, when the U.S. bishops established the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

Commonly called the “Dallas Charter” for the city in which the bishops met at the time of its ratification, the document lays out a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability and prevention of abuse.

During the 2022 report period, 1,998 individuals came forward with 2,704 allegations of abuse, with claims down 399 from 2021 and 1,548 from 2020. The decrease was largely due to resolutions of allegations received through lawsuits, compensation programs and bankruptcies. Most allegations (83%) were initially brought to diocesan officials by an attorney.

Sixteen reports during the period involved current minors, with all other allegations made by adults citing abuse as minors.

The CARA portion of the report said that 194 responding dioceses and eparchies had judged 245 allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon to be credible. Of those, 20 allegations involved children who were under the age of 18.

CARA also calculated that total costs incurred by dioceses and eparchies due to allegations were down 19% from the previous year, totaling over $157 million. (Costs for men’s religious communities, by contrast, rose 53%, approaching $45 million.)

The secretariat said in its assessment “the year-over-year trends are encouraging as the number of current minor allegations in the U.S. remains low.”

Many dioceses and eparchies “have taken certain measures that go beyond the specific requirements of the charter,” StoneBridge noted in its report.

Among the measures cited were recurring adult training, parish audits and background check renewals (which are not currently required by the charter).

However, StoneBridge found that more than 30% of diocese and eparchies it had visited during the report period struggled with “some dysfunction” in their review boards, including “lack of meetings, inadequate composition or membership, not following the bylaws of the board, members not confident in their duties (and) lack of rotation of members.”

Auditors pointed out an unevenness in the charter’s overall application, with “196 different implementations” of the document resulting from the policies of dioceses and eparchies.

Another concern centers on the protection of “vulnerable adults,” a definition for which is not contained in the charter but is included in Pope Francis’ motu proprio, “Vox Estis Lux Mundi” (“You are the light of the world”), said auditors.

The audit results represent 194 of the 196 dioceses and eparchies in the U.S., with the report listing the Chaldean Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle and St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy as not participating.

The dioceses of Birmingham, Alabama; Lubbock, Texas; and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands were each found noncompliant regarding Article 2 of the Dallas Charter, which in part specifies a required review board, comprised of mostly laypeople not employed by the diocese, that meets regularly and serves as a consultative body to the bishop. Each diocese subsequently corrected the deficiency.

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