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Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, spoke Oct. 12 in Washington. The board oversees compliance by dioceses with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Francesco Cesareo, chairman of the National Review Board, spoke Oct. 12 in Washington. The board oversees compliance by dioceses with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”
Photo Credit: Bob Roller | Catholic News Service

Newspapers examine U.S. bishops’ responses to abuse allegations

Report in Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer looked at allegations of abuse or cover up by bishops

WASHINGTON — The Boston Globe and the Philadelphia Inquirer newspapers teamed up for an article published in both daily papers Nov. 4 that examined ways it said the U.S. bishops have failed to police themselves even since their 2002 gathering in Dallas about clergy sex abuse when they “promised that the Church’s days of concealment and inaction were over.”

The nearly 6,000-word article examines allegations of bishops covering up sexual abuse by priests in their dioceses or their own reported sexual misconduct. It was written by two current members of Globe’s Spotlight investigative team and another writer who was part of the Spotlight team that received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for the team’s coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis in 2002. It also was written by a team of journalists from the Philadelphia Inquirer.

A Nov. 4 statement from the Boston Archdiocese said: “The report today in the Boston Globe examining how various bishops in the United States have addressed the clergy sexual abuse crisis provides a window into the depth of the problem facing the Church.”

It also noted that Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley has “made it a priority to create safe environments in the archdiocese’s churches and schools and to continue to support all people impacted by clergy sexual abuse.” The archdiocese said it “began disclosing the identity of publicly accused priests of the Archdiocese of Boston in 2011” and no new allegations of abuse have occurred since 2006.

“We have learned much during the course of the past 16 years and made sweeping and significant changes to all dimensions of the life of the Church, but we cannot be lulled into a sense of achievement that would risk complacency,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

Last year, an op-ed on the Inquirer’s website written by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput wrote the paper has done “valuable reporting and editorializing on sex abuse in the Catholic Church and past failures by the Church to root out abusers and to protect the innocent. The entire public — including Catholics — can be grateful for that.”

But in the 2017 op-ed, he also wrote: “It’s been odd to notice that the Inquirer has often seemed less committed to reporting the history, roots, scope, and intractability of chronic sexual-abuse problems in our public schools, institutions, and society at large — and even less interested in what the Church has done and is doing to deal with the problem.”

In its Nov. 4 report, the Globe/Inquirer stated that amid new revelations of alleged misconduct by U.S. bishops or reported mishandling of abuse cases, the newspapers “visited nine states, conducted scores of interviews, and reviewed thousands of pages of court and Church records to produce this report,” which received funding from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, a Philadelphia nonprofit group dedicated to local journalism.

Revelations the newspapers cite include the August release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report covering 70 years of abuse allegations in six of that state’s Catholic dioceses, starting in 1947; allegations of abuse by former cardinal Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick; an investigation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, former head of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, W. Va., who has been accused of sexually harassing adults; and claims that the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., headed by Bishop Richard J. Malone, has been accused of mishandling abuse claims against priests.

The article does not mention previously unreported cases of alleged abuse or cover-up claims but delves into details about known cases and follows up with where it says many of these bishops are now: often in secluded retirement, still receiving a Church pension.

The Globe/Inquirer report says that “more than 130 U.S. bishops — or nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused during their careers of failing to adequately respond to sexual misconduct in their dioceses” according to the reporters’ examination of court records, media reports and interviews.

Although the 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” imposed standards that led to the removal of hundreds of priests, “the bishops specifically excluded themselves from the landmark child protection measures,” the report claims.

This gap is one that U.S. bishops plan to address in mid-November during their annual fall general assembly in Baltimore.

National Review Board chairman seeks fix to address charter ‘loophole’

By Dennis Sadowski | Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The National Review Board chairman called for changes to the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” to “make it a less ambiguous document” because despite nearly every diocese meeting standards in third-party audits, some bishops are facing scrutiny about their handling of reports about priests.

Francesco Cesareo, the board’s chairman since 2013, told Catholic News Service Nov. 5 that board members have raised concerns for “a long time … that the audit instrument may not be getting at information that we need to get.”

He also expressed “frustration” that new questions have surfaced about how some bishops responded to clergy sex abuse, especially after pledging openness and transparency after the 2002 crisis exploded.

“This is much more of a crisis of a failure of leadership,” he said. “It is frustrating because on the one hand, you know that the Church has put in place all of these policies and procedures, which have definitely made a difference. All of these allegations are historic. (There are) very few new ones,” he said.

Cesareo’s concerns came in response to a report published Nov. 4 by The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer newspapers that examined ways it said the U.S. bishops have failed to police themselves even since their 2002 gathering in Dallas about clergy sex abuse when they adopted the charter.

The all-lay National Review Board, established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002, oversees compliance by dioceses with the charter. It has no role in oversight of bishops.

Under the charter, each diocese and eparchy undergo an annual audit to ensure compliance with it. Each audit report includes recommendations for corrective action where shortcomings are discovered.

Cesareo described a section of the charter that outlines the audit process as “ambiguous in some ways” because at times the auditing firm must make judgments “when things are not exactly clear.” The charter also allows bishops to respond that they are “doing minimally what the audit requires” when questions are raised, he said.

“There’s clearly a loophole,” he said.

“It points out that they (bishops) need to come up with a new instrument that is going to get at information that we’re currently not getting,” he added.

StoneBridge Business Partners is the current company conducting the audits of dioceses and eparchies. The auditing firm based in Rochester, New York, has been doing them since 2011 and is under contract to conduct audits through 2019.

Cesareo, president of Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, said he will outline the National Review Board’s concerns during a report at the bishops’ fall general assembly Nov. 12-14 in Baltimore.

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