Sunday, January 11, 2004

Church audit only covers the basics


Most Catholic dioceses in the United States are implementing the safeguards against child abusing priests that they promised their members, according to a special audit commissioned by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.

That it took a group of outsiders, headed up by a former FBI agent, to convince most people that the Catholic Church was doing what it promised to protect children from pedophiles is an indication of the magnitude of the problem the Church faces.

That only 90 percent of the nation's dioceses have complied with guidelines set down by the bishops 18 months ago is disturbing. William Gavin, the retired agent who led the audit, said the dioceses that did not comply seemed not to understand the new rules. "It was not a refusal to adhere to policies," Gavin said. "It was a lack of understanding on how to do that."

What's not to understand?

The bishops called lay review boards to advise bishops on handling abuse allegations; the appointment of victims' assistance coordinators; a halt to such intimidating practices as requiring victims to sign confidentially agreements if they settle suits involving abuse; and the referral of new allegations to police.

For years it was common practice for abusive priests to be transferred to a new parish and victims were told to keep quiet. The result was a system that punished victims and set abusers loose among new flocks of potential victims.

The audit report, released Tuesday, found that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and the Diocese of Covington both are in compliance with the new rules.

That is fine, but it should be remembered that the council of bishops set down only a few basic rules of common sense. The test of whether the Church has changed will be in how it applies those rules to future victims and abusers.

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