Abuse audits: Good and bad

By | April 13, 2011

On the positive side, safe environment training for clergy, employees, volunteers and children received high marks. Nationally, according to the Gavin Group audit, 99 percent of clergy and 98 percent of employees and volunteers have undergone safe environment training. Background checks for these groups averaged over 99 percent. In addition, 96.8 percent of children in Catholic schools and parish religious education programs received safe environment training.

In 2004, when the Gavin Group conducted its second audit, just over 50 percent of children received safe environment training.

The audit also showed that during the 2009-2010 period, 653 people came forward for the first time alleging past abuse. Those allegations involved 574 priests and eight deacons. Thirty minors also came forward with allegations. According to a Catholic News Service report, eight of the 30 cases were considered credible by law enforcement. Seven were determined to be false, 12 were classified as “boundary violations” and three are still being investigated.

In cases where abuse was reported from years past, 253 of the perpetrators have since died, 172 were removed from ministry and 67 were laicized. In addition, 275 perpetrators had been named in other audits.

These numbers show that the majority of reported cases of abuse were incidents from years, even decades, ago. They also seem to indicate that awareness and prevention within the church have helped create a new attitude about safe environments. People in the church who undergo safe environment training are hypersensitive to improper physical contact and what is considered a boundary violation. A generation ago, these boundary violations were probably considered ordinary behavior.

That is no longer the case, as the audit showed. The Gavin audit listed boundary violations as inappropriate behavior such as “kissing girls on the top of the head, inappropriate hugging and an adult patting a minor on the knee.”

Two troubling factors coming out of the latest audits need to be addressed. One archdiocese, Philadelphia, was deemed to be in compliance with the charter. However, last February, a grand jury report determined that 37 priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors remained in active ministry.

William Gavin told National Public Radio in March that auditors are not allowed to review diocesan records to determine if allegations exist. Instead, they are only allowed to ask church officials.

The other troubling factor is that two U.S. dioceses — Lincoln, Neb., and Baker, Ore., — did not participate in the audits. The Lincoln Diocese has never participated in the audits.

The auditing process has its flaws. Until there is uniform cooperation, the good works that have been accomplished since the 2002 charter was established will be viewed by critics as a failed venture.

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