The charter is a set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. It was created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 following the eruption of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that drew international attention. Since that time, annual audits have been conducted to determine how dioceses are following the charter’s recommendations.
For the first time, StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, N.Y., conducted the on-site audits. Earlier audits were completed by the Gavin Group of Boston.
Among the key findings of the report: more than 99 percent of priests, deacons and Catholic school educators have received safe environment training; 98.6 percent of candidates for ordination, more than 96 percent of church employees and volunteers and 94.3 percent of children attending Catholic schools or parish religious education programs also received appropriate training. According to the report, more than 62,000 children were excused from safe environment training at the request of their parents.
One of the challenges the church faces is keeping the charter and safe environment programs up-to-date. For example, a revision was made to the charter, which now considers possession of child pornography and sexual abuse of adults with mental disabilities no different from abusing a minor.
Last June, when the U.S. bishops held their annual spring meeting in Seattle, Bishop Blase J. Cupich of Spokane, Wash., who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People, said keeping people informed about the charter’s requirement is a priority for his committee.
“We must provide training for the new generations, in order to keep fresh the insights” gained from experience over the years, he said.
While Bishop Cupich and other bishops work hard to maintain the momentum of the past decade, others seem to be less interested in this unified approach. Two U.S. dioceses — Lincoln, Neb., and Baker, Ore., — did not participate in the audits. The Lincoln Diocese has never participated.
At last June’s meeting, Catholic News Service reported Lincoln’s Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, proposed 28 amendments to the charter aimed at weakening its wording. “The USCCB bureaucracy cannot bind bishops to obey the charter,” Bishop Bruskewitz said.
“It is fundamentally dishonest to tell the faithful and the general public that the USCCB has any authority whatsoever to bind dioceses/eparchies to obey the charter,” Bishop Bruskewitz stated. “The more commitments, the more grounds for lawsuits.”
It seems a bit ironic today, when a coordinated effort by U.S. bishops in opposition to the health care mandates proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services demonstrates their solidarity, that a few bishops can opt out of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.