Friday, February 18, 2005

the new audit report

the american bishops released today the implementation report for 2004 on how the catholic dioceses in the US as well as the eastern-rite eparchies are complying with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the bishops adopted at their meeting in dallas in june 2002 to address the issue of sexual abuse by the clergy. the report says that, in 2004, 96.3% of the 187 catholic dioceses in the US and eastern-rite eparchies were implementing every applicable article of the US bishops' policies to prevent clergy sex abuse of minors.

however, it seems that new allegations have surfaced in 2004, mostly from alleged abuses committed from 1970 to 1974, according to a report also released by the bishops today. it says that 71% of the accused, prior to the allegation, had been removed from ministry or were dead or missing. it also adds that "of the allegations reported in 2004, 57, or six percent, were determined to be false by the end of that year. In addition, 59 allegations received prior to January 1, 2004, were determined to be false during 2004."

now in light of these false allegations, an earlier commentary i read before this new audit came out---one from a local priest---offers a balanced perspective. there are five things to bear in mind he writes and these are partly listed here:

1) "when an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is received about a cleric, there is a growing problem of simply assuming that the cleric is guilty...The cleric, as with every member of the faithful, has the right to a good reputation. This is a natural, moral and absolute right and must guide all investigations."

2) "the church's law (canon law) maintains that once an accusation has been fully explored and the conclusion reached that there has been wrongdoing on the part of the cleric, an important legal presumption comes into play regarding the cleric's responsibility: i.e., it is presumed that the cleric acted with willful and malicious intent...What is not always understood, however, is that clerics who sexually act out are not necessarily sexual predators, but may be dealing with sexual or non-sexual issues in their lives totally unrelated to pedophilia or ephebophilia. This is one critical reason why clerics who have acted out sexually need sound therapeutic help and care."

3) "The Charter and Norms take very seriously sins against the Sixth Commandment with a minor (canon 1395:2) and intend to convey that any overtly sexual act(s) against a child is always destructive, even if done only once."

4) "Zero tolerance means that when even one single act of sexual abuse is admitted or established, the cleric must be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry and perhaps even dismissed from the clerical state."

5) "In canon law, the statute of limitations (called prescription by the church) states that a deadline be met for bringing criminal action against someone: i.e., 10 years from majority (28 years old). This prescription is meant to promote prompt presentation and resolution while evidence is fresh and for 'the ability of the members of society to know that the possibility of criminal action will not haunt them forever.'"

he concludes by reminding us that "The common good of society, the church and the victim are greatly important. At the same time, careful assessment must occur regarding accusations made against a cleric so that truth emerges out of a verified study of issues raised in the accusation. A cleric has a right to his good name and reputation and this right must guide every step from accusation to investigation to judgment."

read his comments in full here.

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