ATLANTA, Georgia, JUNE 13, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The National Review Board (NRB), a lay group advising the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on the handling of the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, issued a 10-year progress report today at the USCCB spring meeting in Atlanta.
The report looked at the decade since the 2002 approval of the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a press release from the USCCB explained.
The NRB noted that “Ten years later, there has been striking improvement in the Church’s response to and treatment of victims. Children are safer now because of the creation of safe environments and action has been taken to permanently remove offenders from ministry.”
“Yet, much work still needs to be done,” the NRB said.
The NRB cited data that “found the incidence of abuse began to rise in the 60s, peaked in the 70s and declined sharply in the 80s.”
“Strides have been made in the work of healing and reconciliation,” the report said.
“Policies and procedures to carry out the Charter have been implemented across the country,” the NRB said. “Prior to 2002, at least 77 dioceses/eparchies had policies and procedures in place to respond to allegations of sexual abuse. Now all 195 dioceses/eparchies have such policies and procedures.”
The NRB noted that “confidential settlement agreements with victims have been abolished except when requested by the victim. Prior to 2002, when bishops learned of incidents of abuse they may have quietly settled with the family of the victim.”
“Confidentiality agreements either at the request of the bishop or the family were frequently a part of that settlement. The Charter forbids this practice and the audits over the past 10 years verify that in cases where confidentiality agreements were made, they were only at the request of the victim,” the report said.
The NRB said dioceses now realize that “cooperation with legal authorities is in the best interest of the Church” and are “required to report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to public authorities and to cooperate with all investigations on all matters of sexual abuse.”
“They are also required to advise victims of their right to make a report to public authorities. When one bishop fails to do so, the whole Church suffers.”
The board addressed the zero tolerance policy, saying it is “one of the more controversial requirements of the Charter. Some feel this is too harsh if, for example, behavior occurred many decades ago,” the NRB said, but concluded that “this policy is in the best interest of children and the Church.”
The NRB said that there is a lack of trust that bishops are handling the problem, even in the face of proof that they are.
“Despite solid evidence many of the faithful believe that sexual abuse by clergy is occurring at high levels and is still being covered up by bishops. This suggests a trust problem that must be met with scrupulous adherence to the Charter.”
The NRB said dioceses have trained and conducted background checks on 60,190 clerics and candidates for ordination; 159,689 educators; 249,133 employees; 1.8 million volunteers. They said they have trained “94% of the 5.1 million students attending Catholic schools or parish religious education programs” and that “annually, $20 million is spent on safe environment programs.”
The NRB said that “problems exist with the coordination between religious orders and dioceses” and said there are still instances where dioceses are not informed of religious order priest offenders living in the diocese until it is too late. The NRB recommended “dialogue between bishops and religious superiors within the diocese on a yearly basis to address these issues.”
“While the current trend shows a decrease in clergy sexual abuse, we must never let our guard down,” the report said. “Now is not the time to drift away from the moral requirements of the Charter and the legal requirements of reporting.”
“Bishops must continue to work toward restoring the trust of the faithful,” the report urged. “Only when bishops are seen as following through on their promise to protect and pledge to heal will the faithful begin to trust them to take care of their most precious gift – their children.”
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