Auditors Reexamine Church Sex Abuse
Lay Catholic Panel Wants Assurances Dioceses Are Cleaning up Scandal

By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post [Washington DC]
May 17, 2003

A board appointed by the nation's Roman Catholic bishops will send independent auditors, including former FBI agents, into every diocese in the country beginning next month to check whether the bishops are complying with their promises to clean up the scandal over child sexual abuse by priests.

The National Review Board, a panel of lay Catholics headed by former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, has contracted with a firm headed by William A. Gavin, a former assistant director of the FBI, to audit all 195 dioceses by the end of the year, a spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said yesterday.

Gavin is the fourth former FBI official named to a key role in the church's response to the scandal. Keating, who is himself a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, acknowledged that there have been some rumblings of discontent among bishops over the board's approach.

"We concluded that to reassure the Catholic lay community, it was important first and foremost to identify this conduct as criminal -- and to send that message with FBI agents at the top, the bottom and the middle of this probe," he said. "If that's hard-edged, so be it."

Victims' groups applauded the auditing plan and expressed support for Keating's board. But David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, predicted that even the involvement of former FBI agents would not compel all of the bishops to disclose the full story of sexual abuse in their dioceses.

"I think they'll hide everything but the strictest compliance with the charter," Clohessy said, referring to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the bishops in Dallas last June.

"I certainly don't think they will fess up to the hardball legal tactics and intimidation methods that keep people silent," he said. "I can't imagine a bishop saying, 'We face five lawsuits, and we would have faced six -- but our lawyer threatened his lawyer that we would disclose his alcoholic record, and then he went away.' "

Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, spokesman for the bishops' conference, said the bishops have pledged their cooperation. "You'll see the final product, and that's when you're going to find out if the bishops are living up to the charter," he said.

Kathleen L. McChesney, head of the bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection, said teams of two to four auditors would check whether each diocese is fulfilling the promises in the charter, which include cooperating with law enforcement authorities, appointing a local review board of lay Catholics to review abuse allegations, naming a coordinator for assistance to victims and providing data on the scope and costs of the scandal.

But McChesney, who was the highest-ranking woman in the FBI before her retirement last year, said the auditors would have to rely on information provided by the bishops.

In March, she hired Sheila Horan, who had been acting head of the FBI's national security division, to help dioceses train their personnel in sexual abuse awareness and prevention.

The review board also has contracted with New York City's John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct a $250,000 study of the "nature and scope" of child sexual abuse in the church. The researchers have sent questionnaires to each diocese asking for comprehensive data on all priests and deacons who have abused minors, their victims and legal costs.

McChesney said the study would not reveal the names of abusers or victims, and that only aggregate figures -- not a diocese-by-diocese breakdown -- would be made public.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for New York's Cardinal Edward Egan, said the New York archdiocese has not yet provided the information, and he declined to say whether it would do so.

"I think several bishops have looked at the length of the form and have asked some questions about it, but I would prefer that anything about that be conveyed directly to the National Review Board, not to the press," he said.

Newark's archbishop, John J. Myers, also has complained about McChesney's decision to speak to a New Jersey chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that seeks "structural change" in the church. "I can only say that her decisions and the conduct of her office leave more than a few Bishops for whom she technically works in a state of perplexity," Myers wrote in a letter to a parishioner.

Robert S. Bennett, a Washington lawyer on the review board, said yesterday that Myers's criticism was "baseless." "Kathleen McChesney, frankly, is the best thing in a long time that has happened to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops," he said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.