Bishop Accountability

Credibly Accused Priests:
Total Priests: 476
Credible Accusations: 18
Cost: $58,000 (of which $43,000 for pastoral outreach, $15,000 on legal fees, and $0 in settlements)
Source of Funds: $20,000 of the cost of pastoral outreach was covered by insurance

An Update on the Diocesan Response

By Bishop George Niederauer

On June 14, 2002, at our meeting in Dallas, Texas, the Catholic bishops of the United States adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, to address the crisis over clerical sexual abuse of minors. For the last year and a half the Catholic dioceses in this country have dealt with this issue in several ways: 1) by pastoral outreach to suffering victims and their families; 2) by removing from ministry clergy who have abused; 3) by putting in place safe environment programs in parishes, schools and other church institutions, to prevent a recurrence of these terrible crimes and sins.

As part of the Charter, the Conference of Bishops commissioned a study of the nature and scope of clergy sexual abuse of minors within the Catholic Church nationwide. This study was conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and its findings will be made public on Friday, February 27, 2004. Because the study will present total figures for the nation, with no breakdown for individual dioceses, I believe it is appropriate for me to inform Catholics in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, as well as the wider Utah community, of the facts which will help them to understand how this diocese relates to the larger picture.

What follows is an update on the facts and figures I gave in a press conference in early June, 2002, before the Dallas meeting. In the fifty-three-year period under study, from 1950 through 2002, there were eighteen credible allegations made against thirteen priests who had served in this diocese. That figure represents 2.7% of the 476 priests ministering in Utah during those years. None of those thirteen priests are now active in ministry in Utah or elsewhere in this country.

Fifteen of the eighteen reported offenses (83%) occurred in the 21 year period between 1963 and 1984. Three offenses (17%) were reported as occurring in the twenty years since 1984.

The John Jay Study will also report on the financial cost of pastoral outreach to victims (including, especially, counseling and therapy), and of settlements and legal fees. As of the end of 2002, during the preceding 53 years the Diocese of Salt Lake City had spent $43,000 on pastoral outreach (of which $20,000 was covered by insurance), and $15,000 on legal fees. The diocese has made no settlements related to clergy sexual abuse. As I have stated before, funds for legal fees have not been taken from parish collections or the Diocesan Development Drive.


We cannot change history, but we can make sure that we do not repeat it. As reported in the audit of the compliance of the Diocese of Salt Lake City with the Bishops’ Charter, conducted October 13-15, 2003, we in Catholic Utah have been pro-active in implementing an environment that is safe for minors and that reaches out to anyone who has been a victim of abuse as a minor. Some of the steps taken:

--the establishment of a Diocesan Review Board, whose members are mostly lay people, to oversee the implementation of the Charter and the appointment of a Diocesan Assistance Coordinator to monitor programs and outreach to victims.

--widespread distribution of booklets, in English and Spanish, outlining diocesan child abuse policies, mandatory reporting of abuse, code of ethical standards and code of conduct for minors (these policies update the earlier Salt Lake diocesan policies promulgated by Bishop William Weigand in 1990).

--the distribution of thousands of bookmarks, in English and Spanish, encouraging the reporting of known or suspected child abuse to both civil and Church authorities.

--the screening of clergy and all Church employees or volunteers who regularly deal with minors in Church ministry.

--the selection and training of safe environment directors in each parish, school and Catholic agency so as to ensure the implementation of diocesan policies and guidelines.

--regular information regarding the abuse of minors published in the Intermountain Catholic Newspaper and on the diocesan website.

--presentations to clergy, religious, educators and ministers at all levels regarding the protection of children, as well as classroom instruction as age appropriate for all young people in Church schools or programs.

--full compliance with law enforcement agencies, reporting all allegations of child abuse, whether past or recent.

--collaboration with community groups, people of other faiths, for the recognition and prevention of child abuse.

--as mentioned in the opening paragraph, pastoral outreach to victims of abuse and their families.
The diocese continues to make every effort to ensure that the community in Utah is safe for all children and minors. This program is not a temporary fix for a year or two; it is the new way we must behave for good.


Ensuring the safety of all children and young people is not a goal that one church can achieve alone. Article 16 of the Charter states: “Given the extent of the problem of sexual abuse of minors in our society, we are willing to cooperate with other churches and ecclesial communities, other religious bodies, institutions of learning and other interested organizations in conducting research in this area.”

This article brings me to a final point. The cumulative effect of media coverage of the scandal in the Church during the past two years has sometimes created the impression that sexual abuse of minors is mainly a Catholic—or Catholic priests’—problem.

That is simply untrue. Reliable national studies have determined that as many as one in five American women and one in six American men were sexually abused as children by an adult. This is an epidemic problem in our society, as courts and child protective agencies will testify.

Indeed, even the issue of moving known offenders around was not simply a Catholic Church problem. One example: just two months ago the Seattle Times ran a four-day, front-page series on sexual abuse of minors by coaches, stating that, over the past ten years, 159 coaches in the State of Washington have been fired or reprimanded for sexual misconduct, yet 98 of them continue to coach or teach. One such coach transferred to Utah where his new district was not informed of his past record.

From painful experience The Catholic Church in the United States has learned the proper way to deal with administrative neglect and insensitivity: admit what happened, reach out to victims, and put preventive measures in place for the future. The Diocese of Salt Lake City pledges to learn these lessons, abide by them, and not forget them.

All of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, must hold the Church accountable for healing, reform and reconciliation. The lessons, however, and the accountability, apply far beyond one church.


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