SPRINGFIELD-CAPE GIRARDEAU MO
At their June 2002 general meeting in Dallas, the U.S. Bishops approved a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. This action was taken in response to the sexual abuse of minors by some priests in our nation. The Charter committed bishops to policies and practices that would protect children and youth. Our diocese already had adopted a “Sexual Misconduct Policy” in 1993, which was revised last year in accord with new provisions called for by the Charter.
The Charter (Art. 12) states that dioceses would “establish safe environment programs” for all employees in the diocese and volunteers who work with youth. These educational programs teach participants how to maintain healthy boundaries with children, how to recognize abuse and report it appropriately. Because they are in positions of trust, all personnel commit themselves to responsible standards of conduct.
Our diocese has now completed 44 sessions on providing safe environments in which 2500 people received training. Each year, new employees and volunteers will receive similar training. Our diocese is committed to doing what is needed to have safe environments for children and youth.
Article 13 of the Charter requires background checks on all diocesan personnel who have regular contact with minors. Our diocese processes these background checks through the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Missouri Division of Family Services.
The Charter established a national Office for Child and Youth Protection, one of whose responsibilities is to audit adherence by each diocese to the policies of the Charter (Art. 8). The audit of our diocese by an independent agency took place July 21-22, 2003. After reviewing that audit, the Office of Child and Youth Protection wrote: “The Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau is found to be compliant with the provisions of the Charter.”
The Charter (Art. 9) also called for a descriptive study “of the nature and scope of the problem (of sexual abuse of minors by clergy) within the Catholic Church in the United States, including such data as statistics on perpetrators and victims.” That national study should be completed and released by the end of February.
Our diocese cooperated in the study and reported that three Springfield-Cape Girardeau priests were offenders and had their priestly faculties removed, as reported in the March 22, 2002 issue of our diocesan newspaper The Mirror. The diocese made one financial settlement in 1994 of $50,000 - - $37,500 from insurance and $12,500 from earnings on investments. The money was used to help with psychological counseling for one of the victims. The national report coming out in late February, sadly, will contain large dollar figures because of dioceses and archdioceses experiencing many cases of abuse.
I am deeply grateful to all our dedicated priests, teachers, catechists, youth ministers, volunteers and others who give their time and talents to helping young people grow and mature. They are a great blessing to all of us! I know they will do everything humanly possible to maintain safe environments for our young people.
By Bishop Leibrecht
On Friday of this week, February 27, two reports commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be issued. One is a national study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City on the extent of sexual abuse of minors by priests since 1950. The other report, from the National Review Board of laity, is a study of the causes and consequences of clergy sex abuse. I will comment on the two reports in a future column after an opportunity to read them.
To my knowledge, no such extensive study of sexual abuse of minors exists regarding Protestant clergy, Jewish rabbis or other religious leaders. Nor does such a thorough study exist regarding other professionals such as teachers or psychologists. In other words, whatever the results of the reports on Catholic priests, no similar national research exists on other religious or professional groups for purposes of context. The statistics regarding Catholic clergy, deeply troubling as they are, presently lack the larger picture within which to interpret them.
Our Church is going through a very difficult and painful time because of the sexual abuse of children and minors by a percentage of our priests. The studies this week will look to the past fifty years in order to learn from them and provide assurances to parents for the present and the future. In all of this, do not forget the victims of sexual abuse. Keep them, their families and loved ones in your prayers as they look to the future hoping for as much healing as is humanly possible.
Approximately 200,000 children are sexually abused each year in the United States. That estimate comes from David Finkelhur of the Crimes Against Children Research Center located at the University of New Hampshire. Most sexual abusers of children are family members or close acquaintances of the young people abused. Sadly, some Catholic priests have been guilty of sexual abuse of children and adolescents.
Last week a study sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops detailed the nature and scope of sex abuse of minors by Catholic priests. The research was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. The study, covering the years from 1950 to 2002, reported that allegations of sexual abuse were made against 4,392 of the 110,000 priests (4%) active in the United States during those 52 years.
The study defined an allegation as “any accusation that is not implausible”, that is, any allegation that could possibly have happened. Almost 11,000 allegations against priests were cited; 6,700 (61%) were substantiated. The report said that 3,300 allegations were not investigated because the priests against whom the accusations were made were no longer alive; 1,000 allegations could not be substantiated.
Most incidents of abuse by priests took place in the 1960's and 1970's, declining from the 1980's on. The majority of the victims (77%) were between ages 11-17. One of the saddest statistics in the study is that 149 priests accounted for 2,960 incidents of abuse, 27% of all allegations.
The College of Criminal Justice reports that approximately $500,000,000 has been expended in dealing with sexual abuse of minors by clerics. Approximately 60% of that amount came from insurance coverage. Payments not covered by insurance came from various diocesan funds, savings from cutbacks in diocesan ministries and, as with the archdiocese of Boston, from the sale of diocesan properties.
It is challenging when dealing with a statistical report not to lose sight of the terrible personal harm done to the victims of sexual abuse. The human cost of sexual abuse is beyond numbers and dollars. The focus on numbers should not take away attention from that important reality. Please continue to pray for the victims of sexual abuse so that healing can be theirs.
A second report, accompanying the College of Criminal Justice study, was prepared by the lay National Review Board. The report said: “Church leaders failed to appreciate the harm suffered by victims of sexual abuse by priests, the seriousness of the underlying misconduct, and the frequency of the abuse. In the 1950's and early 1960's many church leaders viewed sexual abuse as a moral lapse only and did not understand the psychological causes and consequences of such conduct. More recently, some church leaders viewed sexual abuse as a psychological problem only and placed undue reliance on therapy as a solution. The failure of church leaders to recognize sexual abuse of minors as a crime, and not just the manifestation of a moral failing and a psychological disorder, and to deal with it accordingly, has contributed enormously to the current crisis.” While there is much truth in this assessment, it is important to remember that psychologists and psychiatrists, upon whose advice some bishops frequently depended, know much more now about the problem of sexual abuse of minors than they did 30-50 years ago.
Church leaders and many Catholic faithful are giving unprecedented attention to righting the wrongs of the past by putting in place policies and procedures to protect children and youth now and in the future. The John Jay College study points out that “75% of the events were alleged to occur between 1960 and 1984. When this result is considered together with the declining percentage of priests ordained each year who have been accused of sexual abuse, it presents a more positive picture.” The direction in which we are now going is hopeful and constructive.
Our diocese, like other dioceses, has suffered from several events of sexual abuse of minors committed by priests in the 1980's. Action was taken in each of those instances when the allegations came to light. The diocese’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, updated it in 2003, is a commitment to do everything humanly possible to avoid sexual misconduct problems in the future -- whether by clergy or others whose ministry involves contacts with children and youth. Training programs have been held throughout the diocese and will continue to be held annually with personnel new to the diocese.
As your bishop, I promise to work energetically with other leaders in the diocese to create safe and healthy environments for our children and youth.
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