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Annual report shows decline in allegations of abuse in US dioceses

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By Lisa Zengarini

More than 3,000 allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy and others were reported during the year ending June 30, 2021, a significant decline from the previous auditing period, according to the latest  report on diocesan compliance with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

More than 3,000 allegations of sexual abuse

The report released this week by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, and based on the findings of StoneBridge Business Partners, an independent auditing agency,  stated that 2,930 victim survivors filed 3,103 allegations, that is 1,149 less than those reported in the previous  2019-2020 audit period.

According to the report, the decrease is due in large part to the resolution of allegations received as a result of lawsuits, compensation programs, and bankruptcies. Of the allegations received, 2,284 (74%) were first brought to the attention of the diocesan/eparchial representative by an attorney.

The 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children”

This is the nineteenth Annual Report since 2002 when the U.S. Bishops established the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People”, a comprehensive set of procedures to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy, and made a promise to protect and a pledge to heal. The Charter was approved overwhelmingly by the bishops during their historic general assembly in Dallas in June 2002, in response to the devastating clergy abuse scandal that emerged in the previous months in the Archdiocese of Boston and lead to investigations of clerical misconduct nationwide.

The document established a zero-tolerance policy that saw clergymen against whom abuse allegations were substantiated being removed permanently from ministry and minimum standards for each diocese to follow as they reviewed abuse allegations.

During this 2020-2021 audit year, 30 allegations were made by current minors, of which six were substantiated, nine are still under investigation, nine were deemed unsubstantiated, five were considered unable to be proven, and one was referred to the provincial of a religious order.

192 of 197 dioceses and eparchies audited 

192 of 197 dioceses and eparchies participated in the audit: 70 dioceses/eparchies were visited either in person or via remote technology and data was collected from 122 others.

During the audit period, the U.S. dioceses and eparchies provided outreach and support to 285 survivors and their families. Continued support was provided to 1,737 victims who had reported in prior audit periods.

Ensuring  the safety of children 

The report, which also includes a survey conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) of Georgetown University, further notes the ongoing work of the Church in continuing the call to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable adults. In 2021, the Church conducted 1,964,656 background checks on clergy, employees, and volunteers. In addition, in 2021, over 2 million adults and over 2.4 million children and youth were trained in how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to report those signs.

Of the entities undergoing the audits, three dioceses and one eparchy were determined to be in non-compliance with the Charter due to inactivity on the part of their Review Boards, which subsequently have been convened.

Implementing zero-tolerance policies

Commenting on the report, the USCCB’s Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People and the National Review Board emphasize that the audit and continued application of zero-tolerance policies are two important tools in the Church’s broader program of creating a culture of protection and healing that exceeds the requirements of the Charter. 

Since its adoption and subsequent Vatican approval, the Charter has been revised three times, most recently in 2018, to adapt to changing situations surrounding the question of clergy abuse of minors and vulnerable adults.

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