The USCCB’s 2021 Annual Compliance “Audit”

The victims of these historical allegations are now adults and their abuse occurred in decades past. Delayed disclosure of child sex abuse is a common phenomenon when survivors wait for years, even decades, before disclosing to others that they have been victims of childhood sexual abuse.

From article in Voice of the Faithful’s “In the Vineyard” e-newsletter, August 15, 2022

USCCB has released its 2021 Annual Report: Findings & Recommendations on the Implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (aka Charter Compliance Audit). The USCCB Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection released the so-called audit on July 12, 2022. The Annual Audit Report aims to measure diocesan compliance with the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children. The Charter was adopted in 2002 by the U.S. bishops following widespread reports of clergy abuse and has been revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018. The fourth revision is forthcoming.

This iteration of the annual report is based on the audit findings of StoneBridge Business Partners and is available for viewing (2021 Annual Report). Note that it is dated MAY 2022 and covers the audit year of July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

This most recent audit reveals new cases of sexual misconduct by priests. Although there were few reports of new cases during this audit period, 30 new and substantiated allegations nationwide have been reported. Of the 30 new allegations involving minors, six were derived from four different dioceses. Nine other allegations are still under investigation; nine were unsubstantiated; five could not be proven; and one was referred to the provincial of a religious order. The Preface to the report indicates that offenders in substantiated allegations were removed from ministry and that “every” allegation was reported to law enforcement.

The number of allegations that are historical in nature still remained high during this audit period: 3,073. However, this number is 1,149 less than the number of historical allegations reported in the 2020 report. The victims of these historical allegations are now adults and their abuse occurred in decades past. Delayed disclosure of child sex abuse is a common phenomenon when survivors wait for years, even decades, before disclosing to others that they have been victims of childhood sexual abuse. 

The 2021 Audit process had been modified because the 2020 Audit report found dysfunction in diocesan review boards (DRB). The new audit format allowed for gathering more information on Charter requirements for DRB membership, DRB composition, DRB functions, and scheduled meetings. This audit included interviews of all or most DRB members from dioceses and eparchies that were visited personally by the auditors.

Article 2 of the Charter requires lay-run review boards that function as a confidential consultative body to the bishop or eparch. There were four instances of noncompliance with Article 2 of the Charter in this report: the Diocese of Corpus Christi, TX; the Diocese of Lafayette, LA; the Diocese of New Ulm, MN; and the Eparchy of Newton.  

These instances of noncompliance found in the 2021 Audit correspond with diocesan scores obtained on the 2022 VOTF Protection of Children Survey (VOTF POC Report 2022): Corpus Christi TX and Lafayette LA each received zero points in the DRB category; and New Ulm, MN received only 5 out of a possible 18 points in the category.

Auditors report that 192 dioceses and eparchies participated in the 2021 audit process but four did not participate. Although COVID-19 presented challenges to onsite visits, auditors completed 70 “onsite” audit visits: 35 dioceses were physically visited and 35 additional dioceses and eparchies were “visited” virtually. Data were collected from 122 other dioceses and eparchies and were included in this report.

Chapter 3 of this Report contains statistical survey data compiled by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). One data set indicates a decrease of funds spent by dioceses and eparchies on costs related to allegations of clergy abuse for the fiscal year 2021. The grand total of those specific costs for fiscal year 2021 ($194,120,218 ) was 38% or $117,860,448 less than the grand total of those specific costs for fiscal year 2020 ($311,980,666).

StoneBridge Partners mentions additional child protection actions that can be taken by dioceses and eparchies that go beyond the specific requirements of the Charter. These include regular or “as needed” parish and school location audits by all dioceses and eparchies. The audit firm suggests the inclusion of visits and audits of parish and school during their onsite visits, especially within a diocese or eparchy that does not conduct their own audits. These actions would require instituting formal processes to periodically review documentation and compliance assessment with safe environment requirements. VOTF strongly supports the institution of formal diocesan and eparchial site visits to supplement the self-audit reports completed by parish and school locations.  

Another suggestion found in the StoneBridge comments section in Chapter 2 of the Report calls for implementing a policy for renewal of safe environment training for all clergy, employees, and volunteers on a periodic basis. Such a policy change towards mandated, periodic abuse prevention training emphasizes the necessity for ongoing prevention training. Periodic re-training can provide new information regarding the protection of children that has been developed from the last time participants were trained. Also suggested by the auditors is to set a time frame for periodic background check renewals. The 2022 VOTF Child Protection Survey report suggests that this be an annual process to ensure capturing the most up-to-date background information on those working and volunteering with minors.  

The Conclusion section in Chapter One comments on evidence that abuse prevention work and ministry must be ongoing to ensure youth safety and victim assistance. While many audit findings and comments indicate the need to bolster safe environments and child and youth protection efforts, the overall report does indicate progress and improvement in these efforts. 

Responses to VOTF’s 2022 VOTF Child Protection Survey from dioceses and bishops have been encouraging in this regard. Many dioceses and eparchies continue to look for suggestions and resources that will improve child safety efforts. Online resources and support continue to be provided by the Secretarial of Child and Youth Protection to assist dioceses and eparchies in their ministry to victims and to bolster safe environment training and education.

By Patricia T. Gomez, Ph.D., Co-chair, Voice of the Faithful Protection of Children Working Group

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