Archive for category Clergy Sexual Abuse

Pope mandates annual audit on protection of children from abuse / Reuters

Francis said he wanted a yearly “reliable account on what is presently being done and what needs to change” to protect children and vulnerable adults from predator clergy.

By Philip Pullella, Reuters

“Pope Francis on Friday asked for an annual audit evaluating how national Catholic Churches are implementing measures to protect children from clergy sexual abuse, saying that without more transparency the faithful will continue to lose trust.

“‘Abuse in any form is unacceptable,’ Francis told members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which was established in 2014 to promote best practices and a culture of safeguarding worldwide.

“The commission had a rocky start, with several members resigning in frustration, complaining that it had no teeth and that they had met internal resistance.

“It was given a new lease on life in March, when the Vatican’s updated constitution placed it in the doctrinal department, which rules on abuse cases.

“Francis said he wanted a yearly “reliable account on what is presently being done and what needs to change” to protect children and vulnerable adults from predator clergy.”

By Philip Pullella, Reuters — Read more …


Click hear to read Voice of the Faithfuls recently released “2022 Report: Measuring Abuse Prevention and Safe Environment Programs as Reported Online in Diocesan Policies and Practices,” which studied the level of diocesan compliance with child protection guidelines.

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Voice of the Faithful puts children first with new study of dioceses’ child protection efforts

Voice of the Faithful has published the first independent, online review of all U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses’ level of compliance with child protection and safe environment guidelines. The average overall score was 67%, with the most frequently achieved score 63.5%. Although some dioceses did well, no diocese achieved 100%, and three dioceses scored in the 20s.

Click here to read the entire report

The study is the first independent analysis of child protection and safe environment policies in all U.S. dioceses. VOTF operates independently of the Church’s institutional structure, and the study is not an audit like those conducted by the U.S. Bishop’s National Review Board. Called “2022 Report: Measuring Abuse Prevention and Safe Environment Programs as Reported Online in Diocesan Policies and Practices,” the report is being released in April because the month is designated in the United States as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. The report’s conclusions include:

The breadth of clergy sexual abuse cases within the Church indicates that historical responses to accusations of abuse by the hierarchy were inadequate; those responses protected the reputation of the institution over supporting victims and preventing further child abuse within the Church. The hierarchical construct of privileged, secretive, unaccountable, male-only institution provides the backdrop that foments a culture of leaders who enabled the protection of the abusers and church leadership above the victims’ best interests and suffering of children. Unchanging defense of this already damaged institution ignores the need to remedy faulty structures, such as bishops’ deficient adherence to their own standards, as well as a lack of urgency and decisive actions that would demonstrate their professed resolve to protect and heal.

2022 Report: Measuring Abuse Prevention and Safe Environment Programs as Reported Online in Diocesan Policies and Practices

A few recent examples illustrating the report’s conclusions include: former Albany Diocese leader Bishop Howard Hubbard’s admission the diocese regularly moved priests accused of sexually abusing minors among parishes without informing police, victims’ families or parishioners; Portugal’s investigation that received 290 church sex abuse claims within 90 days with many more expected; and similar recent investigations in Germany, Switzerland, France and Spain; the Pennsylvania grand jury report in 2018; and other investigations dating back to The Boston Globe’s report on clergy abuse in the Boston Archdiocese in 2002, which brought about VOTF.

“The Church most often claims such investigations reveal just historic abuse,” said Patricia T. Gomez, VOTF trustee and Protection of Children Working Group co-chair. “But our report, as an indication of commitment to child protection, does not show that widespread cultural change toward safer environments for children has taken place, and we won’t know the extent of present abuse for some time because victims typically don’t report it for decades.”

To conduct this study, VOTF reviewers studied 177 websites, those of 176 U.S. Roman Catholic dioceses and the Archdiocese for the Military, USA. Reviewers used a worksheet that included 33 questions in the following 10 categories: policy; code of conduct; reporting abuse; background checks; prevention, education, and training; contact information; annual audit reporting; diocesan review boards; list of accused clergy; and victim assistance. The study used diocesan websites because the internet is so widely used for information, and the extent to which a diocese’s website provides safe environment policies and procedures is an indication of the bishop’s commitment to protecting children and preventing further sexual abuse by clergy.

“This (report) will surely promote a constructive conversation about how to monitor and improve child safety in the church environment,” said David Finkelhor, Ph.D., who is professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center and co-director of the Family Research Laboratory. “The report is sensible, systematic and well-conceived.”

The five highest scoring dioceses were Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 95.5%; Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, 93.5%; Venice, Florida, 92.5%; Baltimore, Maryland, 92.5%; and Richmond, Virginia, 89.5%. The five lowest scoring dioceses were Shreveport, Louisiana, 22.5%; Lubbock, Texas, 23.5%; Corpus Christi, Texas, 27%; Military Services, 38.5%; and Colorado Springs, Colorado, 41.5%.

The VOTF report made the following points:

  • Diocesan safe environment webpage content must align with dioceses’ child protection policies. Any lack of consistency calls into question the diligence afforded to safe environment and child protection efforts and diocesan commitment to transparency.
  • Comprehensive abuse prevention efforts must include criminal background checks of all employees, clergy, and volunteers, as well as mandatory abuse prevention education and training for all groups.
  • Dioceses must fully disclose credibly accused offenders’ information, such as name, current status, past assignments, etc.
  • Diocesan review boards must ensure that Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People-related policies and procedures are current and clearly stated.
  • Mandatory participation in annual audits and a time-limited period for correction of deficiencies must be enforced.

The report concluded on the particularly important role of parishioners in child protection: “There is a key role for parishioners to ensure the protection of children in our parishes. Parishioners should work with diocesan and parish safe environment personnel to bolster safety guidelines at the diocesan level and ensure that safety measures are carried out in their faith communities. Alive in the life of Jesus, the entire People of God can transform into a sacramental community where children, youth, and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected in safe environments.”


Voice of the Faithful’s® mission is to provide a prayerful voice, attentive to the Spirit, through which the Faithful can actively participate in the governance and guidance of the Catholic Church. VOTF’s goals are to support survivors of clergy sexual abuse, to support priests of integrity, and to shape structural change within the Catholic Church. More information is at www.votf.org.

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In shockingly frank deposition, former bishop admits moving alleged abusers from treatment to ministry / America: The Jesuit Review

In similarly straightforward testimony, Bishop Hubbard said that in instances when priests admitted to him that they had committed abuse, he did not report this to Albany police.

Kevin Clarke, America: The Jesuit Review

“In testimony conducted over four days in April 2021, Bishop Howard Hubbard, the former leader of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., described in unusually frank terms how he moved diocesan priests who had been accused of molesting children in and out of treatment centers and back into ministry. He admitted that the transfers were consistently made without informing local police, families of abuse victims or Catholics in Albany’s parishes, where the men were reassigned.

“Bishop Hubbard testified that parishioners were told that their pastors had been removed for ‘treatment’ with no further explanation.

“‘My perspective is we did not reveal the reason for his treatment,’ Bishop Hubbard told Jeff Anderson, the lead attorney for one of the survivors suing the diocese, in reference to one priest.

“‘And the reason for his treatment was he had been accused of sexually abusing a minor, correct?’ Mr. Anderson asked.

“‘That is correct,’ answered the bishop, who led the diocese from 1977 until 2014, answered.

“Mr. Anderson pressed further. ‘As a matter of practice and protocol, you as the bishop were required to keep that secret to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the church, of the diocese, correct?’ he asked.

“‘I think both were reasons for not disclosing fully the reason for his treatment,’ Bishop Hubbard responded, after clarifying objections from his attorney.”

By Kevin Clarke, America: The Jesuit Review — Read more …

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Ex-Albany bishop acknowledges covering up abuse allegations / Associated Press

Hundreds of people have sued the Albany diocese over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.

Associated Press

“The former bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany has acknowledged covering up allegations of sexual abuse against children by priests in part to avoid scandal and protect the reputation of the diocese.

“Howard J. Hubbard made the admission during a deposition taken last year as part of a response to dozens of claims filed under New York’s Child Victims Act. A judge ordered the deposition released on Friday.

“Hundreds of people have sued the Albany diocese over sexual abuse they say they endured as children, sometimes decades ago.

“During the four-day deposition, Hubbard named several priests who had been accused of sexual abuse who were referred to treatment and later returned to ministry, without notification to the public. One, David Bentley, admitted to Hubbard that he had engaged in the behavior alleged.”

By Associated Press — Read more …

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A Voice of the Faithful Retrospective: 20 Years of Work on Protection Our Children

Voice of the Faithful marks its 20th year in 2022 and is offering a series of articles about who we are and what we do. The following is by Patricia T. Gomez, Voice of the Faithful Trustee and Co-Chair Protection of Children Working Group.

March 28, 2022

Twenty years have passed since the public exposé of clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church by the Boston Globe Spotlight Team. And it is 20 years since the foundation of Voice of the Faithful and the Protection of Children Working Group in response to those revelations.

Immediate reaction to the horror of child abuse within our church spurred us into action: listening to victims’ stories, supporting victims of clergy abuse in their journey of recovery, and working to create and maintain safe environments for children and vulnerable adults in our faith communities. The Protection of Children (POC) working group continues its mission to ensure safety of children today; in the past few years members have been working on an analysis of diocesan safe environments by reviewing diocesan website postings. 

Early in the history of VOTF the POC team identified the ongoing need to raise awareness and educate adults and children on abuse prevention measures in parish communities. We worked with local and national organizations to promote abuse prevention training. Over the years POC members engaged in conversations with many abuse prevention organizations, including consultations with the chairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Review Board on dispersing prevention information and tips for parents and adults on perpetrator grooming behaviors.

We also consulted with researchers at the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center. Through these and other efforts we came to understand that, to truly protect children in our parish communities, changes must occur at the local level. To that effect, the POC team created helpful hints to aid parishes in education and awareness efforts. Our Safety Sunday project, for example, provides short tips for publication in parish bulletins, especially during the month of April, which has been designated National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Many parish safe environment coordinators have continued to utilize the resources found on our Child Protection webpages.

Maintaining safe environments in our parishes is a strong prevention measure against potential abuse, but in recent years POC members have noted a de-emphasis on this key program. This de-emphasis diverts us from the shame and horror that abuse of children occurred and persisted for so many years in our churches. Timely reminders to remain vigilant are needed. For example, the annual observance in April of National Child Abuse Prevention month in the United States should be promoted in every diocese as a reminder of the ongoing necessity to protect the children and the vulnerable among us. Does your diocese promote this annual observance?

Voice of the Faithful has been working to help ensure the safety of our children from the beginning of its mission 20 years ago.

The responses of many bishops to cases of clergy sexual abuse over the past 20 years were designed to protect the institution at the expense of sacrificing the well-being of victims of clergy abuse. But ultimately such posturing has sacrificed the image and future of the institution. Clergy sexual abuse still resonates within the Church today because the faulty structures that allowed this abuse to occur and to be covered up still exist. The fact is: the institution has been damaged. It is time for the hierarchy to be held accountable to their own mandates for safe environments and abuse prevention measures. And it is time to enforce diocesan standards of prevention and safe environments in our parishes.

What can you do? The POC team encourages you to look into abuse prevention measures posted on your diocese’s website. Are these measures comprehensive and carried out in your parish or faith community? It is time for us in the pews to evaluate diocesan child protection measures to determine whether they are lived out in local parish communities.

During this month of April, dedicated to educate and raise awareness of the need to protect children from predators in every environment, VOTF members recall our outrage at the injustice served on victims of clergy sexual abuse, their families, and communities. We recall the shame we feel at the failure of leadership to protect our children. We support the call from Hans Zollner, S.J., president of the Centre for Child Protection in Rome, for forceful implementation of changes in church law introduced by Pope Francis and his predecessors, especially the 2019 motu propio, Vos Estis Lux Mundi (America Magazine, Feb 4, 2022).

We also call for the enforcement of standards set in the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons. And we call for change in the faulty structures and attitudes that foment clericalism, especially the insular and authoritarian culture fostered in many dioceses.

VOTF has focused on supporting survivors, promoting parish safe environment efforts, and calling for structural change in the governance of the Church for 20 years. And our work continues!

Following the example of the VOTF Finance Working Group, the most recent work by the POC Working Group investigated how the church as institution presents its efforts to prevent abuse and responds to those abused. Over the past three years, the POC team developed a comprehensive set of questions for reviewing diocesan websites to assess efforts of bishops in every diocese. We recently completed the website review for diocesan Child Protection and Safe Environment efforts and scored performances of the 177 dioceses in the U.S. A link to the detailed findings from that review will be available shortly on the VOTF’s Child Protection webpage.

Ongoing Child Protection Efforts

Results of our review indicate the need to enhance diocesan child protection policies and safe environment measures. Actions by all are essential to keep children safe in our church communities:

  • Clearly stated, publicly available, and comprehensive diocesan guidelines for safe environments provide measurable standards that can be modeled in parishes and are essential to prevent further child abuse.
  • The USCCB can more frequently update their Charter and Norms. 
  • The USCCB National Review Board should more closely monitor compliance with the bishops’ own standards for child protection by augmenting annual audits.

VOTF will continue to monitor diocesan child protection measures on an annual basis.

Parishioners have a key role in ensuring the protection of children in our parishes. We need to work with diocesan and parish safe environment personnel to bolster child protection guidelines at the diocesan level and ensure that safety measures are carried out in their faith communities. Alive in the life of Jesus, the entire People of God can transform into a sacramental community where children, youth, and the vulnerable are nurtured and protected in safe environments.

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How Do We ‘Keep the Faith & Change the Church’?

Voice of the Faithful marks its 20th year in 2022 and is offering a series of articles about who we are and what we do. The following is by Margaret Roylance, VOTF trustee and vice president, and chair of VOTF’s Finance Working Group.

March 1, 2022

As Mary Pat Fox described last month, Voice of the Faithful grew at an astonishing rate in the first few months. Looking back, though, the amazing thing is the speed and clarity with which the mission and goals of the organization were discerned. Centered in prayer, speaking boldly and listening attentively to one another, we were journeying together in faith 20 years before Pope Francis’ Synod. That convinces me that VOTF was and still is a movement of the Spirit.

Founder Jim Muller’s motto was “Keep the Faith – Change the Church.” When our critics asked us what that meant, we said we respected the role of the hierarchy, but all the people of God must be involved in discerning where the Spirit is leading the Church. Cardinal George of Chicago responded that “Keep the Faith, Change the Church” was problematic because any change in the Church will, “unless most carefully thought out,” change the faith. He cited the example of Martin Luther. We were under suspicion as heretics by association with the leader of the Protestant Revolt! How could we keep the faith we loved, but change the Church whose leaders had covered up such tragic crimes?

Responding to our baptismal call we submitted our needs for new leadership to the Vatican, starting with a replacement for Cardinal Law in Boston. We studied Canon Law and Church governance structures and asked the Church to follow its own promises to involve the laity in governance and guidance through membership on Diocesan Finance Councils. Canon Law requires one in every diocese. We volunteered for parish pastoral and finance councils. We did not fade away as many bishops believed we would. We were in it for the long haul.

Recognizing that the abuse crisis was enabled by a pervasive culture of financial secrecy in the Church, a dedicated group of volunteers collaborated for five years to develop a fair, fact-based, reliable and repeatable system to measure financial transparency on diocesan websites. This Finance Working Group realized that all of us, even bishops, care about grades. We published our first diocesan financial transparency report in 2017 with financial scores for every diocese in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

The average score was 60% in 2017. In 2021, our fifth annual report showed an average diocesan score of 69%, and five dioceses received perfect scores of 100%. Thirty-eight dioceses received scores in the 90s. Diocesan leaders have realized that receiving a good transparency score from an independent organization like VOTF can help convince their members to provide financial support for their programs.

We are no longer called heretics, at least not by most Catholic bishops. Bishops have thanked us for our efforts and a steady stream of CFOs has asked us for assistance in increasing their transparency scores. Genuine financial transparency is on the rise in the U.S. Church. We will continue the yearly transparency reviews, and are using the same approach to look at child protection policies on diocesan websites. We have found that love of the Church, prayer, hard work, and persistence can produce results that were unimaginable in 2002, and we are just getting started!

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Pope Francis reorganizes Vatican’s doctrinal office, creating department to handle abuse cases / National Catholic Reporter

The discipline section of the congregation will manage concerns related to the sexual abuse of minors and other ‘grave’ crimes.

National Catholic Reporter

“Pope Francis on Feb. 14 overhauled the current structure of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, creating an independent section to handle disciplinary matters related to the sexual abuse of minors. 

“Under its new structure, the office will operate with autonomous doctrinal and discipline sections that will be coordinated by separate secretaries, both of whom will report to the prefect of the congregation. 

“The new legislation, Fidem servare (‘To preserve the faith’), represents the most significant organizational changes to the office in over 30 years. 

“In announcing the new structure, which comes in advance of a much-anticipated new apostolic constitution that will reorganize the Vatican’s central bureaucracy, the Vatican did not announce any personnel changes at the congregation. 

“The office’s current prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, is 77 years-old and has passed the Vatican’s traditional retirement age of 75. Last month, Francis reassigned the doctrinal office’s secretary, its number two official, to lead Italy’s Reggio Emilia-Guastalla Diocese, indicating the pope could soon remake the top leadership of the office in the near future.

By Christopher White, National Catholic Reporter — Read more …

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Father Zollner: Retired pope should make personal statement on abuse report / Cruxnow.com

Voice of the Faithful has been struggling against the Church’s lack of transparency and accountability around the clergy sexual abuse scandal for 20 years. Read about its programs and projects on its website at www.votf.org.

Following the publication of an experts’ report on how sexual abuse was handled in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, the German Catholic news agency KNA spoke to Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors since its creation and president of the Institute of Anthropology: Interdisciplinary Studies on Human Dignity and Care at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University.

KNAFather Zollner, you were questioned by the Munich law office Westpfahl Spilker Wastl beforehand in preparing its experts’ report. What exactly was your contribution?

Zollner: What I knew was that part in which the experts wrote about the potential theological, canonical and systemic consequences. I did not see a single file, not a single statement of a contemporary witness. It was only about the theoretical conclusions of the experts that I offered my assessment.

What’s your evaluation of the final result?

My comments were taken up. Following the reactions of the victims and others, what makes this latest report so valuable is its comprehensive approach. For it deals not only with the legal aspects, but also measures what happened against the church’s self-image. Which, by the way, was also the instruction. Additionally, it shows that an experts’ report that was assigned and paid for by the church can very well be independent. The matters are clearly addressed and the methodology worked: Not only were documents evaluated, but also the victims were included and contemporary witnesses questioned.

By Catholic News Service on Cruxnow.com — Read more …

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Report on sexual abuse in German diocese faults retired pope / Associated Press

‘In a total of four cases, we came to the conclusion that the then-archbishop, Cardinal Retzinger, can be accused of misconduct,’ said one of the reports’ authors, Martin Pusch.

Associated Press

“A long-awaited report on sexual abuse in Germany’s Munich diocese on Thursday (Jan. 20) faulted retired Pope Benedict XVI’s handling of four cases when he was archbishop in the 1970s and 1980s. The law firm that drew up the report said Benedict strongly denies any wrongdoing.

“The findings, though, were sure to reignite criticism of Benedict’s record more than a decade after the first, and until Thursday only, known case involving him was made public.

“The archdiocese commissioned the report from law firm Westpfahl Spilker Wastl nearly two years ago, with a mandate to look into abuse between 1945 and 2019 and whether church officials handled allegations correctly. The law firm examined church files and spoke to witnesses.

“The archdiocese and the law firm said top church officials weren’t informed of the results ahead of its publication. The current archbishop — Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a prominent reformist ally of Pope Francis — was faulted in two cases. Marx scheduled a statement later Thursday.”

By Geir Moulson, Associated Press — Read more …

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The sex abuse scandal is not over. The hierarchical culture still needs transformation. / National Catholic Reporter

What cannot be overstated at this point in the nearly 40-year public history of the scandal is the force that the hierarchical culture — that privileged, secretive, unaccountable, male-only construct — can apply against any movement toward radical truth-telling.

Tom Roberts, National Catholic Reporter

“A 2004 story in The New York Times bore the headline, all in caps: ABUSE SCANDAL HAS BEEN ENDED, TOP BISHOP SAYS.

“That top bishop was a young Wilton Gregory who, two years earlier and as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, had herded the rest of the U.S. hierarchy through the first phase of accountability for the scandal.

“The headline was based on a Gregory declaration, made following the release of two studies of the scandal. “The terrible history recorded here today is history,” he said.

“That, of course, turned out to be more wish than reality. The finality implied in the statement has yet eluded the bishops, a point made clear by the recent searing assessment by Barbara Thorp, who took on the job of directing the Boston Archdiocese’s response to victims back in 2002, when the ecclesial world there was exploding. She claims that despite the decades of rolling disclosures and revelations that emerged from investigative reporting, grand jury reports, civil cases, the courage of countless victims and grudging reforms resulting in greater transparency, there is still much we don’t know.”

By Tom Roberts, National Catholic Reporter — Read more …

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