Friday, March 4, 2011

Abuse not halted
Efforts 'not finished' to halt clerical abuse
Catholic panelist addresses Toledo Club

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Diane Knight, chairman of the National Review Board, said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops made great strides in 2002 mandates that dioceses implement policies to promote healing among victims of clerical sexual abuse and to protect children. She also said much work remains to be done. The Blade/Amy E. Voigt Enlarge | Photo Reprints The head of a national Catholic panel that oversees church efforts to prevent child sexual abuse said in Toledo Thursday that after nine years of dealing with the crisis, "not only are we not finished with this work, but we still have a great deal to do."

In her 30-minute talk to about 60 people at the Toledo Club, Diane Knight, chairman of the National Review Board, spoke of "unprecedented" steps taken by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at its meeting in June, 2002, in Dallas, but noted that reports of clerical sexual abuse continue to make national headlines as recently as this week.

By the time the bishops met in Dallas, the scandal that erupted with reports in the Boston Globe in January, 2002, detailing clerical sexual abuse and cover-up by church officials had spread into a nationwide crisis.

While the conference of bishops normally functions as "a trade association" with no authority over its member bishops, who are accountable only to the Pope, the bishops overrode their own independence with the Dallas Charter, Ms. Knight said. The document mandated that every diocese implement policies and programs to promote healing among victims of clerical sexual abuse and to protect children.

Among the landmark reforms, bishops enacted a "zero tolerance" policy requiring any cleric facing even a single credible allegation of abuse to be dismissed.

"It's critically important to say … that at this meeting in Dallas, Texas, one of the major things that occurred was that several victim-survivors spoke to the body of bishops, and spoke very powerfully about what it was that happened to them, about the impact that it had on their lives and the impact that it still has on their lives," Ms. Knight said.

Hearing such horror stories told with "moral force and gut-level impact" changed the way many bishops viewed the crisis, she said.

"The whole thing had remained rather theoretical, if you will, for lack of a better word, for many of them. But it was hearing the real stories of real people that led them as a group to take unprecedented action," she said.

One component of the Dallas Charter was establishing a National Review Board, composed of lay persons not employed by the church, "to collaborate with the USCCB in preventing the sexual abuse of minors in the United States by persons in the service of the church."

The charter also required all 190 U.S. dioceses and eparchies, or Eastern Rite Catholic jurisdictions, to conduct annual audits on their compliance with the Dallas Charter. In the latest audit, two dioceses and five eparchies were not in compliance, Ms. Knight added.

Critics contend the audits lack credibility because they are conducted internally by dioceses, not by an outside agency. Ms. Knight acknowledged in an interview after her lecture that this is a weakness the review board should address.

A "cradle Catholic" from Milwaukee, Ms. Knight was appointed to the National Review Board in 2007 and named chair in 2009. She has been a social worker for more than 40 years, including seven as executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.

The prevention of child sexual abuse "is the critical issue for the church in the United States and internationally," she said. "We can never, never allow ourselves to become complacent."

Ms. Knight said the long-awaited "Causes and Context of the Sexual Abuse Scandal Study" conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice is expected to be published in the near future, and the National Review Board seeks to take its findings and integrate them into efforts to protect children.

In a 15-minute question-and-answer session, Ms. Knight responded to a range of questions about the abuse crisis.

One person asked why Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, whom court documents showed transferred known abusers to different churches where parishioners were unaware of the priests' crimes, was "scooted off to Rome" instead of being prosecuted.

Ms. Knight shook her head and said she was "as puzzled and mystified by that as you are."

Asked if some victims of clerical sexual abuse are healing, Ms. Knight said it is "a very individual thing." Some victims have lost their trust in everything and everyone including God and the church, she said, while others have been able to overcome the abuse to live healthy lives.

She referred one questioner to Frank DiLallo, the Toledo diocese's case manager, who said the diocese has enacted safety training programs for adults and children. But audience member Lynne Wolf of Sylvania said her children have been attending local Catholic schools for years and none of them has undergone any such training.

Mr. DiLallo responded that it is up to officials at the individual Catholic schools whether to allow the training sessions.

"I know it's happening with adults, but schools have some choice," he said. "But I know it's happening."

In a follow-up interview, Ms. Knight was asked about the 24 U.S. bishops who have published the names of priest abusers on diocesan Web sites.

While she supported such efforts, saying it empowers other victims to step forward, she said the National Review Board lacks authority to order bishops to post such a list.

Ms. Knight's term on the review board expires in June.

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