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Published: Wednesday, 1/7/2004

Toledo diocese is praised in audit; victims critical of report, church

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR

Toledo is among the 90 percent of U.S. Catholic dioceses in full compliance with church policies established in 2002 to deal with clerical sexual abuse, according to a national survey released yesterday.

Critics yesterday dismissed the results as “glorified, voluntary self-reporting” that give a false impression that the church has resolved its sexual-abuse crisis.

During a news conference yesterday at the National Press Club in Washington, church leaders and survey officials called the report “an unprecedented step” and a “landmark event” for allowing independent auditors to examine internal church documents, legal and civil records, and interview church officials and laity to determine whether dioceses are abiding by the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Youth and Young Adults. The charter was adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shortly after the clerical sexual abuse scandal erupted in Boston two years ago this week.

The audit, mandated by the charter, concluded that the 191 dioceses it surveyed (out of 195 in the nation) have devoted “untold hours and resources” in making “a significant amount of progress” toward full compliance.

In summaries of individual diocesan reviews, the Toledo diocese was commended for implementing policies on clerical sexual abuse in 1988 and 1995 and for appointing “highly qualified and experienced” former police detectives to investigate allegations against priests.

The lone recommendation for the Toledo diocese was to update and revise its 1995 policy to incorporate the Dallas Charter s “zero-tolerance” provision that clerics who commit even a single act of sexual abuse against a minor be permanently removed from ministry.

“As of Dec. 1, 2003, that recommendation was addressed, and the revised policy is in the publication process,” said Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese.

Bishop Leonard Blair, who took over as Toledo s bishop Dec. 4, said in a statement yesterday that he is “very pleased to know that the diocese of Toledo has taken the steps necessary to be in full compliance with the charter and has done so in a way that in some aspects merits commendation. We will continue to do all that is necessary and humanly possible to prevent sexual abuse of minors in the future.”

Bishop Blair was too busy yesterday to comment beyond the written statement, Ms. Oberski said.

The Archdiocese of Detroit, which oversees suburban Toledo churches just over the Michigan line, also was found in compliance.

Among the 20 dioceses identified as failing to abide by the charter were the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of St. Josephat in Parma, Ohio, and the Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Michigan.

The nationwide survey was conducted between June and November by 54 auditors, most with law-enforcement backgrounds, working for the Gavin Group, a Boston firm headed by former FBI executive William Gavin.

Teams of two to six auditors spent a week at each of the dioceses and eparchies (the Eastern Catholic Church term for dioceses). In Toledo, two auditors checked documents and interviewed church officials, parishioners, and abuse victims between June 30 and July 3.

Claudia Vercellotti, local co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the auditors refused to meet with her or any of 21 other members of the local victims advocacy group, although after repeated attempts she was able to speak to them by phone.

She was one of only three of SNAP s 4,600 members nationally who were interviewed for the audit, said David Clohessy, the organization s president. He called the results “gloried, voluntary self-reporting ... that show little substantial progress by bishops.”

Ms. Vercellotti called the report “a step backward.”

“Relying on the self-reporting of bishops and diocesan records to unearth the severity of clergy sexual abuse and sex crimes committed against minors is like relying on Ken Lay and Enron accountants to unearth the Enron scandal,” Ms. Vercellotti said. “It s not practical or plausible or logical.”

Local SNAP officials contend that the Toledo diocese is in violation of the Dallas Charter by requiring a review of victims counseling progress after every 25 sessions to determine whether further therapy is justified.

The charter calls for “the provision of counseling, spiritual assistance, support groups, and other social services agreed upon by the victim and the diocese/eparchy.”

“This 25-session limit is not stipulated in the charter, and it s not agreeable to the victims,” Ms. Vercellotti said.

Furthermore, she said, a victim support group organized by the Toledo diocese was late in starting, was led by a person who lacked a counselor s license, and dissolved after just a few sessions.

“At the end of the day, it doesn t matter how many puffy gold stars you give yourself if kids are still at risk,” Ms. Vercellotti said.

U.S. Catholic officials acknowledged that the audit is just one step toward healing and restoring trust in the church that has been reeling due to thousands of allegations of clerical sexual abuse that have surfaced since January, 2002.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said yesterday that by adopting the Dallas Charter, “we were determined not only to take the steps necessary to deal with this terrible crisis but also to create the means by which we could be held accountable for making certain that these steps were put into effect.”

Dr. Kathleen McChesney, who left the FBI in November, 2002, to establish the church s Office of Child and Youth Protection, said her watchdog agency hopes to build on the progress it made through the audit, which will be conducted annually.

One new focus of the OCYP will be to work with the 19,000 local U.S. parishes to create programs ensuring safe environments for children, she said.

Dr. McChesney also said her office is “in the process of establishing an external study of victims/survivors for the purpose of identifying better methods for responding to complaints of sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel.”

Yesterday s report is the first of three mandated by the Dallas Charter that will be released early this year.

On Feb. 27, the John Jay College of Justice is slated to release a comprehensive report listing the number of clerical sexual offenders in the last 50 years and the financial toll on dioceses.

The John Jay report will publish the numbers “in aggregate,” Bishop Gregory said, but Dr. McChesney urged individual dioceses to provide specific figures.

Ms. Oberski said the Toledo diocese is planning to release the numbers on its clerical sexual offenders and the legal and counseling expenses incurred prior to the Feb. 27 national report.

Also next month, the church s National Review Board plans to release a preliminary study on the causes of sexual abuse.



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