(RNS) Even as an annual review this week gave Catholic bishops high marks on sex abuse prevention policies, officials with the church’s oversight agencies expressed serious concerns about “recent high-profile failings” in several dioceses.

The latest scandal has shaken Newark, N.J., where Archbishop John Myers failed to stop a priest from ministering with children in several parishes even though he had assured prosecutors that he would enforce a lifetime ban on the priest’s access to children following a molestation case.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for his handling of a priest who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a court-ordered lifetime ban on ministry to children. Religion News Service photo by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for his handling of a priest who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a court-ordered lifetime ban on ministry to children. Religion News Service photo by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.


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Myers initially defended his oversight of the Rev. Michael Fugee, but under increasing pressure he reversed himself; Fugee then resigned from ministry, but ongoing calls for Myers to step down have generated new headlines almost every day.

“I’ll be honest with you, Newark is disheartening,” said Bernie Nojadera, head of the Office of Child and Youth Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “It is like taking steps backwards.”

Nojadera, along with Al J. Notzon, III, head of a blue-ribbon review board of lay leaders that checks the bishops’ compliance with their policies, on Thursday (May 9) released an annual audit that found that in 2012 the number of allegations, victims and offenders continued to decline from previous years.

In addition, the review found that almost all of the nearly 200 Catholic dioceses in the U.S. were in compliance with the policies set out in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which the bishops adopted in 2002 at the height of the clergy sex abuse scandal.

At the same time, in accompanying letters to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the USCCB, both Notzon and Nojadera noted that there has been “much disturbing news in the media” and “recent high-profile failings” that have undermined the bishops’ efforts.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles stands outside St. Joseph's Church in New York following an ecumenical prayer service presided over by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles stands outside St. Joseph’s Church in New York following an ecumenical prayer service presided over by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008. Photo by Gregory A. Shemitz


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In separate interviews, both Nojadera and Notzon said they were referring to several specific cases:

Nojadera also pointed to the news in February that Fugee had been appointed to a high-profile administrative job in the Newark archdiocese, and that was before the latest bombshell over Fugee’s unauthorized work with children.

Notzon said the recent lapses underscore how important it is for the bishops to be vigilant – and accountable – because even one failure to uphold the charter can undermine the credibility that the review board has worked for a decade to restore.

In meetings over the past year, he said, he’s been pushing the bishops to find a way to call out a fellow churchman who violates the charter.

The review board itself has no authority to discipline bishops – only the pope can do that – and the bishops have adopted only a vague policy of “fraternal correction.” The provision has no enforcement mechanism and in any case the bishops rarely if ever rebuke their colleagues, even in private.

Notzon said he and the review board are formulating specific recommendations to increase accountability among the bishops, and at a meeting next month will press them to “translate what we have found into action.”

“I have no hesitancy in communicating … that this is a concern that has to be addressed and continues to be addressed,” Notzon said.

Support for enforcement

What’s new is that he and Nojadera may now have some high-level allies in their corner.

sean o'malley

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley celebrates Sunday Mass with other American Cardinals and Archbishop Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P. at the Pontifical North American College March 3, 2013. RNS photo by Gregory L. Tracy/The Pilot.


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Speaking in Rome before the papal election in March, Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley – the American prelate with perhaps the greatest credibility on the abuse issue – said that whoever was elected pope would need to develop a clear and consistent policy for dealing with bishops whose “malfeasance” allowed abusive priests to stay in ministry.

“Right now, it’s not terribly clear, but it’s something the next pope will have to deal with,” O’Malley told the Boston Globe. “My point is always that if you don’t have policies, you’ll be improvising, and when you improvise, you make a lot of mistakes.”

A week later, O’Malley and the other cardinals elected Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis, and the new pope also indicated that addressing the abuse crisis would be a priority – something the review board and most Catholics would welcome.

“We are looking forward with great anticipation to hearing and seeing about the specifics on that from the Holy See – what he (Francis) will be talking about or hoping to put in place, if indeed that is to be a priority,” Nojadera said.

The annual compliance audit that was released Thursday is mainly a parish-level view of how the charter is being implemented, and it did not specifically address the recent incidents involving bishops.

But while the audit showed widespread compliance with the prevention policies – as well as declining numbers of allegations of abuse – it also pointed to a number of dioceses that were either ignoring the charter or were not allowing on-site inspections.

 

8 Comments

  1. We need to remember that it is the church system and the church officials who are the one’s who enable, empower, and cover up sex crimes against innocent children. And yes for centuries they have had power over law enforcement and the news media. But because courageous victims and whistle-blowers are speaking up, the secrets and crimes are being exposed.
    Until high ranking church officials are charged for these crimes, the child predators still have a safe haven to abuse more children.
    The sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy is still going on today. Cardinals and bishops are still covering up sex crimes against kids, they are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they still are not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting innocent kids.

    Child sex abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems that allow it to continue to this day, Children are safest when child predators and those who enable and conceal their crimes are held accountable.

    Judy Jones, “SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  2. Report on implementation of Catholic child protection charter, SNAP responds

    For immediate release Thursday May 9

    Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314-566-9790,SNAPclohessy@aol.com)

    There are helpful numbers and misleading numbers. These are misleading numbers.

    The sad, simple truth is that it has always taken child sex abuse victims decades to speak up, and that is not likely to change. (When was the last time you heard about a six year old walking to the DA’s office to report that her teacher is molesting her?) Catholic officials know this. Yet they disingenuously put out this self survey – of the very bishops who have concealed and enabled hundreds of thousands of heinous child sex crimse by thousands of priests – knowing it will be good public relations for them, but will recklessly lead to increased complacency by the very people who should be vigilant.

    This is little more than a self congratulatory public relations effort.

    And we’re troubled by this revelation on page 14 from the report of the implementation of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People:

    “The most common scope limitation encountered in the Charter audit process was the unwillingness of most dioceses and eparchies to allow us to conduct parish audits during their onsite audits.”

    (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 12,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)

    Contact – David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell,SNAPdorris@gmail.com), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com), Peter Isely (414-429-7259,peterisely@yahoo.com), Joelle Casteix (949-322-7434, jcasteix@gmail.com), Judy Jones 636-433-2511, snapjudy@gmail.com)

    http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/child-and-youth-protection/upload/annual-report-on-the-implementation-of-the-charter-for-the-protection-of-children-and-young-people-2012.pdf

  3. No doubt about it. The bishops are only being bold in all their talk about the sex lives of others when they aren’t even able to abide by their own presumed celibacy which includes chastity. They cover up non-stop to this day for the sinful, criminal behavior of their priests and themselves, and they play every dirty trick in the accountants’ and attorneys’ books to avoid paying court-ordered awards to those who were abused. The bishops are not worthy of anyone paying any attention to them. They distort science, sociology, and economics with their twisted theology. When is logic and honor going to prevail with them? Never. The church of Jesus must be radically reformed, starting with closing down the Vatican. It is impossible to manage a universal organization without imperial edict, and that is absolutely out of step with Jesus of the gospels.

  4. Earold Gunter

    Perhaps the powers of law should start prosecuting the Catholic Church with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) like they do the mafia, at least in the US. The organized cover-up of the atrocities committed by their hierarchy for their priests is shameful, and should be considered organized crime, and prosecuted all the way to the Pope, or should I say “Capo dei capi”.

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