A Brief History of Abuse — And the Response to It

How the American Church has been at the forefront all along.

WASHINGTON — Mainstream media reports might lead one to believe that the Catholic Church did nothing as reports of clergy sexual abuse first reared their heads beginning in the mid- to late-1980s.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

While the Church instituted the Charter for the Protection of Young People in 2002, most dioceses had protocols in place long before they were codified by that document, commonly referred to as the Dallas Charter.

“As early as 1982, we saw policies and procedures coming to the attention of the USCCB regarding specific child molestation cases,” said Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “By 1983, 157 dioceses had policies in place.”

“In many dioceses, steps were already in place,” said Andy Eisenzimmer, chancellor for civil affairs for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. “For example, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis started doing criminal background checks in 1983. A clergy review board was formed in 1985.”

What came to light following the media reports centered around abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston was that some dioceses had not followed the protocols that had been put in place earlier by the bishops.

This led the USCCB, at its Dallas meeting in June 2002, to create the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People — a comprehensive set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

The contents of the charter, however, were built upon the work that had been done by the bishops’ conference over the previous two decades, particularly through the Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.

In 1992, the bishops released the “Five Principles,” a document designed to guide leaders within the Church with respect to allegations of sexual abuse.

The “Five Principles” called for the Church to respond promptly to allegations, to relieve the alleged offender promptly, to comply with all civil law obligations, to reach out to the victims, and to be as open as possible.

The Ad Hoc Committee created the additional documents “Restoring Trust: Volumes I, II, and III,” which were released between 1994 and 1996.

So, given all of the preceding work, what changed with the adoption of the Dallas Charter?

Prior to the charter, said Kettelkamp, each diocese had its own code of conduct. The approach was fragmented.

“The charter created a codified document along with the norms,” said Kettelkamp. “The charter pulled all of this together during that ‘perfect storm’ and introduced the audit process. What is different is that we not only have a charter with norms, but we audit. We send auditors into every diocese and go through the norms article by article.”

The Essential Norms, Articles 1 through 17, spell out what is required of every diocese. Each diocese must follow the norms — a set of canonical rules that have been recognized by the Holy See.

Among stipulations included in the norms are:

• the establishment of a clergy review board in each diocese;

• a written policy on the sexual abuse of minors,

• a designated victim-assistance coordinator,

• and the steps a diocese must take when an accusation is made (see sidebar story).

In addition, the dioceses are audited annually. Most of the auditors, said Kettelkamp, are former FBI agents. They ensure that the victim’s assistance coordinator can be identified and reached in a timely manner. They make sure background checks are being completed and tracked. They look at the “safe environment” curriculum being used. The auditors also look at every allegation that comes to each diocese to make sure that outreach is being provided for the victim.

The charter and norms were last reviewed in 2005 and are currently due to be reviewed again.

“Cardinal Francis George [president of the USCCB] has said that if there are guidelines that need to be added to strengthen it, those will be added,” said Kettelkamp.

“Since the charter, we’ve done criminal background checks on 76,000 educators, employees and volunteers, whether they have contact with children or not,” said Eisenzimmer.

Nationally, background checks have been conducted on more than 2 million volunteers and Church personnel, 52,000 clerics and 6,205 candidates for ordination.

“People need to be aware that we are audited annually on our compliance with the things required by the charter,” said Eisenzimmer. “The Gavin Group [an independent Boston-based firm headed by retired FBI official William Gavin that audits dioceses' compliance with the charter] does an on-site audit once every three years and data audits the other two years, and they submit a letter whether the diocese is in compliance or not.”

Of the total spent by the Church on sexual-abuse cases in 2009, $21,271,435 was spent by dioceses for child-protection efforts such as safe-environment coordinators, training programs and background checks. The total cost related to sexual-abuse cases in 2009 was $104,439,629. Fifty-three percent of that went toward settlements for victims. Twenty-seven percent went toward attorneys' fees.

“Another big change between before and after the charter was the realization that while the psycho-therapeutic community was saying there was a place for these folks in ministry after therapy, the public was saying this wasn’t acceptable,” said Eisenzimmer. “One of the biggest mistakes was believing that these people could be managed and let back into ministry. For many, treatment wasn’t successful.”

“The science of human sexuality and sexual offending is extraordinarily young,” Monica Applewhite, who holds a Ph.D. in clinical social work and is an expert on the topic, told the Irish bishops in March 2009. “Virtually all of the information we utilize today regarding the treatment and supervision of sexual offenders has been discovered since 1985. That is an approximately 20-year body of knowledge.”

“For those who have sexually offended, there is no such thing as a ‘safe assignment,’ that does not require ongoing supervision,” she continued. “Left to rely on their internal mechanisms of control, sexual offenders who wish to abuse again are capable of modifying virtually any assignment in order to have access to their target population.”

According to data, the majority of those who have abused are already deceased or have already been removed from ministry. As reported in the “2009 Survey of Allegations and Costs: A Summary Report,” conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (Cara), of those offenders identified in 2009, 71% were deceased, already removed from ministry, already laicized or missing. Another 5% were permanently removed from ministry in 2009. The preponderance of abuse cases occurred between 1960 and 1984.

The good news is that audits reveal a decrease in sexual-abuse cases.

“The further we get away from 2002, there are fewer and fewer cases,” said Eisenzimmer.

The statistics bear that out nationally as well.

According to a Cara report, new reports of allegations decreased by more than a third from 2008 to 2009. The number of alleged offenders also decreased by a third over the previous year.

“Unfortunately, the media has been used by plaintiffs’ attorneys to focus on events that occurred before any of these proactive steps were taken,” said Eisenzimmer. “We can talk a lot about the failures of the past, but we should be talking about what the Catholic Church is doing today. The Catholic Church was at the forefront of this. I am not aware of any other organization that is doing as much as we’re doing, and at such a cost.”

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations with the USCCB, agreed.

“There’s a lot to be reported on child sexual abuse. It’s a sin and a crime and more prevalent in society than anyone ever dreamed before the 21st century,” she wrote in The Washington Post. “Some organizations, such as the Catholic Church in the United States, have made massive efforts to deal with it. People are learning how to spot abusers. The Catholic Church has educated more than 2 million people to do so. Children are learning how to protect themselves. The Catholic Church has educated more than 5 million children in this regard. There are lots of stories there. But such stories take time to report and plaintiffs’ attorneys make no money promoting them. And that, at least for now, isn’t news.”

Tim Drake is based in

St. Joseph, Minnesota.