In 1993-94, the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse asked the nation's then-191 dioceses to provide it with their policies on sexual abuse. A total of 178 replied, with 157 providing policies. Of the 157 policies, 41 dealt with clergy only, while 116 applied to diocesan employees (and often volunteers) as well. There were 39 that addressed sexual abuse of minors exclusively; 118 covered that and, in addition, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and so forth. In a report to the U.S. Bishops, which was made available to the media, the Ad Hoc Committee gave a descriptive overview of the policies and offered suggestions in seven areas.
- GENERAL GUIDELINES
- PREVENTION - EDUCATION
- ADMINISTRATIVE GUIDELINES
The Ad Hoc Committee noted that the principal attitudes displayed by the policies were compassion and accountability and pointed out that a policy can convey these attitudes, for example, by its tone. The Committee recommended that policies should be in writing, public, and pastoral in tone, while appropriately dealing with the legal and financial obligations.
Policies, especially those of the "second generation," highlight education and prevention.
The Committee suggested that policies indicate what prevention and education measures are in place; what screening procedures exist for seminarians, employees and volunteers dealing with the young; and that policies be communicated to priests, religious and, where applicable, lay employees.
The Committee also indicated its support for those policies containing provisions for educational sessions for priests which offer regular opportunities for updating their knowledge on child sexual abuse from viewpoints such as new scientific knowledge, church policy and canon law, civil law, and issues of moral theology, professional ethics, the theology of sexuality, the pastoral care of victims and coping with the disclosure of misconduct by a colleague.
The Committee also recommended those policies which provided for setting up an advisory body to evaluate periodically their effectiveness and to propose revisions as indicated. Such a body would be consultative, independent of the day-to-day working of the policy, be seen to have an arms length relationship with regard to internal diocesan structures, and be responsible to the bishop.
The Ad Hoc Committee drew attention to statements in policies which indicate that administrative guidelines should promote an environment in which those who minister in the Church and those who receive the Church's services can expect to do so in safety.
The policies reviewed by the Committee contained elements such as calls for fairness and responsiveness to the pastoral needs of the victim, the victim's family, the parish community and diocesan community and to all other persons, and also for protecting the rights of all involved when an accusation is made.
In commenting on this aspect of policies, the Committee urged that they be drawn to apply to clergy, religious, lay employees of the diocese in regard to sexual abuse, misconduct, exploitation and harassment; that a sub-policy be developed to deal with the intricacies of canon-law; that risk and non-risk tracks for implementing procedures be developed based on the risk involved to the innocent and vulnerable; that appropriate training be given to those with the responsibility for investigating allegations of abuse.
With respect to civil law requirements, the Committee urged that policies be reviewed so that the principle of honoring civil law obligations be articulated in a practical manner; that policies clearly state the intent to cooperate with both civil and criminal proceedings to the extent possible in the circumstances; that there be an explicit reference regarding coverage of the accused's legal expenses; and that while maintaining a pastoral tone, the policy be clear that there are occasions when the Church may in justice defend itself. With regard to insurance, the committee recommended that dioceses seek insurance contracts to provide optimum pastoral and clinical support to those in need.
In speaking of victims, the policies are pastoral in tone, some especially so. One said that compassion requires that primary attention be given to the person alleged to have been offended. Another encourages the use of a friend, family member, colleague or anyone else of the person's choosing to accompany a person who is making a complaint. Still another notes that families often require the same compassion and sensitivity as the victims.
While a minority of policies provide elaborate guidelines for dealing with the affected parish community, those that do point out that parishes undergo a complex process of grieving when they learn of an accusation against a trusted leader, that an important element in healing is receiving accurate information of what happened, and that the healing of the community is a multi-disciplinary challenge.
In commenting on these policies, the Committee said that it is important for victims to know early in the process of healing what the diocese can do for them and what it cannot do and why. It is generally accepted that the victim's greatest need is to be heard and to be told of the church leadership's sorrow that the person has been hurt. The individual should be informed that appropriate action will be taken in regard to the perpetrator, and that the Church will help the victim with the process of recovery. Providing information to the victim concerning the perpetrator can be an important aspect in the healing process but is best considered on a case by case basis by the professionals providing the care.
The Committee proposed that every policy recognize that primary attention be given to the person alleged to have been offended, to the family, and to the parish community and that the policy indicate there is some kind of multi-disciplinary body available to provide concrete, direct, and individualized assistance to victims, their families, and the affected parish community. The Committee also urged dioceses to involve the people in general in the whole process of healing the serious and long-lasting aftereffects of child sexual abuse and to promote ways to affirm and encourage priests, whose morale can be adversely affected by the actions of a few of their colleagues.
Policies reviewed by the Ad Hoc Committee note that in both the secular courts and in canon law a person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. However, the presumption of innocence does not preclude the diocese from taking prudent action before the investigation is completed.
The Committee comments that one of the most difficult areas for a diocesan bishop is the appropriate handling -- especially the timing -- of the administrative leave question. Some dioceses are developing a graduated series of restrictions to be invoked depending on the degree of certainty the bishop has regarding the allegations.
The Ad Hoc Committee notes that policies regarding reassignment or reintegration into ministry are evolving rapidly. Elements that help shape the bishop's decision include the outcome of proceedings in the civil courts; the advice and judgment of professional counselors who have treated the priest; the well-being of those ministered to by the Church; and the common good of the Church.
The complexity of the reassignment issue is grounded in such theological considerations as the identity of the priest in the Church, the sacramentality of ordination, and the priest's relationship to the diocese and to the bishop. Pastoral attention focuses on combining compassion, accountability, and forgiveness with a prudential judgment on the likelihood of recidivism.
It is generally accepted that priests who have offended against children should never return to any ministry that includes minors.
The possible return to some form of ministry has also to be considered in the light of how the victim will be affected and on how well the church community is prepared. How open the perpetrator is to disclosure of his situation to those with a need to know is also important. More specifically, and allowing for the special characteristics of each case, the bishop is faced with issues such as the nature of the offense, the depth of conversion, the sincerity of resolve, the availability of ministry, adequate supervision, and stewardship of diocesan finances.
The Committee urged that, given the complexity of the issue, the diocesan policy make provision for some type of advisory body to assist the bishop in this regard.
Policies reviewed by the Ad Hoc Committee have at least a brief reference to informing the public. Some policies have provision for a primary spokesperson on the matter. Another stressed that all complaints are treated as confidential, so the diocese can neither confirm nor deny to the media 1) the identity of the person communicating the allegation; 2) the identity of the minor; or 3) that a complaint has been made against a particular person, until the person has been charged by the civil authorities or until the allegation has become a matter of public knowledge.
The Committee urged that dioceses should consistently relate to the media through a designated, informed, and experienced spokesperson (with deputy) for all inquiries and news conferences.
Condensed from: Restoring Trust I, November 1994.