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Bishops Order Nationwide Checkup on Abuse Prevention

All Catholic dioceses will be audited to see whether they are complying with 2002 church rules on protecting the young.

June 16, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops on Tuesday approved a second round of audits of every diocese in the country to check whether they are adhering to a sexual abuse prevention charter approved two years ago in Dallas.

The audits of 195 dioceses are to be completed by December, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said after a 207-14 vote taken in private at their Spring meeting at Englewood, Colo., near Denver.

The vote settled a dispute among bishops over whether to proceed immediately with audits for 2004, or wait until next year. The first audit in 2003 found that 4,392 priests had been accused of molesting as many as 10,667 children since 1950.

The audit also found that 10% of the dioceses were not in compliance with a landmark sexual abuse prevention charter. Known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, it was approved in 2002 and called for educating parishioners and Catholic school students to recognize and report abuse.

Some bishops, including Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, had called for delaying the audit until the bishops' November meeting in Washington.

Such a delay would have effectively blocked any audit in 2004. Egan was joined by Cardinal Justin F. Rigali of Philadelphia, and about 30 other bishops.

But the delay proposal outraged the interim chairwoman of the bishops' lay National Review Board on sexual abuse, Illinois state appellate Justice Anne M. Burke. She accused the bishops of adopting a "business as usual" approach by not forcefully addressing the sexual abuse crisis, as if the scandal were ebbing.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles had also opposed delaying a decision until November. He said the Denver-area meeting would be "irrelevant" unless the sexual abuse issue was on the agenda.

On Tuesday, Mahony said the decision to proceed with audits showed that "bishops are serious about continuing the important task of making sure that our church is safe for everyone, especially for children and youth." The Los Angeles Archdiocese, the nation's largest, will be audited in September.

Burke said she also was pleased. "The message is clear," she said. "Children will be safe from harm in the Catholic church and the bishops and lay people will work on this together."

But David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the bishops shouldn't be praised for ordering another audit. "This is essentially what they promised two years ago. It's the very least they can do. It should never even have been a question," Clohessy said in St. Louis.

Bishops also directed the lay National Review Board to request proposals for a separate study on the causes of sexual abuse.

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