In the preview trailer for the CATHOLICISM series, Father Barron observes that the sex abuse scandals that have engulfed the Church arrived as a “perfect storm.” The winds and rains that accompanied that storm continue to rage. Evidence for this is as easy as entering “Catholic Church” or “Catholic Priest” into the search engine of your choice- what you will find are article after article detailing the continuing effect and endurance of the sex abuse scandals.
Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI referred to the global impact of the sex abuse scandals as akin to the ash and dust that are spewed forth from a volcano- the effect is everywhere and on everything. The innocent suffer along with the guilty. The good that the Church has done and continues to do is tainted. The Church endures, but perception of what the Church is and does has been compromised.
It has been ten years since majority of the bishops of the United States adopted what is called the Dallas Charter. The Charter details policies and procedures which are to be in place in a diocese and in Catholic institutions that are intended to protect children and young people from sexual abuse- be it from a Catholic priest or anyone who in their association with the Church serves the needs of faithful.
Today and tomorrow the Word on Fire blog will feature an assessment of the Dallas Charter from the perspective of Elizabeth Yore, an attorney who has made it her life’s work to protect children from abuse.
I asked Elizabeth Yore to describe what the Dallas Charter is and what it is supposed to accomplish. Has it been effective? What work remains to be done to protect children from sexual predators in the Church and in the broader culture? Her responses to my questions are enlightening, honest, sobering and well worth reading. Responsibility for protecting the most vulnerable among us cannot be delegated to committees or a caste of professional advocates. The abuse of children and young people by sexual predators is not someone else’s problem; it belongs to all of us. Vigilance is required, and it is the only way forward- for the Church and for the culture.
Liz, can you tell me about yourself and the ways that you have worked over the years as an advocate for protecting children from abuse and exploitation?
As the oldest of six children whose father’s name was Thomas Aquinas, I was preordained to be a child advocate lawyer. I am still trying to discern St. Thomas Aquinas’ admonition that, “God allows evil to happen in order to bring about a greater good.” In my experience, the sexual abuse of children is the most diabolical manifestation of evil in the world. I hope in a small way, my advocacy work brings about a greater good.
As General Counsel and Director of the International Division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia, I worked with U.S. and international law enforcement to find and rescue abducted and exploited children around the world. Later, I served as General Counsel for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, where thousands of Illinois children are abused and neglected by parents and are brought into state care as foster children. I witnessed the devastating and life long trauma of familial abuse and neglect on children. Most recently, as Oprah Winfrey’s Special Counsel and Child Advocate, I investigated international child exploitation cases and witnessed firsthand the important role the media can play to educate the public about the ongoing exploitation of children. My career led me to the Hague, to South Africa, to Belgium, and to nearly every corner of the globe since child abuse knows no boundaries.
It has been ten years since the USCCB adopted the Dallas Charter. Can you briefly describe your impressions of what the charter is and what it is supposed to accomplish?
The Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a set of procedures established by the USCCB in June 2002 to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy. The Charter also includes guidelines for reconciliation, healing, accountability, and prevention of future acts of abuse. Additionally, the Dallas Charter directs dioceses to act in all the following matters:
Creating a safe environment for children and young people by conducting background checks and mandatory training of all staff, clergy, teachers, and volunteers; healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors; reporting all allegations to law enforcement and cooperate in the investigation; making prompt and effective response to allegations; cooperating with civil authorities; disciplining offenders; providing for means of accountability for the future to ensure the problem continues to be effectively dealt with through a national Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection and a National Review Board.
The zero tolerance provision is the critical component of the charter which mandates zero tolerance of child predators in the clergy.
The USCCB recently updated and renewed the sex abuse policies and amended them to classify the use of child pornography as a form of sexual abuse, and requires bishops to report allegations of abuse by other bishops. With the explosion of child pornography on the Internet, this is a good amendment to the Charter.
Is there any objective information that indicates whether or not the charter has been effective? How would you rate the charter? What has to happen in an institution for something like the Dallas Charter to work?
Prior to the Charter, only 25 dioceses had Victim Assistance Coordinators. Since 2002, all 195 dioceses have them. The VAC assists the bishops in responding to those making allegations in ways that promote healing and reconciliation. Now, codes of conduct are in place for clergy, employees and volunteers. All dioceses have Review Boards whose responsibility is to advise the bishop on whether a cleric accused of sexual abuse should be reinstated or permanently removed from ministry. These boards consist of laity and clerics, both diocesan employees and those not employed by the diocese. Dioceses are required to report all allegations of sexual abuse of minors to public authorities and to cooperate with all investigations on all matters of sexual abuse. They are also required to advise victims of their right to make a report to law enforcement and civil authorities.
Significant child protection progress has been made during the last 10 years of the Charter. The audited numbers are very impressive: dioceses trained and conducted background checks on 60,190 clerics and candidates for ordination, 159,689 educators, 249,133 employees, 1.8 million volunteers. They trained 94% of the 5.1 million students attending Catholic schools or parish religious education programs. Annually, $20 million is spent on safe environment programs.
Additionally, over 2.2 million employees and volunteers have undergone background screening. That is significant progress toward preventing future abuse. The more people that are trained about child sex abuse, how to spot a predator, and their legal obligation to report to authorities, the more children are protected in the Catholic Church and elsewhere. No other institution in the country is training the vast numbers of the public on child sex abuse to the extent that the Catholic Church is through its Virtus Program. I consider this objective data as significant progress to protect children in the Catholic Church.
In April 2012, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released its annual audit of compliance with the 2002 Dallas Charter. The report concluded that in 2011 there were 7 credible abuse accusations against Catholic priests involving minors in the United States. The annual audit is yet another feature of the Church’s ongoing efforts to monitor compliance and remain accountable to the laity. The number of abusive priests is dramatically down, but even one abuser is too many.
Everyone in the Church needs to embrace the spirit and letter of the Dallas Charter. Despite the media scorn, the Catholic Church’s reparative efforts to protect children serve as a model for all institutions to adopt. Universities, public schools, and non-profit organizations would be well advised to adopt the zero tolerance policy of the Dallas Charter.
What are your impressions of both the causes of the sex abuse crisis in terms of the Catholic Church and the effectiveness of the Church’s response?
Contrary to the media portrayal, it is not accurate to depict this as a pedophile scandal. Pedophiles exclusively target prepubescent children. Only 5% of the clergy predators can be described as pedophiles. The John Jay Report found that the largest group of alleged victims (50.9%) was between the ages of 11 and 14, 27.3% of the victims were ages 15-17. And 16% were ages 8-10. Overall, 81% of the victims were male.
Obviously, the clergy predators were 100% male, and significantly, 81% of their child victims were male. This unique victimology in the Church scandal has not been sufficiently explored by researchers. Did these abusive priests enter the priesthood to have access to and abuse boy victims? While the John Jay Report found that neither chastity nor homosexuality were the causes of the predatory behavior, the laity remain perplexed and are still looking for answers to the underlying causes for the existence of predatory priests and the Church’s failure to identify them in the seminary.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of the abuse cases occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, which was the tumultuous post Vatican II era and the sexual revolution in the culture.
The causes of the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis are extremely complex, multi-layered, and still unfolding. I personally believe that the causes of the scandal involve a spiritual, sociological, societal, and institutional collapse. This perfect storm emerged within the Catholic Church where thousands of children were violated, crimes covered up, all in the name of protecting the institutional and clerical life of the Church. Clearly, this was the masterful and demonic handiwork of Satan infiltrating the Church.
You are a Catholic and you have also had to deal with the Church’s response to the sexual abuse of children directly. What sustains your Faith?
My faith was severely tested when I was at DCFS and investigating Fr. McCormack who had sexually abused numerous young boys in his Chicago parish in 2005. I was enraged that a Catholic priest could harm so many innocent and precious children. Through prayer and spiritual direction, I was comforted and consoled by Christ’s admonition to those who hurt children when he uttered a grave warning that for anyone who would lead the little ones astray, it would be better for such a person “to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).
The millstone image assuaged my anger and feelings of betrayal toward the Church. After much prayer and discernment, I had to admit that I, like many other Catholics, was not actively participating in the sacraments during the height of the abuse scandal in the 60s and 70s. My own spiritual laxity created a void which allowed evil to flourish in my Church and that of my ancestors. I learned an important lesson that I must stay faithful in prayer and involved in the Church to ensure that children are safe.
This purification and cleansing has been painful, yet a critical process for the Catholic Church so that it can be restored to wholeness. Christ admonished his apostles to “let the little children come to me”(Mt 19:14). Yes, above all, the little children need to be safe in Christ’s Church. The little children need to be protected and cherished in homes, in churches, in schools, and in the womb.
What is your advice to bishops, priests and other Church leaders in regards to the most important things they can do to protect children and assist survivors of sexual abuse?
The Bishops of the Church must remain vigilant and attentive to the protection of children. They can never be lax, resistant, or bothered by the dictates of the Dallas Charter. Child abuse is an endemic societal problem and is growing exponentially with the explosion of technology. The Dallas Charter is the model for all institutions that care for children. Bishops should enthusiastically embrace and adhere to all the tenets of the Dallas Charter.
What are some effective ways that the Church can assist victims of sexual abuse?
I would like the Church to institutionalize a day of repentance and reconciliation for the victims of sexual abuse and their families. As a Church, we must talk about the lessons learned, apologize, make spiritual amends to the victims of sexual abuse. The loss of faith and the violation of trust is a lifelong struggle for these victims. Many priest perpetrators have died or refuse to acknowledge the abuse, so it is incumbent on the clergy and laity to assist in the healing, in meaningful and concrete ways. The laity needs to pray that this horrible scourge is fully examined, properly atoned for, and never repeated. Parishes should be open to discussing child sex abuse in the Church and society as a whole.
Part II of Father Steve Grunow’s interview with child advocacy lawyer Liz Yore will be posted on the WOF Blog tomorrow. Be sure to read the second portion of this important insight into an issue that deeply concerns both the Church and society at large.
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