By Marnie McAllister, Record Editor
Since the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse was made public last month, observers have expressed renewed outrage over the church’s handling of abuse and abusers.
For people in the Archdiocese of Louisville, the report called to mind events here in 2002 and 2003, when more than 250 lawsuits were filed against the archdiocese related to sexual abuse by priests over the course of five decades.
During the investigation in 2002 and 2003, the Archdiocese of Louisville turned its files over to authorities, said Dr. Brian B. Reynolds, chief administrative officer and chancellor of the Archdiocese of Louisville.
He said in a statement last week, “The Archdiocese was required to release any files on past reported cases of abuse. During that same period, the Commonwealth Attorney investigated and prosecuted several priests, and all of our records were turned over to the authorities at that time.”
Since then, the Archdiocese of Louisville has followed the guidelines of the 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The charter was drafted by the U.S. bishops in response to the abuse crisis. Since it was adopted, a third party has audited dioceses annually to ensure compliance.
The Archdiocese of Louisville was found again last week to be in compliance with the charter. The archdiocese has been compliant at every audit thus far.
Every three years, dioceses are audited on-site and this year was the Archdiocese of Louisville’s turn.
Jim Marasco, a consultant from Stonebridge Business Partners, the third-party firm that conducts the audit, led the process in Louisville last week.
He and a partner interviewed employees of the archdiocese — including select directors of agencies, school principals and pastors — examining how well the archdiocese safeguards children against abuse.
Archdiocesan, school and parish files were examined, too.
The auditors use the interviews, their observations and the documents (some of which are selected at random) to gauge whether or not the Archdiocese of Louisville is in compliance with the charter, said Marasco during an interview Aug. 30.
He said the audit examines compliance with 13 of the charter’s 17 articles — specifically articles 1 to 7 and 12 to 17.
“We come on site to see how dioceses are doing with that,” said Marasco.
Auditors are looking, he said, for example, “to see there is outreach to victims, that allegations (of abuse) are reported to authorities, there are background checks (on volunteers and employees who work with children), that bishops don’t transfer accused priests.”
“If nothing else, the audit process holds the diocese accountable to what the bishops promised” when they approved the charter in June of 2002, Marasco said. “We say which dioceses are compliant, which aren’t. We call out which ones aren’t doing it well.”
Audits of all U.S. dioceses and eparchies (dioceses of eastern churches) are carried out by Stonebridge from July to December each year. About one third are visited for on-site audits and the remainder must submit certain documents for review, including reports indicating the numbers of allegations received, the number of people trained to provide a safe environment for children and the number of people who received background checks.
All volunteers and employees — from clergy (which includes priests and deacons) to lay volunteers who work with children — must submit to a background check and receive “safe environment” training. The training provides information about how to recognize abuse, how to prevent it and how to report it.
Reynolds said in an interview last week that more than 48,000 people in the Archdiocese of Louisville have completed this training and submitted to background checks since 2003.
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s requirements and policies are outlined in a booklet called “Restoring Trust: The Sexual Abuse Policies of the Archdiocese of Louisville.” The booklet is available at www.archlou.org/restoringtrust. The website also has links to a monthly newsletter related to safe environment training and a link to the charter in English and Spanish.
Marasco said he believes “the audit is reliable. I think we’re making a difference.”
For example, the archdiocese had one case during the latest audit period — July 2017 to June of 2018 — and the charter’s procedures were followed, said Reynolds.
The archdiocese’s victim assistance coordinator, Martine Siegel, was contacted by an adult who reported abuse dating back 35 years involving a man who is no longer a priest.
When a person contacts the victim assistance coordinator, “the report is taken, they are offered counseling support, a conversation with the archbishop and we see how we can be of assistance to them,” Reynolds said.
Next, the archdiocese offers to assist the person in making a report to the authorities, he said. And the archdiocese also makes a report to the civil authorities.
“And then we consult with the (archdiocesan) review board,” which examines how the case was handled, he explained. The archdiocese’s Sexual Abuse Review Board currently has eight members, mostly lay people, who review and make recommendations related to sexual abuse cases. The board was called for by the charter.
Marasco said he’s confident that the charter and audit process are working. But, he added, they can only address how the church proceeds in the present day. It does not affect what happened in the past.
Reynolds said in his statement last week, “Since 2002-2003, whenever we learn of a case of abuse, the person making the report is directed to contact civil authorities. The Archdiocese fully cooperates with any investigation that follows and fulfills every requirement as directed by law enforcement.”
He added, “After all the files were released to the Commonwealth Attorney in 2002, any substantiated accusation that has been reported to us involving a living priest has been communicated to parishioners by us and to the broader community through media coverage.”
Details of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s latest audit will be released in October and published in The Record, along with the archdiocese’s annual accountability report.
Next spring, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is expected to issue a report detailing the audit’s findings nationwide.
The 2017 national report, released in May, showed a decrease in allegations of clergy sex abuse from the two previous years but also warned dioceses against complacence.
In the Archdiocese of Louisville, anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse or has information about sexual abuse is encouraged to contact Siegel, the victim assistance coordinator for the archdiocese. She can be reached at 636-1044 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To report abuse to civil authorities, call the child protection services or the local police in your county. Visit www.archlou.org/report for a list of these agencies by county.
The statewide child abuse hotline is available at 1-877-KYSAFE1 or 1-877-597-2331.