Editorial —
Next steps against abuse

Marnie McAllister

The bishops of the United States issued the results of their annual third-party audit July 12 and, overall, it contains some positive news: allegations of sexual abuse in the U.S. church are down.

The report details the U.S. church’s compliance with the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” It shows that 2,930 victim survivors came forward with 3,103 allegations during the audit year of July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

That number of allegations is 1,149 less than that reported in 2020.

While most of the allegations regarded “historical” instances of abuse — meaning they happened years or decades ago and the victim is an adult — the report also noted 30 new allegations of abuse.

The Catholic Church in the United States isn’t finished wrestling this demon.

The charter, adopted in 2002 and revised in 2005, 2011 and 2018, has proven to be a powerful tool. It ensures that dioceses and eparchies are transparent about how they handle allegations and checks that they are training staff and volunteers in best safety and reporting practices to keep children safe.

But there’s more to do. There were 30 new allegations. Three eparchies and one diocese failed to participate. And behind each of the 3,103 allegations is suffering.

Suzanne Healy, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board, made several recommendations to Archbishop José H. Gomez, USCCB president, in a letter that was included in the report.

In addition to ensuring that all parishes continue to be included in the audits, she recommended the review of safe environment programs (that educate people about how to guard against, recognize and report abuse) “to ensure the training is working toward our promise to protect.”

Healy also proposed expanding the scope of the audit “to include measures” listed in Pope Francis’ 2019 “Vos Estis Lux Mundi.” The document established procedures for reporting allegations of sexual abuse and for holding accountable bishops, eparchs and religious superiors who protect abusers.

She said the board has suggested a voluntary “mentorship” program between eparchies that do not participate in the audit and other eparchies that do.

The board also proposed that dioceses select a day for all parishes to host “a liturgy of lament for victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families.”

These are tangible and practical steps that would help ensure the protection of our children and may help extend the hand of solidarity to our brothers and sisters who are survivors of abuse.

MARNIE McALLISTER
Editor

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