By Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D
In 2002 the Catholic Church was faced with its biggest crisis in decades if not centuries- the child sexual abuse scandal. Many strides have been made over the past 12 years; the Catholic Church has taken considerable action to protect children, help victims heal, and remove offending clerics. Much has been accomplished in this arena. In spite of these strides to protect children many people do not know about the changes that have been made.
Myth: The Catholic bishops have done nothing since 2002 to stop the sexual abuse of children.
Fact: Catholic bishops have implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, along with Essential Norms and a Statement of Episcopal Commitment. 99% of clerics, employees, educators and volunteers have had background checks and have been trained on how to create safe church and school environments. Nearly 6,000 clerics who had credible accusations made against them were removed from ministry between the years 1950 and 2013. There is a zero tolerance policy and all clerics with a credible allegation must be permanently removed from ministry.
Myth: Thousands of children are still being abused by Catholic priests
Fact: While the Church receives hundreds of allegations each year, 99% of them are reporting abuse that happened years ago. Current allegations from minors averaged 10 per year between 2005 to 2013. Everyone agrees that is 10 too many and the church continues to take steps to protect children and to remove those who would harm them.
Myth: Child sexual abuse occurs only in the Catholic Church
Fact: Child sexual abuse occurs in all socio-economic levels, and does occur in every type of youth serving organization from sporting teams, to churches of all denominations and public and private schools. The Catholic Church has implemented effective measures to stop sexual abuse from occurring in its parishes and schools. It requires background evaluations on all clerics, employees and volunteers. It requires all be trained on how to create and maintain safe environments for children. Clergy with credible allegations are permanently removed from ministry.
Myth: Bishops cover up abuse and hide priests from the law
Fact: Dioceses are required to report all cases to the local law enforcement agencies. Failing to report known abuse is a crime. Victims and their families are encouraged to report abuse directly to police. Each diocese is required to have a victim assistance coordinator and a diocesan review board to review the allegations and make recommendations to the bishop.
Myth: The Holy See insists that bishops protect the church at the expense of children.
Fact: In May 2011, a directive in the form of a letter required all episcopal conferences to have policies and procedures on dealing with sexual abuse by clergy. The Holy See requires all allegations of sexual abuse to be reported to local civil authorities.
Francesco Cesareo, Ph.D., is president of Assumption College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He is in his first year as Chairman of the National Review Board, a lay body that collaborates with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to prevent sexual abuse of minors by persons in the service of the Church.