Charter is framework for making abuse response ‘part of our culture’

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" — now 10 years old — was not meant to be "the last word" in solving the abuse crisis, according to the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

Instead, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Joliet, Ill., said the charter has provided a framework for ongoing efforts. Its requirements are "not a temporary fix" but have to "become part of our culture," he added.

The charter was part of the U.S. bishops’ response to the clergy abuse scandal that was a top concern when they met 10 years ago in Dallas.

Their June meeting took place just five months after The Boston Globe began publishing articles about the sexual abuse of minors by priests and accusations of a systemic cover-up by church officials. The reports prompted other victims across the country to come forward with allegations of abuse that put the scandal in the national spotlight.

The bishops responded by developing a national policy to oust predators and protect children. They adopted the charter and approved a set of legislative norms to enforce implementation in all dioceses. They also established a lay-run National Review Board to monitor compliance, commission studies of the causes and context of the crisis, and recommend further actions. Later that year, the bishops formed a national Office for Child and Youth Protection.

A decade later, the review board was scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the bishops’ response to the abuse crisis at their June 13-15 meeting in Atlanta.

According to Al J. Notzon III, chairman of the National Review Board, "striking changes" have occurred in the church’s efforts to prevent and report abuse but said more work still needs to be done.

The charter outlined how the church leaders would provide a safe environment for children and young people in church-sponsored activities. It established uniform procedures for handling sex-abuse allegations and adopted a "zero tolerance" policy. It also required background checks and training in child protection for church employees and required dioceses facing allegations made about priests or other church workers to alert authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused person from duty.

Deacon Bernard Nojadera, head of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, said even with these efforts, many Catholics are unaware that the church has taken such an active role to stop and prevent abuse.

In part, this stems from "pockets of allegations" that continue to surface, he said.

Notzon also said that many Catholics do not know what the church is doing to stop abuse and said people often suggest to him that the church do things it is already doing.

"Word needs to get out about what’s being done," he told Catholic News Service May 25 from his San Antonio home.

He said the general public also should know what the church is doing since abuse is a societal problem. He said the church needs to let others know there are things they can learn ?without the pain the church had to go through.?

Notzon said the church has changed the way it treats victims from "immediately getting defensive" with them to taking a more pastoral role.

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