- Catholic Review - https://catholicreview.org -

Reports highlight Archdiocese of Baltimore’s efforts to address child sexual abuse

The Archdiocese of Baltimore released a pair of reports May 6 regarding the church’s efforts and activities relating to child sexual abuse in the church.

The archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection issued a report detailing the church’s response in the categories of education, screening of applicants, reporting of allegations, outreach to victim-survivors, communications, compliance and financial resources dedicated to child protection.

The Independent Review Board that assists the Archdiocese of Baltimore with child protection efforts issued its own report detailing its activities.

Both reports cover the July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, reporting year. This was the third consecutive year such reports were released.

The IRB report noted that the board generally meets quarterly, but met six times during the reporting period, during which it provided guidance and advice on numerous policy issues for the archdiocese.

“First, the IRB developed and implemented a ‘first-in-the-nation’ Bishop Reporting Initiative, which made a third-party reporting system available for accusations against bishops of the Archdiocese of Baltimore that would go directly to two members of the IRB,” the report said. A nationwide bishop reporting initiative launched March 16 of this year by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops includes many elements similar to the one launched in Baltimore 14 months prior.

The IRB also assisted the archdiocese in developing a more transparent policy regarding public disclosure of accused priests. The archdiocese was among the first in the country in 2002 to publish a list of names of priests credible accused of child sexual abuse and the list has been updated in the years since. However, at that time, the archdiocese did not name priests who were accused of child abuse for the first time after their deaths, although the archdiocese did previously report such allegations to law enforcement officials.

“On the advice of the IRB, which reviewed dozens of individual cases involving deceased clergy and discussed various policy alternatives,” the report said, “the archdiocese implemented a new policy of naming priests and brothers who were accused after their death if the archdiocese received an allegation of child sexual abuse from more than one victim, if a single allegation of child sexual abuse was substantiated through external information that corroborated that sexual abuse occurred, or if the name of the priest or brother was already published elsewhere in connection with an allegation of child sexual  abuse.”

The report also noted that the IRB discussed updates to the archdiocesan policy for the protection of children and youth, including increased screening and training requirements and the explicit addition of bishops among those who are governed by the child protection policies.

The board also heard reports and provided advice to Archbishop William E. Lori and members of his staff about the report issued in August 2018 by a Pennsylvania grand jury, the archdiocese’s ongoing cooperation with Maryland law enforcement and Pope Francis’ new global guidelines and norms on abuse reporting and accountability in the motu proprio document, “Vos Estis Lux Mundi” (“You Are the Light of the World”).

The board’s report said it reviewed 39 individual matters, 31 of which involved matters presented to the IRB for the first time. In total, the individuals included 32 priests, deacons or brothers (who are laymen) and seven lay employees or volunteers.

“Many of the matters discussed involved incidents alleged to have occurred decades ago, incidents involving long-deceased clergy, or incidents with little or no connection to the archdiocese,” the IRB report said.

“The IRB was informed that all allegations of abuse were reported to law enforcement and all victims were offered counseling assistance.

“Representative individual matters that were considered by the IRB include matters involving a newly accused former priest who left the priesthood in the 1990s (the allegation was reported to civil authorities, the victim offered assistance, and the priest was publicly identified by the archdiocese); lay personnel who were accused of abuse within their own families; numerous unknown priests from outside the archdiocese; and numerous priests who died before the archdiocese received an allegation against them – in connection with the public disclosure policies (about releasing the names of deceased priests),” the report said.

Other matters addressed by the IRB involved concerns about boundaries or compliance with archdiocesan policies.

The IRB noted that Archbishop Lori attended its meetings, except when, at the IRB’s discretion, it met in executive session without the presence of the archbishop and his staff.

The board includes 10 members of the community – five women and five men – with a cross-section of interfaith and community leaders with experience in law enforcement, medicine and behavioral health. Five members are not Catholic. The board welcomed one new member, Dr. Jay Perman, currently serving as chancellor of the University System of Maryland, during the reporting period.

The report from the Office of Child and Youth Protection noted that in the 2019 reporting year, the archdiocese paid $235,663 to provide counseling, therapy and other necessary medical costs for 64 survivors of child sexual abuse or their family members. Nearly all of those assisted had reported the alleged abuse in past years.

In the same period, the archdiocese reached voluntary settlements with six survivors of child sexual abuse through its mediation process for a total of $296,000, involving incidents that occurred more than 35 years ago. “The archdiocese also reached a settlement in connection with an incident of child sexual abuse by a parish volunteer occurring in 2016,” the report said.

The archdiocese paid $582,586 for its centralized child protection efforts, including salaries and expenses, training programs, and background checks that serve parishes, schools, clergy, employees and volunteers.

As part of its outreach, the archdiocese reaches out to those who have been harmed by church personnel. “The Archdiocese of Baltimore remains committed to promoting the healing of survivors of abuse. … The archbishop, vicar bishops, and other church leaders meet with and listen to survivors of abuse,” the report said.

The OCYP report also detailed training and screening efforts in 2018-19. “All clergy, including bishops, all employees and all volunteers having substantial contact with children at any covered entity of the Archdiocese of Baltimore are required to receive this training,” the report said. “Clergy and employees must renew their training annually; volunteers having substantial contact with children renew their training every five years.”

As of the end of the reporting year:

Regarding reporting of allegations, the OCYP report noted that the archdiocese strictly complies with laws requiring the reporting of suspected child abuse to civil authorities. Under Maryland law, any person who has reason to believe a child has been subjected to abuse must report the suspected abuse to civil authorities, even if the victim is now an adult and even if the alleged perpetrator is deceased.

The report also noted that if someone associated with the church – including clergy, employees or volunteers in the archdiocese – is suspected of committing abuse, archdiocesan policy requires that the suspected abuse also be reported to the archdiocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection at 410-547-5348 or to the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Victims’ Assistance Line at 866-417-7469. The archdiocese makes reports to the local office of Child Protective Services, the local office of the State’s Attorney, local police, and the Maryland Attorney General.

In reporting year 2019, the archdiocese received two allegations of child sexual abuse involving priests then in ministry, and in both cases the allegations of child sexual were found to be not credible after investigation and after review by the Independent Review Board, the OCYP report said.

The archdiocese also received allegations of child sexual abuse against: 26 other priests and one brother that involved alleged incidents from many years ago; deceased priests; priests previously removed from ministry; and/or clergy who were not identified by the person making the report. The OCYP noted that all allegations of child abuse were reported to law enforcement and the archdiocese cooperated with civil authorities.

In the reporting year, one lay employee who was serving in the archdiocese was accused of possible child sexual abuse and reported to civil authorities by the Archdiocese of Baltimore. That allegation was ruled out by the Department of Social Services.

Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org.

For the full text of the reports from the Office of Child and Youth Protection and the Independent Review Board’s, click here.