Diocese updates sex abuse policy

CHARLESTON — Revisions to the Diocese of Charleston’s sex abuse policy have been completed and now the diocese awaits its turn in a national audit to document the progress made in implementation of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Bishop Robert J. Baker accepted revisions made by a committee he appointed that included canon and civil lawyers, the Office of the Vicars General, the Office of Communications and Information, and the Office of Catholic Schools. The group reflects both clergy and laity.

The effort started in June 2002.

The “Policy of the Diocese of Charleston Concerning Allegations of Sexual Misconduct or Abuse of a Minor by Church Personnel” is scheduled to be distributed throughout the diocese next week.

In a letter to priests, parish life facilitators and deacons that will accompany the policy, Bishop Baker wrote that the revisions more clearly reflected the Charter and Norms adopted by the USCCB in Dallas, Texas. The policy applies to priests, religious, lay em-ployees and volunteers who work in all parishes and positions in the diocese.

One new aspect is that priests are now designated as mandated reporters. This revision of South Carolina Law Section 20-7-510 (D), 1976, as amended by Governor Mark Sanford on July 25 states that only under the seal of confession, priest/penitent privilege, would a priest not be required to report the sexual abuse of a minor to law enforcement or the Department of Social Services.

The policy also explains the procedure of reporting an allegation and the sequence of events that occurs after an allegation of sexual abuse or misconduct involving a minor is reported.

“I believe this policy does not simply comply with the Charter and Norms, but excels the standards set forth in them to protect children entrusted to our care,” Bishop Baker stated.

In addition to the policy, the USCCB response to reports about the 1962 Vatican document, “Crimen Sollicitationis,” which deals exclusively with ecclesiastical crimes and punishments found in church law will be sent to parishes.

The revised policy will be included in the audit by the Gavin Group of Boston, headed by former FBI agent William Gavin, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 25. The audit is expected to take a team of two auditors about five working days.

The audit will assess diocesan policies and practices in light of the mandates of their child protection charter.

Among the charter’s requirements are an independent review board to investigate allegations against clergy, a victim outreach coordinator, background investigations of all church employees or volunteers working with children, published sexual abuse policies, training sessions on the policies and on sexual abuse prevention for employees, volunteers and parents, and age-appropriate training of children to recognize and say no to inappropriate behavior.

Dioceses had to complete a survey by June 30 which was intended to determine the scope of known sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy since 1950. It required each diocese to fill out a separate form for each priest or deacon accused of such abuse and for each alleged victim of clergy abuse. More than 30 questions were to be answered about each accused member of the clergy and more than 50 questions about each alleged victim.

The questions range from the years the alleged abuse occurred to how many times, from the age of the cleric and of the alleged victim or victims to the nature of the alleged abuse, from the credibility of the accusations to the alleged abuser’s method of operation, from the treatment provided for the alleged abuser and victims to decisions about the cleric’s future in ministry.

The results of the audits will be confidential, but a final report will be sent to each diocese as well as the Office of Child and Youth Protection at the USCCB for preparation of a comprehensive report.