Diocese compliant according to audit

Report part of church's efforts to restore trust after sexual abuse crisis

Posted: Friday, January 02, 2004

The Catholic Diocese of Juneau is observing the spirit and letter of the church's efforts to protect young people from sexual abuse by clergy, according to an independent audit.

Bishop Michael Warfel said the church established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the audits to strive to restore people's trust.

"I think it does that," he said. "We don't want one single child hurt."

A report scheduled to be released Tuesday in Washington, D.C., shows how well Catholic diocese are implementing steps adopted by the United States Conference of Bishops in June 2002. The charter was established to provide a framework for the church to deal with allegations of abuse as well as set up a safe environment.

The full national report on the church's implementation for the charter will be available online at www.usccb.org after 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Warfel said the Gavin Group of Winthrop, Mass., procured by the U.S. Catholic Bishop's Office of Child and Youth Protection, audited the Juneau Diocese in August. It determined the policy concerning sexual abuse of minors needed to be revised to comply with the charter.

It also noted the diocese needed to identify how it planned to do background investigations of all priests, deacons and adults, including volunteers, who would have regular contact with children through their work or church ministry.

Warfel said as of Dec. 1, the instructions and recommendations from the audit had been addressed and the diocese was found to be compliant with the provisions of the charter.

"Usually any policy is written because something happened," Warfel said. While Juneau and the rest of the diocese hasn't been hit hard by sort of scandals that have rocked some other areas, three of the 97 priests who have ministered in Southeast Alaska since 1950 have had allegations of sexual abuse leveled against them, he said.

Two were part of the Juneau Diocese and one was from a religious order outside of the Southeast, he said.

Two ministered in the diocese during the 1980s. The other, the Rev. Michael Nash, was accused by a former Juneau resident who claimed in November 2002 that Nash abused him in the early 1980s.

Nash, according to a statement issued by his civil attorney, Louis Menendez, "unequivocally denies that he ever in his life sexually abused a child or an adult."

A local lay committee looking into the allegations sent its finding to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Rome. Warfel said Thursday he is still waiting to hear from the Vatican.

He said Nash has left the area and currently has a Nebraska address. Canon law prevents Nash from acting as a practicing priest while he is the subject of a Vatican investigation.

Warfel said it is still important for the issue to be resolved.

The Juneau Diocese paid out $1,541.64 on behalf of alleged victims of sexual abuse between 1950 and 2002, according to church records. The payments primarily went to counseling and medication, although there has been no legal action taken against the church due to sexual-abuse allegations.

The national charter has four main goals. It strives to promote the healing and reconciliation of victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, to guarantee an effective response to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, to ensure accountability of its procedures, and to make sure children and young people are protected from harm.

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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