Alaska dioceses take part in national audit

Posted: Sunday, July 13, 2003

ANCHORAGE - The three Catholic dioceses in Alaska are taking part in two national sexual abuse projects to gauge the level of compliance to new church norms and to determine the extent of abuse over the past 50 years, state Catholic leaders said Friday.

All 195 dioceses in the United States are being audited to see if their policies conform with national guidelines regarding sexual abuse of children that were adopted at a Roman Catholic bishops conference in Dallas last year. All dioceses also are participating in the past-abuse survey.

Final reports on the projects will be made public after approval by the independent National Review Board that was set up after the Dallas conference.

"It's a complex process," said Anchorage Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz. "But hopefully all of it will become clear to the people that the bishops are truly serious about implementing what they agreed to in Dallas."

The audit is being conducted by 54 auditors through the Gavin Group of Boston, a firm run by William Gavin, a former FBI director. Two of the auditors will be in Alaska in August, starting at the Juneau diocese the week of Aug. 4, Anchorage the week of Aug. 11, and Fairbanks the week of Aug. 18.

The final audit report will be made public by the end of the year, said Kathleen McChesney, director of the new Office of Child and Youth Protection, based in Washington, D.C. The agency is part of the bishops' national staff.

Auditors are using the same 22-page form, which asks for documented proof of information provided by dioceses.

Among the numerous questions asked: Has a victims' outreach program been established? If not, when will it be? If so, how many victims has it served? Have all allegations of sexual abuse of a minor been reported to public authorities since June 2002? Has the diocese designated a victims' coordinator to coordinate immediate assistance?

"The goal is not to catch someone not doing something," McChesney, a former FBI official, said in a phone interview. "The goal is to get everybody to comply. We want people to implement the norms so children can feel safe and get the healing they deserve."

Among the changes the Anchorage archdiocese has implemented is to enter into a working relationship with the victims rights group Standing Together Against Rape, said the Rev. Steven Moore, vicar general.

"For those who would not like to approach the church, they could approach the church through S.T.A.R. or access services directly through S.T.A.R.," Moore said. "But the church is also in the process of having its own victims' assistance coordinator."

New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice is conducting the abuse survey. The final report is expected to be released to the public by early 2004.

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