by Thomas A. Stobie, SFO
I was asked by my pastor on behalf of my bishop for my thoughts about sexual abuse in the clergy. If you have questions about what is written here, please contact me.
I would recommend that it be done in such a way that it can be used as a template for other bishops' conferences.
I would also recommend that the church put together a comprehensive video about the church teachings on abuse and air it over national television. This video may include a small section on how abuse should be dealt with in American dioceses.
The Church has an opportunity to inform a mostly misinformed America about the Catholic Church and should take advantage of it.
If the bishops so desire, I can make a version just to focus on all sexual abuses, whether physical, verbal, psychological, instructional, or by example.
A comprehensive Catholic solution is required, not just one to satisfy the American media.
I encourage each diocese when they attempt to address the USCCB's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People (CPCYP) and the associated Norms address the larger issue of all sexual abuses (and other abuse types if they can), and not just grave offenses to minors by deacons and priests.
Click on a Section to go to it.
It is important that an abuse policy address all abuses within Roman Catholic Church in America by both the clergy, members of religious orders, and the lay employees (such as Catholic School teachers) of the church. Focusing just on sexual abuse of minor by clergy is inadequate and may result in inconsistent treatment of abuse. It can refer to other policies that already address different abuses. In this document, I assume that good policies for clerical, instructional, hypocritical leadership, and liturgical abuse exist and can be referred so I do not spend time addressing what I believe should be in them, but how they are handled should be consistent with the overall abuse policy.
In order to properly address how abuse should be handled it is necessary to fully define and categorize abuses and rate their severity.
Any policy addressing abuse must clearly define each abuse and distinquish it from similiar abuses. I can attempt to clearly define each abuse I list below if requested by the bishops.
In this section, I attempt to classify the many different abuse into categories. Some abuses fit multiple categories.
Abuses should be evaluated based on how severely the abused is affected by the abuse, how much the abused consented to (or even caused) the abuse, the mental & moral capabilities of the abused, the amount of authority the abuser has over the abused, and whether the abuse was accidental or intentional. Children, the mentally retarded, and those violated without any consent should be considered the most incapable and be the most protected by the policy. I would recommend that a standard be establish for determining severity and that the responses be linked to the severity of the abuse.
I have tried to classify the severities of abuse into six categories: (progressively getting worse) Slight, Lesser, Minor, Major, Great, & Severe. More severity levels may work better.
It is important to consider the likelihood of reoccurrence when considering how to deal with it and to ensure it does not reoccur.
This table only include some abuses (with the most in the area of sexual abuses). There are others and should be added for an overall view of abuses and their severities.
The Column labeled CPCYP? refers to whether the USCCB document "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and the associated Norm addresses it. "n" indicates no, "Y" indicates yes, "P" indicates Partially (with reason - see explanation of #'s at the bottom of the table.)
The Column labeled CPCYP Penalty refers to the proscribed penalties from the CPCYP where it applies.
|1. Slight Abuses|
|Covering up Slight and Lesser Abuses||n|
|Failure to accept Responsibility for Slight and Lesser Abuses||n|
|Inappropriate Accidental Physical Contact with an Adult||n|
|Inappropriate Verbal Contact with an Adult||n|
|Lying to Cover up Slight Abuses||n|
|Making a Deliberate False Report of Slight or Lesser Abuse||n|
|Minor Unapproved Changes to the Liturgy||n|
|Not Resolving Slight Abuses||n|
|Threat of Inappropriate Physical Contact with an Adult||n|
|Violating Lesser Moral Civil Laws (such as Speeding)||n|
|2. Lesser Abuses|
|Covering up Minor Abuses||n|
|Failure to accept Responsibility for Minor Abuses||n|
|Inappropriate Accidental Physical Contact with an Minor*||n|
|Inappropriate Physical Contact with an Adult||n|
|Inappropriate Sexual Suggestions with an Adult||n|
|Inappropriate Verbal Contact with an Adolescent||n|
|Inappropriate Violent Verbal Contact with an Adult||n|
|Lying to Cover up Lesser Abuses||n|
|Making a Deliberate False Report of Minor Abuse||n|
|Misuse of Authority with an Adult||n|
|Not Advocating the Church's Sexual Teachings||n|
|Not Resolving Lesser Abuses||n|
|Remaining Silent on Contraception with Adults||n|
|Remaining Silent on the Immorality of Sex outside of Marriage with Adults||n|
|Sexual Harassment with an Adult||n|
|Smoking near any Non-Smoker without expressed Consent||n|
|Threat of Inappropriate Physical Contact with an Adolescent||n|
|Violating Greater Moral Civil Laws (such as Perjury)||n|
|Violating Lesser Moral Civil Laws in the Presence of an Adult||n|
|3. Minor Abuses|
|Advocating Revenge to Adults||n|
|Advocating Unwarranted Discrimination||n|
|Consentual Sex (of someone not vowed to Celibacy) with an Adult outside of Marriage||n|
|Covering up Major Abuses||n|
|Encouraging a Celibate to Break their Vow of Celibacy||n|
|Encouraging Obeying an Immoral Civil Law||n|
|Failure to accept Responsibility for Major Abuses||n|
|Failure to Speak Out Against Society's Immoral Views||n|
|Inappropriate Sexual Contact with an Adult||n|
|Inappropriate Sexual Contact with Self||n|
|Inappropriate Sexual Suggestions with an Adolescent||P1,2,3||per canon law|
|Inappropriate Physical Contact with an Adolescent||n|
|Inappropriate Verbal Contact with an Pre-Adolescent*||n|
|Inappropriate Violent Physical Contact with an Adult||n|
|Inappropriate Violent Verbal Contact with an Adolescent||n|
|Lying to Cover up Minor Abuses||n|
|Making a Deliberate False Report of Major Abuse||n|
|Minor Unapproved Changes to the Nicean Creed||n|
|Misuse of Authority with an Adolescent||n|
|Not Resolving Minor Abuses||n|
|Not Restricting Access to Pornography over the Internet to Minors*||n|
|Remaining Silent on Contraception with Minors*||n|
|Remaining Silent on the Immorality of Sex outside of Marriage with Minors*||n|
|Sexual Harassment with an Minor*||P1,2,3||per canon law|
|Smoking near a Minor*||n|
|Teaching an Adult to Hate||n|
|Threat of Inappropriate Physical Contact with a Pre-Adolescent*||n|
|Using Church Funds to Cover up Slight, Lesser, or Minor Abuses||n|
|Using Civil Lawsuits and Orders to Harass an Individual||n|
|Using Personal Information Gained from a relationship with a Adult to abuse the Adult||n|
|Violating Greater Moral Civil Laws in the Presence of an Adult||n|
|Violating Lesser Moral Civil Laws in the Presence of a Minor*||n|
|Violating the Trust of an Adult for Personal Reasons||n|
|4. Major Abuses|
|Accepting Candidates for the Priesthood with Unresolved Moral Disorders||n|
|Advocating an Immoral Sexual Lifestyle to Adults||n|
|Advocating Contraception to Adults||n|
|Advocating Revenge to Minors*||n|
|Advocating Sex Outside of Marriage to Adults||n|
|Advocating the Death Penalty||n|
|Belonging to an Anti-Catholic Organization||n|
|Belonging to an Organizations whose primary focus is Advocating Immorality||n|
|Blaming the Church for the Immoral Acts of its Members||n|
|Consentual Sex of a Vowed Celibate with an Adult outside of Marriage||n|
|Consentual Sex (of someone not vowed to Celibacy) with an Adolescent||P1||1st Offense - Removal from all ministries.R|
|Covering up Great and Severe Abuses||n|
|Deliberate Misinterpretation of Scriptures to Justify Immortality||n|
|Discriminating Against Poor Adults||n|
|Failure to accept Responsibility for Great & Severe Abuses||n|
|Harmful Neglect of the Physical Needs of a Minor*||n|
|Inappropriate Physical Contact with a Pre-Adolescent*||n|
|Inappropriate Sexual Contact with an Adolescent||P1,2||per canon lawR|
|Inappropriate Sexual Suggestions with a Pre-Adolescent*||P1,2,3||per canon lawR|
|Inappropriate Violent Physical Contact with an Adolescent||n|
|Inappropriate Violent Verbal Contact with a Pre-Adolescent*||n|
|Lying to Cover up Major, Great, and Severe Abuses||n|
|Making a Deliberate False Report of Great Abuse||n|
|Misappropriation of Church Funds to Cover Up Other Offenses||n|
|Misuse of Authority with a Pre-Adolescent*||n|
|Not Making the Sacraments or Mass available for selfish reasons||n|
|Not Resolving Major Abuses||n|
|Obeying an Immoral Civil Law||n|
|Promoting Pornography to an Adult||n|
|Publically Supporting Anti-Catholic Organizations||n|
|Publically Supporting Organizations whose primary focus is Advocating Immorality||n|
|Recommending an Abortion to an Adult||n|
|Sex with Animals||n|
|Smoking near an Adult with a Known Lung Condition||n|
|Teaching Minors* to Hate||n|
|Using Church Funds to Cover up Major, Great, and Severe Abuses||n|
|Using Information Gained from Counseling to abuse a Counseled Adult||n|
|Using Personal Information Gained from a relationship with a Minor* to abuse the Minor*||n|
|Unwillingness to Listen to an Abuse Complaint Against a Subordinate||n|
|Violating Greater Moral Civil Laws in the Presence of a Minor*||n|
|Violating the Trust of a Minor* for Personal Reasons||n|
|5. Great Abuses|
|Advocating an Immoral Sexual Lifestyle to Minors*||n|
|Advocating Contraception to Minors*||n|
|Advocating Sex Outside of Marriage to Minors*||n|
|Consentual Sex of a Vowed Celibate with an Adolescent||P1||1st Offense - Removal from all ministries.R|
|Discriminating Against Poor Children*||n|
|Facilitating an Abortion by an Adult Mother||n|
|Inappropriate Sexual Contact with a Pre-Adolescent*||P1,2,3||per canon lawR|
|Inappropriate Violent Physical Contact with a Pre-Adolescent*||n|
|Issuing Condoms to Minors*||n|
|Making a Deliberate False Report of Severe Abuse||n|
|Not Resolving Great and Severe Abuses||n|
|Permiting an Abortion to occur in a Catholic Hospital||n|
|Permiting Displays of Immoral Lifestyles to Minors*||n|
|Promoting Pornography to an Minor*||P1,2,3||per canon lawR|
|Recommending an Abortion to a Minor*||n|
|Smoking near a Minor* with Known Lung Condition||n|
|Teaching False Teachings as if Approved by the Magisterium||n|
|Using Information Gained from Counseling to abuse a Counseled Minor*||n|
|6. Severe Abuses|
|Conducting an Abortion||n|
|Facilitating an Abortion by an Adolescent Mother*||n|
|Having an Abortion||n|
|Profaning the Eucharist||n|
|Sex with a Pre-Adolescent*||P1,3||1st Offense - Removal from all ministries.R|
|Violating the Seal of the Confessional||n|
Note: * includes the mentally handicapped, and those with no active choice (sleeping, doped, etc.)
P1 indicates only applies to abusing deacons and priests. It excludes Bishops, non-clerical members of Religious Orders (possibly), and lay employees and volunteers.
P2 indicates a requirement for that the offense by grave. Canon Law can address lesser offenses and the associated judgical and administrative actions.
P3 indicates that is does not include the additonal of the * individuals.
R indicates that the bishop can request removal for the individual from the priesthood.
In this document, for Eastern Rite Roman Catholics, the term bishop is considered include Eparchs and the term diocese is considered to include Eparchies. As Eparchies tend to cover a large geographical area, it may be beneficial to request assistance from the dioceses where the offenses occur and dioceses should provide assistance as requested.
A process should be established that not only protects others from abuse, but also protects the rights of the accused. The process should be the same whether the accused is a member of the clergy, a member of a religious order, or a member of the laity.
It also should allow for anonymous reports which should be followed up on. The reporter of an anonymous report should understand that it will be much more difficult to discern the truth without the abused witness' participation. The abused should be able to request that the investigation be keep confidential and they should be able to opt out of criminal proceedings if desired.
An immediate assessment needs to be made, that if the allegations are true, to determine if people at risk if the alleged abuser if left in place and cannot be trusted not to commit the alleged act.
If the assessment is that people are at risk, actions need to be taken to ensure that abuse will not occur while the allegations are being investigated. This may include immediate suspension of some or all duties and/or reassignment to a different sort of duty where no one is at risk. It may also include notifying other dioceses and schools about the allegations and recommending that they take the appropriate precautionary actions.
An immediate assessment needs to be made (unless the abused adult desires no criminal persecution), that if the allegations are true, to assess whether the abuse was criminal according to the local and national laws.
If the abuse would be criminal, the appropriate authorities should be notified immediately with ongoing cooperation provided.
If the local diocese is not yet involved, the local diocese should be notified as well as all dioceses in which the alleged abuser serves or has served.
if the accused is a member of a religious order, the appropriate superiors should be notified.
Full and open cooperation between religious orders and the dioceses are strongly encouraged.
Religious Orders may opt to have the diocese conduct the investigation and have the Abuse Review Board present the information to the local bishop and the religious superior or abbot. It would be prefered that unless the alleged abused and alleged abuser are members of the religious order that the diocese take the lead on resolving the situation.
A thorough investigation into the charges should be undertaken. This should include discussions with the alleged abused, the alleged abuser, any witnesses, other parties who have pertinent information about the interaction between the alleged abused and alleged abuser, and psychological experts in that type of abuse. It should also include looking it the past of the accused to discover if prior occurences or allegations had occured. It also should try to determine if the abuse was accidental or deliberate. Evidence pertinent to any concurrent criminal investigation should be shared with the appropriate authorities except where witnesses specifically asked that the information they had provided not be given to civil authorities.
In some cases, the abuser might not understand how abusive his act was. In these cases, they should be educated on the abuse and the damage it can cause to others. If they are repentant and understand how abusive they were, this should be taken into account in determining how to resolve the abuse. Likewise if the abuse occured by accident, the abuser should learn how to avoid such accidents in the future.
Note that this breakdown can be applied to parts of an accusation as well with differing results on each part.
For each case of alleged abuse, a committee should be formed to investigate it along with all other allegations against the accused. This committee should be formed from a standing pool of individuals which includes clergy and laity plus specialists varying by the types of abuse involved.
Each committee should have one person responsible for documenting the entire investigation, preferably using consist formats and terminologies.
These individuals should recieve some training to better understand the types of abuse they will be investigating. The Documenter should recieve addition training on how to proper document the investigation and recommendations.
Each diocese and monestary should have an abuse tribunal and review board, that assesses the results and recommendations of the investigation and recommends what actions should take place to the superior in charge, typically the bishop. The bishop can delegate lesser abuses to one of his subordinate leaders in the diocese, such as the vicar general. The responsible leader reviews the recommendations and findings and takes the appropriate actions.
They should make requests of the Abuse Investigative Committees if they need clarifications or further information.
For major, great, and severe abuses, the abuse review board should meet with the superior and present the case to him, answering any questions that may arise.
The Abuse Review Board should consist of clergy and laity and supplemented with specialists on a case by case basis. Its basic composition should remain fairly consistent. They should recieve the training that the investigators received.
The Superior is usually the bishop of the diocese, but can be the religious superior of a religious order, the abbot of a monestary, etc.
He should enable the receipt and investigations of abuse allegations in his jurisdiction.
For Slight, Lesser, and Minor offenses, the superior may choose to deal with the offender adminstratively and not involve the judical process of a tribunal.
He is responsible for the appropriate resolution of all abuse allegations in his jurisdiction. He may delegate this responsibility to one of his subordinate leaders, such as the vicar general of the diocese, but only for abuses of slight, lesser, or minor severity. A Bishop is encouraged to follow the recommendations of the Abuse Tribunal & Review Board, but may apply additional adminstrative actions as he deems necessary.
He is should facilitate the appeal process.
There should be a policy to address what is done when a superior is accused of abuse. This policy should be approved explictedly by the Vatican.
If the bishop himself is accused of abuse, he should delegate the responsibilties of overseeing the investigations to a senior priest in the diocese and seek bishops from a neighboring dioceses and/or nearby abbots to work with this priest to ensure a fair and unbiased investigation and recommendations. The bishop should avoid all activities where the abuse could possibly occur.
If a non-bishop superior is accused of abuse, he should let the local diocese conduct the investigation and let the local bishop determine the appropriate actions after the investigation is completed.
If found that the superior committed the abuse, the superior should in a spirit of humility and repentance accept the findings and the recommended actions.
Foreward: In the church any decision of a superior can be appealed to next higher authority, ultimately the Holy Father; however this is a very difficult and time-consuming process for all involved.
The tribunal appeals process should be used to appeal the action of the superior. This is particularly important when the bishop is actively involved with the abuse, such as advocating falsehoods. This process may include a bishops' conference review and involvement with an escalation process to the Vatican if corrections are not made. Bishop Conference's may want to set up Abuse Appeal Review Committee consisting of a number of Bishops of the highest integrity to review all appeals and act appropriately.
In minor abuse cases, dealt with by a subordinate leader, the appeal should first be taken to the superior to address.
Standards of appropriate behavior should be developed and clearly known by all clergy, religious, and church employees. These should include not only behaviors that avoid sin, but also avoid ones that lead others to sin.
A policy of open communications should be in force in all dioceses including numerous means to contact the appropriate people for differing circumstances.
I recommend that each diocese when implementing the Safe Environment program as required in USCCB's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People should expand its scope to provide a safe environment from all abuses to all people.
In these case, the investigation has either disproved the allegation or does not have enough evidence to think it likely.
They should be publicly exonerated and returned to all duties. Counseling may be useful as the accused may be tramatized by the accusation itself.
A summary of the accusation and result should be placed in their records. They should be assumed to be innocent and returned to all duties. Counseling may be useful as the accused can be tramatized by the accusation itself.
A summary of the accusation and result should be placed in their records. Their superiors and associate should be informed of the accusations and finds and ask to pay attention for signs of abuse in the future. The accused should be returned to all duties, possibly after attending counseling if their superior thinks it would be help the accused or prevent incidents in the future.
How an abuser (one whose investigation report is likely or stronger) is dealt with, should vary by the investigation finds, type of abuse, severity of the abuse, how well the abuser understood what he was doing, prior abuses, and likelihood of reoccurence.
Some of the current abuse policies, such as dealing with severe teaching abuse by teaching against Church dogma, well address some of the specific actions that need to be taken in those particular cases.
For crimes, the criminal justice system in the local area will try the abuse and if convicted, impose a sentence. The Church should accept this sentence and not appeal (or even encourage an appeal) unless a miscarriage of justice was committed. Remember that the criminal justice systems within the United States are not perfect and should not dictate the actions of the church.
For actions that should major crimes, but are not recognized as such by the civil authorities, the Church should demand the abusers provide significant restitution to the victims and the community in general and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the abuse from rehappening. In these cases, the Church must react where the civil authorities fail to act.
Most abusive behavior is due to psychological disorders that can be helped through counseling. Appropriate counseling should be provided and should be continue until pronounced cured of the disorder.
Make sure the abuser understands the relevant church teachings and agrees to abide by them.
In cases where the abuse was accidental, the abuser should learn what was abusive on how he acted and how to avoid should accidents in the future.
If the individual is repentant and not likely to repeat the abuse, they can be returned to duty.
If the individual is preditory with this abuse, but the abuse is relatively minor, (or the abuse is preditory in nature and only a first offense) and the individual is repentant, the abuser can be assigned to duties where there is no likelihood of the abuse occurring. This may include prohibiting all ministering in private places, and restricting the types of people to which they minister.
If the individual is preditory with this abuse (or the abuse is preditory in nature and this is repeat occurence), and the abuse is not minor, they should be removed from all duties, and if a priest, the individual should defrocked as a priest using a special procedure established with the Vatican to defrock abusive preditory priests. If the abuser is a bishop, religious superior, or abbot, they should resign their positions on grounds of mental illness.
If the individual has violated his employment contract, (such as teaching immorality in Catholic schools or performing abortions in a Catholic hospital), the appropriate legal action should be taken as well.
Keep accurate records of all abuses and provide to all future dioceses and religious organizations with which the abuser becomes associated.
Help the abused regain a healthy life founded in truth. If the abused is a minor, the minor's parents should also be provided assistance as well.
Depending on the abuse, whether proven or unproven, the alleged abuser would benefit from psychological counseling to help them deal with either the abuse or the reason the falsely accused someone of it. This counseling should be on-going and may include personal sessions, group sessions, special masses and retreats.
Sometimes, victim can benefit from a thorough understanding of the abuse that occured and why it occured. This instruction should be made available to the victim.
If the abuse results in pregnancy, the abuser should be required to provide pregnancy care and assistance to the child to the abused and the child.
if the abuse results in physical damage or potential physical damage to the abused, the abuser should be required to provide the medical care (or part of the medical care) for the damage caused.
For some abuses, the abused may have encouraged the abuse but not understanding church teachings or may have come to misunderstand church teachings because of the abuse. The abused should be offered the chance to learn what the church teachings are on the subject.
The Church needs to educate society about the Church, its Teachings, and its attitude about abuse (any abuse, not just sex abuse).
In the United States, the majority of the media is Anti-Catholic, presenting the Catholic Church in the negative light, and even using Anti-Catholic individuals to explain Catholic Teaching and Policies. Some media outlets are better (and less biased) than others and should be given preferential treatment.
Each diocese needs to designate an offical spokesman for the diocese who will make himself available to the media to answer questions that they may have and arrange special interviews with others members of the church as needed. The Bishop's conference needs to designate national spokemen to deal with the national media on national and international issues. Media outlets that misuse information provided to slander the church should be given less preferential treatment.
Experts in different areas of church teachings need to be identified to the media by the Church and made available to answer questions and explain teachings.
The Catholic Church in the United States should use the media to better explain the Church and its teachings to the general public. Most non-Catholics do not understand what the Church is or for what it stands and many have been told and believe falsehoods about the Church.
The Catholic Church needs to educate the general public (Catholic & non-Catholic) on Sexual Abuse including sex outside of marriage, contraception, abortion, as well as sex with minors. The citizens of the United States should come to understand that all forms of sexual abuse are not acceptible within or by the Church.
There are a number of things the church should not do.
The Church should never pay to buy accusers silence, but always seek the truth, however unpleasant that might be. This is doubly wrong when there is doubt to the truthfulness of the accuser.
The Church should recognize that its clergy and employees are sinners, and when they choose to violate Church Teachings, they, not the Church, should be held accountable. Whenever the church is sued for sinful acts of its members who acted in violation of church teaching and policy, the church should sue the violator and accuser as well for all expenses incurred in defending itself and damage for slander.
The Church should recognize that either the abuser is suffering under a disorder, moral or psychological, or is a victim of false accusation, and needs assistance as well.
Abuses should be properly dealt with as they occur and not passed to someone else or ignored.
The Church should stand firm on its moral stances never giving in to an society that advocates certain immoralities. The Church should recognize all abuses, whether society recognizes them as abuse or not and treat them appropriately.
The Church should always act in the spirit of Christ, fully looking at and examining all problems, regardless of how society views the problem.
The Seal of the Confessional must remained sacred and never be violated.
In order to avoid putting Bishops, Religious Superiors, and Abbots in ackward positions, a policy restricting them from hearing abuse confessions of abuses occuring within their jurisdictions except under urgent situations should be established.
Dear Loving Lord,
As much as we would prefer that abuse of any form never happen, it does happen due to the sinful nature of man.
Please help us as Church to deal properly with all abuses and take the necessary actions to prevent as much future abuse as possible.
Please heal those who have been abused in any way and those who abuse, that all of them may be made whole in mind, body, and soul.
Guide our Church leaders in responsible actions to do what they can to prevent abuse and resolve abuses as they occur. Give them the strength to be bold and do what is right, regardless of pressures from others and society.
Grant that we handle these situations always in the spirit of love and openness, and give proper respect to all people.
We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
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© 2002 by Thomas A. Stobie, SFO
Last modified on 6 Nov 2008.