Protecting children, vulnerable adults: Diocese outlines policies and procedures dealing with abuse by clergy

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Catholics in the Diocese of Davenport and around the country want to know what they can do to prevent clergy sexual abuse and its cover up from ever happening again. Their outrage and call for action comes after news broke this summer about some bishops’ culpability in covering up clergy sexual abuse committed decades ago.

Anne Marie Amacher
Catholics pray in the chapel at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport.

What they may not know is that the Davenport Diocese’s rigorous policies and procedures to protect children and vulnerable adults from clergy sexual abuse appear to be having a positive effect. Bishops, priests and deacons are members of the clergy.

In 2002, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People which was implemented in dioceses across the country, including the Davenport Diocese. Allegations of abuse of minors or vulnerable adults have been reported in the Davenport Diocese since then, but none allege abuse that occurred post-2002, said diocesan Chief of Staff Deacon David Montgomery.

“The Dallas Charter is working,” writes Stephen J. Rossetti in America magazine (Sept. 20). “Abuse rates in the Catholic Church have fallen dramatically,” added Rossetti, who assisted the U.S. bishops’ committee on the drafting of the charter.

Deacon Montgomery provided statistics of allegations the diocese has received over the past five years. All of the allegations relate to abuse reported to have occurred more than 20 years ago:

2017-2018: One report involving six priests; four are deceased, one was already laicized, and one had withdrawn from ministry. The abuse occurred between 47 and 54 years ago. The reporter received a settlement from the bankruptcy court.

2016-2017: One report in­volving two priests was received but was unable to be proven.

2015-2016: No reports were received.

2014-2015: No reports were received.

2013-2014: Four reports involving four priests were received; one report was substantiated, three were not. The priest in the substantiated report had been laicized. The abuse occurred between 50 and 52 years ago. All victims/survivors were offered services from the diocese for counseling.

Each year since the charter’s implementation, the Davenport Diocese has passed an independent audit that examines compliance with the charter and its norms. The diocese’s requirements exceed those in the charter, Deacon Montgomery said, referring to the “Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior” (www.davenportdiocese.org) which was implemented in 1998 and has been revised periodically since then.

An updated Memorandum of Understanding regarding the handling of reports of sexual abuse of minors by clergy is another example of the diocese’s efforts to protect children and vulnerable adults. Bishop Thomas Zinkula and Scott County Attorney Mike Walton signed the agreement May 1. Reports of sexual abuse of children or adults by clergy or religious (except deceased perpetrators) will be submitted immediately to the Scott County Attorney’s Office for investigation. This includes reports of abuse that occurred in other counties. The diocese will not take any action relating to a report without communicating with the county attorney’s office first.

Reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors that happened decades ago in the Diocese of Davenport began surfacing in 2002, following a Boston Globe expose about how abusive priests in the Archdiocese of Boston had been allowed to continue ministry.

Twelve years ago, on Oct. 10, 2006, the Davenport Diocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy following a jury’s decision to award $1.5 million to a survivor of clergy sexual abuse. Two years earlier, the diocese reached a $9 million out-of-court settlement with 37 survivors. The diocese’s bankruptcy case closed in 2012, four years after a $37 million settlement was reached with creditors, most of whom were survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

As part of the settlement, the Davenport Diocese agreed to 18 nonmonetary commitments, all of which have been satisfied. Some commitments, such as the listing of the names of abusive clergy — living and deceased — continue. All of the commitments were intended to prevent abuse in the future and to enhance awareness about how to report abuse. The Catholic Messenger, for example, publishes a notice several times a month providing information about reporting abuse to the Victim Assistance Coordinator.

Step by step procedures about reporting abuse are included in the “Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior” (www.davenportdiocese.org). In a nutshell, the reporting process works this way:

A report of abuse is made to the Victim Assistance Coordinator (VAC). If the accused individual is still living, the report is submitted to the Scott County Attorney’s Office. If the Scott County Attorney decides to pursue a criminal investigation, the diocese must wait for approval to proceed with its own investigation.

If the Scott County Attorney does not pursue a criminal investigation, the report is returned to the diocese. All reports are reviewed by the Diocesan Review Board, whose members include lay people. The board makes recommendations to the bishop on how to proceed. The bishop determines whether the accusation is credible or not credible. If it is not credible, not further action is taken. If the accusation is credible, the bishop makes a recommendation to the Vatican.

A decision by the Vatican may result in a penal process. The public would be notified of the final decision. If there is insufficient evidence in the case, the public would be notified if they had been notified beforehand about the accusation.

The diocesan policies include a separate paragraph regarding bishops. As is the case with other clergy, a report would be submitted to the Scott County Attorney. The bishop must also inform the Apostolic Nuncio (a diplomatic representative of the Vatican). If another bishop becomes aware of the accusation, he also must inform the Apostolic Nuncio and comply with applicable civil laws.

Every effort is made to ensure that both the victim and the accused are treated with fairness and respect, Deacon Montgomery said.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula believes that more can be done and should be done to hold bishops accountable. That issue will be addressed at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ fall meeting. Meanwhile, the USCCB’s Administrative Committee has issued a statement about specific actions to boost accountability. Specific details are provided on Page 6.

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