Q&A: Allegations and Clergy
What happens when someone makes an allegation?
Consistent with archdiocesan policy, allegations are taken seriously and are reported immediately to the civil authorities. If the allegation appears to be credible, the priest or deacon is removed from ministry – or a lay person from his or her position – pending further investigation. A person is removed permanently for an allegation found to be credible.
In the case of a priest or deacon who is in ministry, the archdiocese also consults with a Case Review Board, an advisory body of primarily lay experts in child protection, to help assess credibility and advise on a priest’s or deacon’s fitness for ministry.
The (arch)diocese also offers an apology, pastoral care and counseling to the person who comes forward to help bring about healing. There is also pastoral support for the affected parish community.
Are there any priests in ministry against whom there is a credible allegation?
No priest against whom there is a credible allegation may be in ministry. He may not work or volunteer for the archdiocese, parishes, schools or other facilities or programs. He may not celebrate Mass publicly, administer the sacraments, wear clerical garb or present himself publicly as a priest.
What should I do if I was harmed and have not reported it?
Anyone who has experienced abuse is encouraged to report it to the proper civil authorities and to the archdiocesan director of child protection services. Contact information for civil reporting is in the archdiocesan Child Protection Policy, Appendix A. Deacon Matthew Houle, the Director of Child and Youth Protection, may be reached at 301-853-5328.
What happens to priests or deacons against whom there are credible allegations?
If a priest or deacon is not already deceased or out of ministry and an allegation seems likely to be credible, he would be removed from ministry pending further investigation and permanently removed if the allegation was found to be credible. Allegations are reported to the authorities. The archdiocesan Case Review Board of lay experts also is consulted about removal from ministry, in accord with the archdiocesan Child Protection Policy.
Are all priests laicized (removed from the clerical state)? If not, why not?
First, any priest or deacon against whom there is a credible allegation is removed from ministry. Since 1947, there have been allegations against 31 priests or deacons that either were credible or where credibility could not be determined and so they are treated as credible for purposes of tracking and responding. The men are deceased or out of ministry. Most have been laicized, which is an extra step beyond removal from ministry. It means the Church has formally removed a priest or deacon from the clerical state.
In a few situations, even though he removed from ministry, a priest may not be laicized. This could happen, for example, when the person is at retirement age and/or in poor health and the church may be able to place him in a monitored or supervised environment.
How are potential priests screened?
Every candidate for seminary goes through a battery of screening requirements including criminal background checks; a psychological examination; a credit history report; a health examination; and numerous checks of references, transcripts and sacramental records, as well as multiple interviews. If accepted, the candidate must then apply to the seminary, where a screening committee reviews all the same material.
These are standard screening procedures nationwide. U.S. seminaries require that a man complete an average of six years of study, during which he is constantly evaluated to ensure that only those most fit for ministry are ordained.
Is the Catholic Church any different from other organizations?
Yes, in that dioceses today have some of the most comprehensive prevention programs in the nation. No, in that sex abuse occurs in every segment of society. Every organization that works with children should have the same type of stringent protections the archdiocese has put in place.
The Church has learned from the past, has taken responsibility for the wrongs committed, and is committed to the healing of those harmed and the protection of children into the future. Catholic dioceses have arguably the most comprehensive child protection policies in the nation. A national charter passed by the US bishops in 2002 publicly commits the Church to report allegations to civil authorities; to reach out to victims/survivors and their families; to have prevention and reporting programs, including background checks for those working with children; to have lay advisory boards and more. Results of annual compliance audits are made public and, in 2004, the USCCB published an accounting of the prior 50 years. No other organization in the nation has shown such transparency.
What does the archdiocesan Child Protection Policy say?
- Mandated reporting to civil authorities
- Immediate reporting of allegations and support for victims in pursuing criminal prosecution
- Fingerprinting for FBI and state criminal background checks (clergy, and employees and volunteers who have substantial contact with children)
- Safe environment training for all children in our care and for adults who work or volunteer with children
- Prompt investigation and permanent removal from ministry if credible
- Accountability: Child Protection Advisory Board/Case Review Board of lay experts (includes at least one victim-survivor) whose members advise and monitor compliance, advise the archbishop should an allegation be made against a priest in ministry, and publish and annual public report on child protection efforts and victim assistance
- Outreach and assistance for as long as is needed to heal
- Apology and statement of remorse by Archdiocesan leadership
- Immediate offer of paid counseling, therapy and other assistance (1) of an individual’s choice, (2) for as long as needed to heal and (3) for family members, in some situations
- The Archdiocese of Washington has provided assistance regardless of legal claims. The archdiocese has paid for counseling even after being sued and even after the suit was thrown out of court on its merits, because we believed it was the right thing to do.
- Opportunity to meet with the archbishop or auxiliary bishop. Our bishops have traveled to meet with victims, provided them with a private phone number and e-mail, and set aside regular office time just for victims who would like to meet.
- Licensed clinical social worker on staff to assist those coming forward and Office of Child and Youth Protection to assist victims and implement prevention programs
From 2003-2010, 38,000 adults underwent criminal background checks and attended child protection workshops while each year, 40,000 students are given safe environment training so they know they have a right not to be harmed and what to do if they feel unsafe or are harmed.