Accountability Gap

Why Aren’t Bishops Following Sexual-abuse Reforms?

Last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops published its report on the latest round of diocesan audits conducted by the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. The results are encouraging.

Accusations of sexual abuse by clergy have fallen dramatically over the past decade. While it goes without saying that a single instance of child sexual abuse is one too many, just thirty-four minors made allegations of abuse in 2012. Of those thirty-four allegations, six were considered credible, twelve not, and the rest are still being investigated. These are the fewest allegations we’ve seen since the audits began in 2004—audits made possible by reforms the bishops conference adopted in Dallas in 2002. While it’s true that most dioceses self-report their data, and that many refuse to allow auditors into parishes and schools, no one can deny that the Catholic Church made significant progress on this issue. Yet some bishops still act as if the sexual-abuse scandal never happened. 

I was at the National Press Club in February 2004, when Archbishop Wilton Gregory, then president of the USCCB, announced that the sexual-abuse crisis was “history.” He was roundly criticized for that comment, but I’m sure he was being sincere. At that point, two years after the bishops adopted the Dallas Charter and Essential Norms governing their response to abuse accusations, the new rules seemed to be working. Predominantly lay review boards in every diocese were assessing abuse allegations in order to advise bishops whether accused priests should be removed from ministry. And, according to the new rules, no priest with a credible allegation of child sexual abuse against him would be allowed to remain in ministry.

When the spotlight of the national press was on them, it appeared that the bishops had acted responsibly. But, as an inaugural member of the bishops’ National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth, I had a different perspective. When the board went looking for national data about the phenomenon of sexual abuse by clergy, the California bishops, led by Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles (now retired), strongly resisted the audits.

First Mahony objected to the institution we chose to conduct the investigation, the highly regarded John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He had never heard of it. Why couldn’t a Catholic school handle it? Apparently it didn’t occur to him that avoiding the appearance of bias would be essential in establishing the credibility of the study. But Mahony went further, suggesting that John Jay’s audit instrument was “designed, on purpose, by people who have a vested interest in confusing the many intricate issues and maximizing the statistical number of perpetrators, as well as attaching the greatest possible numbers of perpetrators to diocesan reports.”

As a lawyer, I understood the cardinal’s fears. Any information they turned over to us could be subpoenaed by plaintiff’s lawyers. Whether they’d actually get their hands on it—or understand what they were seeing—was another matter: John Jay coded the data to make it extremely difficult to match accusation to accused. But what was there to fear from the truth? Civil-law discovery could have uncovered the same reports whether or not the National Review Board had asked for them. As it turns out, Mahony’s attempts to head off the investigation failed. Eventually the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would pay nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in legal settlements. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Mahony was so committed to blocking the audits. Last year we learned that during the late 1980s, he elected to keep accused priests out of state in order to shield them from law enforcement.

But Mahony was not alone in his skepticism. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said that even though he thought the archdiocese’s process—which had allowed some abusive priests to return to ministry after treatment—was working well, he would follow the national policy and remove them. He obviously had second thoughts about that, because in 2005, against the advice of his own review board, he kept an accused priest in ministry who went on to molest more young children. Daniel McCormack ended up going to prison. George apologized. In 2007, his fellow bishops elected him president of the USCCB, knowing he had flouted their own rules on keeping abusive priests in ministry.

Six years later, a Philadelphia grand jury found that thirty-seven accused priests were still in ministry. Why were those men still in ministry? What happened to the archdiocesan review board, which was supposed to examine allegations of child sexual abuse by priests and make recommendations to the archbishop? As the chair of the Philadelphia review board explained in Commonweal two years ago, “The review board did not see two-thirds of those cases because, according to the archdiocese, allegations against most of those priests involved only inappropriate behaviors that were not related to the sexual abuse of minors. And, citing privacy laws, the archdiocese had not provided the priests' psychological evaluations and other health records in cases the board reviewed. Board members don’t know for sure whether the archdiocese gave us all relevant information.”

The USCCB’s 2002 reforms called for the creation of archdiocesan review boards whose function would be to evaluate charges of sexual abuse against priests and advise the bishop on how to proceed. A review board can’t do its job unless it’s receiving all allegations against priests.

When bishops ignore their review boards they put children at risk. That’s partly why Bishop Robert W. Finn, of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, was found guilty of child endangerment last year. In December 2010, Finn learned that one of his priests, Fr. Shawn Ratigan, had hundreds of pornographic photos of children on his computer. The bishop did not notify the police, in accordance with civil and canon law. Nor did he inform the diocesan review board. Instead, Finn reassigned him as chaplain to the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Eucharist in Independence, Missouri. The sisters later said they had not been informed of the real reason Ratigan was there. Finn placed minimal restrictions on Ratigan—for example, he was allowed to say Mass for youth groups. So for the next five months, apparently without local supervision, Ratigan concelebrated a confirmation, interacted with children on Facebook, hosted an Easter egg hunt—and even attended a sixth-grader’s birthday party. After he was invited by parishioners to dine at their home, he was caught taking photos up their daughter’s skirt, according to a federal indictment. Eventually Ratigan admitted to charges of possessing and creating child pornography. He’s in jail.

How can Finn face his people, priests, and fellow bishops? He has let them all down. How can he attend national bishops conference meetings and hold his head up? Perhaps it’s easier when the USCCB fails to schedule a discussion of the problem of bishops who break their own rules.

And now the archbishop of Newark, John Myers, has been criticized for failing to suspend a priest who admitted to two incidents of sexually groping a thirteen-year-old boy. You can read Fr. Michael Fugee’s confession here. It seems straightforward, not the words of a man who was forced by police to confess to acts he didn’t commit. Yet Fugee recanted his confession and denied the charges at trial, claiming he lied to police because he wanted to go home. The judge ruled the confession “totally voluntary.” Members of the jury were not convinced, and they convicted him of aggravated criminal sexual contact. The judge sentenced him to probation for five years and to five hundred hours of community service. Fugee also had to register as a sex offender and undergo psychological counseling.

But Fugee’s conviction was overturned on appeal because of a technicality. The trial judge’s instructions to the jury did not give adequate guidance “on the issue of defendant’s supervisory authority.” Rather than retry Fugee, the Newark prosecutor entered into a legally binding “memorandum of understanding” with the priest and the archdiocese that permanently restricted Fugee from any ministry involving children. Fugee also agreed to “undergo sex-offender specific counseling/therapy.”

Imagine the surprise of the Catholic parents in Newark when they discovered that, despite the archdiocese’s agreement with the prosecutor, Fugee had been involved in youth activities, including retreats and weekend trips. He was even hearing young people’s confessions—in private, as all confessions must be heard.

Archbishop Myers’s response was less than forthcoming. In a letter to Newark priests, Myers claimed that Fugee had been acquitted. That was false. Fugee had been convicted, the conviction was overturned, and rather than face retrial, he and the archdiocese agreed to a plea bargain that restricted his future ministry, specifically excluding any contact with minors. The agreement is essentially—if not legally—an admission of guilt.

The archbishop also claimed that his review board had concluded that Fugee had not committed an act of sexual abuse. The review board evidently accepted Fugee’s disavowal of his prior confession, finding that, while he had engaged in ill-advised activity with a minor, it did not rise to the level of abuse. Apparently the review board was strongly influenced by the prosecutor’s acceptance of Fugee’s return to limited ministry—a ministry that could not involve children in any way. In fact, the memorandum of understanding says that the archdiocese will not allow Fugee “to supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of eighteen or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.” If limited ministry was good enough for the prosecutor, it was good enough for the review board, and that was their recommendation to Archbishop Myers.

Serving on a diocesan review board, with the fate of the children of your diocese at stake and the ministry of the accused in your hands is not an easy task. I know because I’ve been there. I don’t know what the Newark review board’s thinking was. But reading Fugee’s original confession disturbs me. Even discounting for the stress of being interviewed at a police station, Fugee does not come off as well balanced. If the Newark review board was going to rely so heavily on the part of the agreement that allowed Fugee to return to limited ministry, what about the part calling for him to undergo sex-offender therapy? That seems a rather clear declaration that he has a sexual problem with children. If you are going to pass the buck to the prosecutor, you have to look at everything that the agreement required.

The idea of “limited ministry” does not appear in the Dallas Norms. It is a half-measure that has been deployed in several dioceses when a review board cannot confirm an instance of true sexual abuse but has enough information to recommend a priest’s ministry be restricted. The trouble with this is that a priest in limited ministry still gets to wear his Roman collar, still gets to present himself as a priest in good standing. That collar is a badge of trust signifying authority. It can allow priests to spend time alone with children—Fugee is proof of this. Limited assignments may be considered safer than nothing, but for priests who are sexually attracted to children, no assignment is without significant risk.

Evidently the archbishop of Newark has his own questions about how Fugee was handled. He recently announced that the archdiocese had “uncovered certain operational vulnerabilities in our own systems. We found that the strong protocols presently in place were not always observed.” He also sacked his vicar general, Msgr. John E. Doran, whose job it had been to make sure Fugee had been keeping the terms of the memorandum of understanding. Doran’s signature is on that document. Myers has yet to take any personal responsibility for the failures of his own archdiocese, but according canon law, vicars general are supposed to “report to the diocesan bishop concerning the more important affairs which are to be handled or have been handled, and they are never to act contrary to the intention and mind of the diocesan bishop.” Myers is a canon lawyer. Are we supposed to believe he never asked Doran for a report on Fugee? If Myers failed to ask for such updates, he is grossly negligent. If he did and knew about Fugee’s violations of the agreement, then he is complicit. Neither is of any comfort to Newark parents.

When review boards were established in Dallas in 2002, what happened in Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Newark was not exactly what we had in mind. They were meant to reinforce the idea of episcopal accountability. In many dioceses, perhaps most, they are fulfilling that function. But not everywhere. My own experience with diocesan review boards is that their performance varies. Some bishops have appointed board members who will not challenge their decisions. Others permit (or even require) chancery officials to sit in on a board’s deliberations, allowing the “What does Father think?” mentality to influence the board’s judgment. Perhaps the biggest problem is that there are no national standards for review boards, which means their effectiveness varies from diocese to diocese. Without a certain uniformity in how these boards function, there will always remain the possibility that they will be ignored, deceived, or manipulated. If we can’t rely on review boards, then we have no assurance that abusive priests will not remain in ministry—beyond our bishops’ words. Of course, we had those words before Dallas, and now we know they weren’t true.

The bishops relied on majority-lay review boards to recover their own credibility. They were our safeguard against bishops who tried to revert to their old ways and move predator-priests around. The bishops’ promise to let the laity have a say in evaluating charges against priests was the central point of the Dallas reforms. Most bishops are keeping that promise. Some obviously, disastrously, are not. Every time a bishop flouts the Dallas reforms by placing his own judgment above the collective wisdom of the bishops conference and the advice of laypeople, he undermines the church. The only way out of this continuing crisis is by holding such men accountable. As the original National Review Board put it in our February 2004 report, “The exercise of authority without accountability is not servant-leadership; it is tyranny.”

About the Author

Nicholas P. Cafardi is a civil and canon lawyer. He is Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at Duquesne University School of Law. Cafardi was one of the original members of the USCCB’s National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth. His book Before Dallas (Paulist Press) is a history of the clergy child sexual-abuse crisis in the United States.



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Why aren't bishops following sexual-abuse reforms?  Because all they want out of laypeople is to pray, pay and obey.  Because which priest serves which parish or which ministry is, to a bishop, strictly a personnel matter which the laity has no business meddling in.  Because they won't face the fact that pedophiles are almost always repeat offenders and persist in thinking that a confession doesn't merely wipe an offender's slate clean, it changes his orientation.  

That about covers it.   

The bishops are not following the implementation of the Dallas Charter because there are no consequences for not following it.   If a bishop was indicted, convicted and jailed for actions stemming from this failure, that might create real motivation to actually implement the Dallas reforms.  It is clear that at least a few don't take these reforms at all seriously.  

I'm heartened that things are getting better, but a number of bishops still just don't seem to get it.  

Most bishops originally had review board members that were anonymous. When we confronted A/B Levada [soon to be Cardinal over CDF in Rome] over his anonymous review board he responded that they  were afraid/concerned about the possible actions against the members by survivors. We responded that US Federal judges of both the District and Appeals Courts were named and addressed in the phone book.... And they were dealing with Hells Angels and M13.!!! A month later A/B Levada did name the review board members  ; the Chairman of the review board eventually resigned citing the cover-ups.

Why Aren’t Bishops Following Sexual-abuse Reforms?

Because they do not have to, their is no consequences if they fail to, and no one can hold them accountable to apply and/or enforce these reforms.The Dallas Charter and Reforms are not worth the paper they are written on.  

All of our children are still at risk for sexual exploitation and abuse within the US Catholic Church.  Certainly such evil and criminal conduct can take place in any institution, public or private, religious or secular,  However, we have 10 years worth of evidence that shows in many instances that our bishops and cardinals choose to ignore the sexual-abuse reforms, thus further imperiling more children within our Catholic Church and its associated programs and facilities.

George, Finn, Myers, etc..........did they get a copy of the Dallas Charter?

I suspect -- and admittedly have no hard evidence for same -- that the reason there has been little or no accountability for bishops from Rome is that those bishops were precisely following official Vatican policy:  Keep it secret; admit nothing; find ways to silence the accusers even if that costs money.


If that is true, someone in a position to know needs to say so, even though it will expose the Vatican to worldwide lawsuits.  We will not put all this behind us until the complete truth is known, AND until we know what the new, present, policy is -- if indeed there has been any change. 


We continue to see egregious examples of non-compliance among the American bishops -- not merely those cited by Mr. Cafardi, but a few who have totally rejected the USCCB policy statement.

The author is too kind to the Bishops.  The Charter to Protect Children is nothing more than the honor system refined.  As such it was/is largely a publicity stunt to persuade the Catholic public that Bishops were/are aggressively dealing with the situation.  Certainly the safe environment education that resulted from the charter has been helpful, but it too is part of the "smoke screen."  The Charter avoids the most egregious issue that turned a problem of sexual predators in the church into a scandal: cover-up of sex abuse by church officials.The audit system is a farce based soley on self-reporting as the Philadelphia grand jury has proven.  Auditors are only  as effective as the information they are given.


The Charter avoids addressing cover-up by church officials and accountability of clerics who cover-up;.  It provides for education of the church community on reporting suspicious behavior, but does nothing to protect whistle blowers.  And does not empower lay review boards to be "watchdogs" but only advisors to the bishop on issues related to the Charter (another smokescreen to persuade the public that their children are safe).


What needs to happen?

1)  Every seminary, school of theology, and lay/deacon formation program ought to be mandated to teach the history of sex abuse in the church with special attention to identifying cover-up and empowering participants to deal with that ever present possibility.

2) Every Bishop and church leader with a credible history of cover-up must resign and do 500 hours of community service.

3).  Vulnerable adults must be expanded to include seminarians and any person in the pastoral care of a church minister and/or supervised as a church employee.

4).  Canon law must be edited to give lay people legal rights to argue church related issues in ecclesiastical courts.  Special protection must be extended to whistle blowers, clergy, religious, and lay.

Micheal Cassidy states he has no "hard evidence" regarding "official VaticaWhen the n policy." How's this?  When the scandal first broke wide open, Boston and its Cardinal law were the center of attention. The Cardiinal was the "poster boy" for it so much so that he resigned (supposedly in disgrace). How was he subsequently treated by Rome? Well,he resides in a typical Roman palace which is attached to 

Pope Francis (under the guidance of St. Francis of Assisi) needs to step up and reform the Church---from the top down.

I am confused by the number 34 - these are minors currently reporting?  How many adults are still coming back on the Catholic Church for what happened in decades past?

As a victim of clergy abuse I am saddened that more is not being done. I also consider myself a victim of a review board that, started out wonderful, kind and compassionate until it became clear that I was not going to accept their platitudes and really wanted to pursue the issue.  Then the gloves came off. 

An independent arbitrator and Judge in bankruptcy court ultimately took my side and made the Diocese make changes to their "Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior".  I needed a Judge to explain to the Diocese Review Board that "we believe you" and credible were in fact the same thing.  This system as it is currently run in SOME Diocese' just continues the cycle of victimization.  

Ultimately the Catholic Church will be held accountable with continued dwindling contributions and members - this is sad because it wouldn't have to be that way if there were changes made that truly showed new accountability and an acceptance of past wrongs.  However, it continues to be handled poorly and the victims are made out to be the "bad guys" in the matter.  

"Why aren't bishops following their own sexual abuse reforms?" .. Because they don't have to. And there are more than a few not following their own rules.

Sex abuse thrives in secrecy and secret systems that allow it to continue to this day.

The sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still covering up sex crimes against kids, they are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they still are not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called "zero tolerance" policy is not being followed by all the bishops who created it. They don't have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting innocent kids. There are many of these bishops who need to be held accountable, and who need to spend some time behind bars. Until that happens nothing will change.

Silence is not an options anymore, it only hurts, and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.


Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. [email protected],
"SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)


I'm sorry, this articl is the same old legalistic approach to the problem.

The real issue, never raised, is why is the entire corps of Catholic bishops so deficient in morsl reasoning? I'm afriad this article shows why. Going on and on about rules and procedures and never raising what's wrong with the education and developemnt of priests that encourages them to make such horridly immoral decisions? What is wrong with the Catholic church?  What is wrong with seminary education?

Katie Bowman: 34 is the number of accusations received in the previous year.

I am both angry and saddened that your experience with the Review Board and apparently everyone else in officialdom was so hurtful. There is no excuse, period, for such revictimization. But why am I not surprised that bishops become more risk managers than shepherds when they don't get their way?

Consider the mindset behind bishops' actions, since I believe "The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts." (John Locke):

1) Bishops' audits purposely exclude counting abuse by religious brothers (technically not clergy), likewise for abuse by seminarians who do not go on to ordination. In addition, up to 2010, bishops refused to consider abuse of mentally handicapped victims whose abuse did not begin before their 18th birthdays. Tell me, what kind of people establish rules whose effect is to limit the acknowledgement of such sexual assaults?

2) The first four bishops' audits from 2003 through 2006 dioceses were given two tries at the apple. An initial audit in late summer or early fall would reveal certain deficiencies, which then led to a list of required actions. If the required actions were completed by the end of the year, then the diocese would be in full compliance. Nationally, about 74% of dioceses would be in compliance in the first round,but by the end of the year usually over 95% or more would make the second round. It was the second round results that were trumpeted in full court press each year.

3) The goals established each year to measure compliance were movable. The Charter calls for training programs for personnel working with children. But a diocese could be in compliance one year (2004), and not the next (2005). As long as a training program had been selected before, a diocese was compliant, even it it was not implemented.

4) Former FBI agent William Gavin, whose firm did the bishops' audits until I believe 2010, finally admitted in 2011 that "It was an audit in quotes...I think it was more of a program review than anything else."

"Gavin says he could ask whether a diocese is conducting background checks on priests and employees — but he was not allowed to look at records that would indicate whether there were any allegations against a priest."

"We didn't have the benefit of drilling down into personnel files to see what might be there," Gavin says. "They were off limits."

5) The bishops' audits are what is known as "compliance" audits versus "performance" audits; the former simply determines that a procedure has been established; the latter whether it has been effective. 

The Diocese of Manchester, NH challenged the AG's office in court to prevent state "performance" audits under a non-prosecution agreement. Bishop McCormack originally claimed no state supervision was necessary because the bishops' had their own "compliance" audits. 

Well, the court ruled for compliance audits by the AG. The differences are stark when comparing what the bishops' audits revealed versus what the state auditors found. Night and day contrasts, and a scathing exposure of bishops' spin versus reality:

USCCB: "“The diocese is found to be compliant with all Articles of the Charter for the Protection on (sic) Children and Young People."

AG findings during site visits ten months later: “The Diocese has exhibited a general level of ineffectiveness in enforcing compliance... repeated missed deadlines...incomplete training...lack of background checks, and unfilled positions...level of compliance inconsistent at site was 100% compliant"


This article needs to be sent to Pope Francis.  All the linking articles need to be sent to him.  He "walks the walk" when he advocates for the poor.  He has spoken out about sexual abuse.  Perhaps he needs some prodding to advocate for those vulnerable to not only sexually predatory priests but the American Catholic bishops who protect and enable them.  And perhaps such bishops are in the minority among honest Catholic bishops, but I've seen nothing to suggest that such good bishops are actively confronting their colleagues.  "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good [people] to do nothing."  The saying seems borne out by the present situation, but I question the use of the word "good" for those who allow evil when they are in positions of power to stop it.

Sorry, error above - "Well, the court ruled for performance audits by the AG. (not compliance audits) 


6) Fr. James Connell, a canonist and former member of the Review Boards in La Crosse and Milwaukee, has spent years trying to get the hierarchy to strengthen their audits, to no effect: 

“I learned that the “Charter audit” authorized by the U. S. Bishops concerns the Charter only and not also the Essential Norms. This is a very important point, … if the auditors are not reviewing the Essential Norms, then no one is checking to see if the dioceses actually do send to Rome the cases that fit the “semblance of truth” standard…This is a major flaw in the audit process and the flaw continues to this very day...the lack of accountability lives on.”

In response to the hierarchy's claim that it does not matter: "...these documents are very different. While the Charter presents policies and procedures to create a safe environment within the Church for children and young people, the Charter contains no statements of law, such as requirements of canon law. 

"The Essential Norms, however, contains the legal language to assure diocesan compliance with the Charter, and the Essential Norms has been approved by the Vatican as law for the dioceses of the United States. Thus, to audit the Charter without also auditing the Essential Norms does make a difference, a big difference. Diocesan compliance with both documents needs to be verified by the auditor.”

7) Here are two links to research on

Zero Tolerance, Allegations and Reinstatements, with a list of bishops' actions:

A Fact Sheet about O’Malley’s record is also relevant:


Perhaps some of the bishops consider the Catholic Church to be an institution uniquely devoted to the forgiveness of sins and redemption of sinners.  Can't imagine where they would have gotten that idea.  Clearly there is no place for such an institution in Nicholas Cafardi's zero-tolerance world. 






“Every time a bishop flouts the Dallas reforms by placing his own judgment above the collective wisdom of the bishops conference and the advice of laypeople, he undermines the church. The only way out of this continuing crisis is by holding such men accountable. “


We have this incessant conversation because of the constant expectation that the bishops need to change. Whether they do or do not need to change is an issue to set aside for now. There is so much dysfunction in the church that the institution has to start fresh.

 What needs to change is the laypeople’s’ need to be prepared to give sound advice. When laypeople are prepared by studying the issues sufficiently, ‘the collective wisdom of the bishops conference’ may even be irrelevant.

The bottom line is: an online curriculum to bring the church into the twenty-first century as it evolves from an axial age religion to a post-axial age faith and moral agency phenomenon. It is a massive undertaking but a mandatory one. We, the laity must hold ourselves accountable. 

  Once again we see an attitude where Bishops consider themselves to operate with a mindset that they are above the law that applies to all the people of the land.

  Their arrogance and pomposity is getting old and continues to cause Christians and non-Christians to turn away from  them.    The example of Pope Francis living and serving as a servant of all people, not above or separate from them is refreshing.   The BIshops who continue to act as if they are above the people needs to change.  These men would be wise to follow the example of Pope Francis.   Follow the lived example of Jesus who shows us how to live in communion with all people, especially the abused, those  who are exploited, people in need of God's compassion and respect.

    Serve and honor the people you serve, you are not above them.

Deacon Rich McGarry


Gregory, the crime we're talking about here is pedophilia.  Were the bishops to consult experts in the field, they would learn that the odds are extremely high that a pedophile will re-offend.   "Redemption of sinners" should not mean allowing a priest who has already sexually abused a child to have contact with more children.

I know.  It's high time the secular authorities taught our bishops what redemption of sinners means.  Thank goiodness that, by using a secular institution like the John Jay Institute of Criminal Justice, we prevented any Catholic institution from muddying the waters with any phoney-baloney religious principles.  And we need to ignore the fact that sexual offenders have one of the lowest rates of recidivism of any crime.  Another plus is that the concept of zero-tolerance avoids bishops making any reaasoned judgments about the risk posed by any individual  offender.  We all know that mandatory sentences without consideration of the facts of an individual case is the way to mete out justice.  And, besides, if Christ had wanted the Church and its bishops to be concerned about forgiveness and redemption, he would have said something.   

Gregory Leisse, I recall your posting in January 2009 about your position as in-house counsel for the Diocese of Phoenix, under Bishop Thomas O'Brien. We were on different sides then and are so now, as evidenced in our lengthy posts.

I believe here you are confusing forgiveness with accountability. Even Pope John Paul II separated the two when he forgave his assassin within a week of being shot by him, but did not seek his release from prison until 17 years later.

ARGGGHH!  My cover is blown!  But i'm not sure what that adds to the discourse.  Pope John Paul II did not control the sentence or release of  his would-be assassin.  Had he been making  those decisions, I believe he would have been guided by the Church's principles of forgiveness and redemption   Any bishop should be allowed to apply those same priciples rather than being constrained to impose Nicholas Cafardi's zero-tolerance in every case as a sentence from which no priest can be released no matter what the circumstances or how much time has passed.            

Firing Robert W. Finn as the KC-St Joe bishop would be a good place for Pope Francis to start.  Which (for me) raises the question: Does this pope know anything AT ALL about Finn???  Are there info gatekeepers in the Vatican protecting Finn and, by extension, other hierarchs who should be fired?  Makes ya' wonder.

Gregory L: What your "cover" adds to the discourse is an understanding of an argument I have seen many diocesan lawyers make. It matches your comments about forgiveness and redemption being the guiding principle for a bishop. It’s that the courts cannot tell a bishop how to deal with a priest/predator in a matter that involves such religious issues.

In fact, another diocesan attorney, L. Martin Nussbaum, used that argument before Judge Constance Sweeney in Boston when she was deciding about the Geoghan cases way back in 2003. A bishop is exercising his freedom of religion when he forgives priests. The USCCB’s chief counsel advised dioceses to use that defense. Sweeney was savvy enough not to buy it, as were so many women judges who led the way.

BUT the First Amendment does not allow bishops to rely on religious doctrines like forgiveness and redemption as excuses to criminally endanger children. Neutral, generally applicable laws to protect minors do not create a privileged class immune from that obligation.

Catholic bishops claim in effect the right to be as negligent as they want in managing sexual abusers in order to practice their Catholic faith.  Many, though not all courts, are no longer buying such rationalizations. The First Amendment protects religious belief, not criminal conduct.

But regarding JPII, even though he did not have control of Agca’s case, his actions tell us what his approach would have been: Forgiveness early, but provision for accountability and justice as well, with the serving of a long prison term before release.

The record of disaster that followed bishops’ distorted use of forgiveness and redemption brought us the scourge of sexual abuse of minors for decades. They kept the secrets long enough to engage the statutes of limitation, meaning that only 2% of all perpetrators were ever convicted in court. A very damning statistic.

Around my grandson and in light of the bishops' history of blatant disregard for child protection, zero tolerance is the answer. Our AG cited the Diocese here for "willful blindness, conscious ignorance and flagrant indifference to the dangers priests posed to children."

Good points Carolyn.

I would not be surprised if JP II also forgave Marciel for his horrific discreations. However, he never condemned him and did not allow the CDF to investigate him and bringing him to any sense of justice and accountability. The list of other bishops who participated in the cover up, like Cardinal Mahoney of LA, among others mentioned in the blog, continue to hold comfortable positions within the Church with impunity.

Until the RCC holds bishops accountable for covering up the child sex abuse scandal and other immoral behavior, the credibility and reputation of the Magisterium, Roman Curia and Papal Office in proclaiming the truth will contnue to wane and be irrelevant to most Catholics.

Frankly, the hierarchy minimizes the criticism about a lack of accountability and justice. The Church insulates the hierarchy from this crticisim because it believes that much of it is unfounded and exaggerated by the media. They don't recognize the problem of continuing to operate in a culture of clericalism. They believe they have done enough and are complying with the Dallas guidelines and the law. Yet, they comply only minimally and selectively by allowing Review Boards, et al, access to only certain information of their chosing and don't have any fear of wrong-doing because they continue to put the reputation of the Church ahead of justice and the people. To be fully transparent and allow full access to all necessary information would only trigger more criticism based on the fear that it would fuel a "witch-hunt", They think this issue will go away in time and the Church will regain its reputation without doing anything further, another fantasy I may add.



JPII was disastrous when it comes to Maciel, and should never be made a saint in the face of his dereliction of duty to protect children. He is responsible for his blindness and refusal to face the facts. I know personally a Maciel victim, who suffered mightily, but has never had one bit of recompense from the fabulously wealthy Legion. The order should be suppressed, period. 

I doubt JPII ever even thought there was something to forgive Maciel for, so closed was his mind and heart. Not to mention Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon and Richard John Neuhaus. 

I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of the situation, particularly the clerical narcissism that makes everything all about THEM, the bishops. I've heard several identify themselves with Christ's passion in enduring the scandal, even claiming THEY are the victims.

Cardinals and bishops in general have justly earned their irrelevance in many people's lives. That Mahony and countless others were promoted instead of imprisoned is the open sore in today's church. But they blithely go on, denying their culpability. For shame.




In the days before this article was published, I provided to Mr. Cafardi with information both about the operation of the Archdiocese of Newark’s Review Board and about the case of Fr. Fugee.


None of that information appears in this article.


The Archdiocese and the Archbishop have always taken seriously both the spirit and the letter of the Charter.  Archbishop Myers has given the Archdiocesan Review Board the authority to conduct investigations into all allegations of child sexual abuse freely.   It is not a group that, in Mr. Cafardi’s words, “can be ignored, deceived or manipulated.”   It is not what Archbishop Myers would want, nor is it what the 20-year history of Newark’s Review Board has shown.


The Archdiocese and the Archbishop have always taken seriously both the spirit and the letter of the Charter.  Archbishop Myers has given the Archdiocesan Review Board the authority to conduct investigations into all allegations of child sexual abuse freely.   It is not a group that, in Mr. Cafardi’s words, “can be ignored, deceived or manipulated.”   It is not what Archbishop Myers would want, nor is it what the 20-year history of Newark’s Review Board has shown.

  Whether it was because of deadlines or other reasons, readers need to know more about the situation so that they are able to reach a truly educated and impartial conclusion about the case.    Here’s what I provided to Mr. Cafardi: 


The Archdiocesan Review Board


 The Archdiocesan Review Board, or ARB, consists primarily of lay volunteers with extensive backgrounds as attorneys, investigators/law enforcement officers, and clinical specialists.      The law enforcement officers come from federal, state and local forces. Many of them entered private investigative or corporate investigative practice following their careers in uniform.    All are practicing Catholics, which is a requirement of membership in the ARB.   This group brings to the table more than 200 years of experience in the fields of law enforcement/investigation, law and the treatment of sexual abuse and trauma.


 The ARB began operating in 1993, almost ten years prior to the Dallas Charter. 


The members of the ARB have chosen to act confidentially, and do not make their names public generally.   They do, however, identify themselves to those who come to the Archdiocese with allegations.   That identification includes providing general backgrounds about themselves.     They explain this stipulation to the individuals with whom they meet during an investigation of an allegation, and they also assure those bringing allegations to the Church that they will not make public any information that they obtain from the interviews they conduct.   There is one exception to this assurance, however: all information developed by the ARB is provided to the local prosecutor to whom the allegation has been reported.    


 In many ways, the ARB acts in a fashion similar to that of a grand jury – reviewing an allegation to see if there is sufficient information for the matter to be referred for a trial or procedure under Canon Law.      Grand juries act confidentially as well.   The names of the members of a grand jury, to my knowledge, are not revealed.   


 How the ARB Works


 When the Archdiocese receives an allegation of sexual misconduct by clergy involving a minor, the information is first presented to the local county prosecutor.  If the allegation appears to be something that may result in a criminal prosecution, the ARB and Archdiocese do not act until that criminal process concludes.  If there is no prosecution expected, the ARB receives the information.  


 If the priest or deacon accused is currently in ministry, the Archdiocese has the priest step down from ministry, and remain out of ministry, while an investigation continues.    We announce to the parish where the priest is serving that an investigation is under way, and that the priest is stepping down while this inquiry is going on.    The priest remains out during the entire time of the ARB inquiry (of, if there is a criminal prosecution underway, during that period as well). 


 The Archdiocese also reaches out to the Accuser and invites him or her to take part in the ARB process. We specifically cite that the process is voluntary, but that the participation of the Accuser is most helpful in the ability of the ARB to determine if the Archdiocese and the Archbishop can or should take action under Canon Law.   The Chair of the ARB designates a subcommittee of three members of the Board to conduct an inquiry.  The subcommittee reviews all available materials about the matter and about the accused priest or deacon, and reaches out to the Accused to speak with them face-to-face.   If the individually lives in the area, a convenient time to meet in the Archdiocesan Center is arranged.   If the individual comes from another part of the country, the Archdiocese offers to pay for the transportation, room and board (local hotel) to Newark and back to learn about the situation.  There have been times when ARB members have traveled to other parts of the country to conduct interviews, either of the Accused or of someone else who might be able to shed light on the matter.


 The ARB subcommittee is free to interview as many people as it needs to in order to reach a recommendation.    When they feel they have enough information  to bring to the full ARB, they will meet and make a presentation.  The full board is free to question the results, ask the subcommittee to continue, or to vote on whether they feel there is sufficient information for the Archbishop to proceed with an action under Canon Law. 


 The recommendation is sent to the Archbishop for concurrence.    If the priest is alive and the Archbishop agrees to take action under Canon law, that action is begun.  If the priest is dead, then the file will contain the results of the inquiry.


 If the event leads to a canonical proceeding, then the Archdiocese makes another announcement about the conclusion of the ARB process in the parish where the priest has stepped down, and also in the other parishes where the priest or deacon may have been in ministry previously.        Similarly, if the inquiry results in a determination that no action is to be taken under Canon Law, the Archdiocese will return the priest to ministry and announce the decision where the priest or deacon had been at the time the inquiry began and where he stepped down.


 In the Matter of Fr. Fugee


It is important to make clear a point that Mr. Cafardi referred to his the article – that of the court trial’s conclusions.


 Fr. Fugee was tried on two counts.     He was acquitted of one charge, and found guilty on a second.   The case was appealed, and the appeals court overturned the guilty verdict.   So, we have an outright acquittal on one charge, and an eventual dismissal of the other.    Media reports have characterized this overturning merely as a technicality, but it is important to look at actually what happened.


 To begin with, the appeal was based on four elements; supervisory authority was one of them.   The panel of judges determined that the judge had not instructed the jury thoroughly in this area.   The appeals court determined that the lack of guidance could not be minimized or treated as a harmless error, and as a result the jury was unable to consider the critical elements of the matter.   In fact, the panel demonstrated five specific areas where this lack of guidance affected the jury’s ability reach a fair verdict.   According to news reports at the time, the appeals court also said that the trial judge should not have left the jury hear parts of Fr. Fugee’s disputed statement to police.     These are not technicalities.


 Nor has much attention been given to the fact that at the conclusion of the original trial, a juror wrote to the trial judge to report that she felt the priest was innocent and that jurors seeking a conviction had apparently misled other jurors about the verdict one of the attornies had asked the jury to return in his closing argument.   The judge did not look into the matter.


 How the ARB Investigated the Case


 The ARB reviewed numerous records from the court process, including Fr. Fugee’s initial statements that were challenged later in court, and which Fr. Fugee continues to deny are the truth.       Other interviews/statements also were utilized in their inquiry, and the Review Board also undertook its own interviews of individuals.     The ARB reached out to the family of the young man whose allegation was brought to the attention of the police, inviting them to take part in the ARB process, but the family chose not to participate.   The Review Board mailed a Certified Letter and a First Class Letter.  Neither was returned, so delivery was made.    The records of the file show that “the Alleged Victim declined to participate.”  Had the family asked to be flown up to New Jersey, the Archdiocese would have accommodated them.  The Archdiocese also would have flown subcommittee members to the Alleged Victim’s home state had that been the family’s preference.


 The ARB did not look into the case until all of the criminal court/prosecutor actions had been conducted.   After conducting its interviews and reviewing materials --  the MOU, the recommendation of the State-appointed psychiatrist, who said that Fr, Fugee posed no risk to minors, and the County Prosecutor’s “public approval” of him returning to ministry through implementation of the MOU and dismissal of any further charges – the ARB recommended that a restricted ministry that did not involve minors was possible.      If the Prosecutor’s Office had not, by its actions, recommended a return to ministry, Fr. Fugee would have remained where the Archbishop had placed him – with no faculties – during the time of the court process. 


 The ARB did not give Fr. Fugee a clean bill of health.   From its inquiry, the ARB concluded that  he engaged in an activity that was ill-advised, but it did not rise to sexual abuse.    Further, the ARB recommended that the limitations stated in the MOU were appropriate safeguards.


 The MOU was incorporated into a precept that carried with it the possibility of suspension if Fr. Fugee did not follow it.    The Archdiocese never assigned him to any ministry that involved minors.   The first ministry to which he was assigned was that of a volunteer -- not paid -- chaplain at a Catholic hospital where no pediatric services were offered.      His second and third assignments were office assignments within the Chancery that did not involve children -- first, as local administrator of the Propagation of the Faith office (and National knew of the prior charges and restrictions) and then as co-administrator with another priest of an office in the Chancery that advises priests of workshop and seminar opportunities.   It is this second assignment in the office of Clergy Personnel that some critics have called a promotion to a" high profile  or prestigious office."    It isn't.    These duties were that of a clerk sending out emails.   


 Fr. Fugee took actions he is now accused of on his own, without our knowledge. Today, he is facing charges that he violated the terms of the MOU.


 Admittedly, the case involving Fr. Fugee is complex and singular.   But we continue to believe that the ARB acted appropriately, thoroughly and professionally in reaching a recommendation involving Fr. Fugee’s return to limited ministry.   They relied upon their own information, supported by documents, facts and opinions of people involved with the Court process.     That process, combined with the ARB process, took a total of eight years.  It is also interesting to note that when the audit of the Archdiocese of Newark was conducted in 2010, the on-site auditor said that he had not encountered a Review Board that conducted its own inquiries into allegation.     But after he met with members of the Review Board and learned who they were, what they did and how they worked, he concluded that the Archdiocese of Newark’s program was solid and very effective.                                                                                                                                                    The Archdiocese and the Archbishop have always taken seriously both the spirit and the letter of the Charter.  Archbishop Myers has given the Archdiocesan Review Board the authority to conduct investigations freely into all allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy.  It is not a group that, in Mr. Cafardi's words, "can be ignored, deceived or manipulated."  It is not what Archbihsop would want, nor is it what the 20-year history of Newark's Review Board has shown.


James Goodness

Director of Communications

Archdiocese of Newark



Becoming a bishop is just another step up the career ladder.  Careerists ALWAYS know what has to be said and done, how to to whom.  Why do you think these guys make their periodic trips to Mother Ship with valises full of cash?  It isn't to pass out to the beggars on the streets of Rome.

Maybe if the people had a strong say as to who is made THEIR bishop and Rome would only have a veto if they knew something iuntoward about the recommendee that the electors didn't, then there might be a better cadre of bishops, locally known and locally bound.

I think the various people who said the bishops ignore the Charter because there are no consequences for doing so are pretty close to correct.  At least until very recently, there might have even been benfits to one's prestige in Rome to not following it. 

Now I am willing to accept that in the first few months, even the first year or so, there would be bumps along the way.  One only need watch the roll out of any program to get that major policy changes rarely go forward without some errors and problems in implementation. So seeing mishandled cases dating bakc to 2003 or 2004 shouldn't surprise anyone.    But by now that ought to be in the past and everybody should get the message and participate.  It seems that there are a wide range of degrees and levels of participation at this point and that ought to be unacceptable.  It seems to me that this is one of the benefits of a hierarchical system and one where it is time, past time really, for Rome to insist on participation in the process and discipline those bishops who don't do a good job.  Pope Francis, this ball is in your court!


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