Diocese complies with child protection charter

The Catholic Diocese of Rockford reported March 30 it was “in compliance with the ‘Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People’” in 2005, according to the Diocese’s self-reported audit.

The audit was administered by The Gavin Group, Inc., an independent auditing agency.

Since the Catholic Diocese of Rockford had been found to be fully compliant with on-site audits in 2003 and 2004, it was given a 13-page audit instrument from the Gavin Group to conduct a self-report. Of the 195 dioceses in the U.S., 104 were eligible for self-reporting audits.

According to a press release issued by the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, national audits have been held for all Catholic churches since the acceptance of the Charter for the Protection of Young People (CPYP). The Charter was written in 2002 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

In a letter to USCCB President William Skylstad and National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People Chairman Patricia Ewers, The Gavin Group, Inc., Auditor William Gavin said, “As in the past, no personnel files were reviewed and the auditors had to rely on the truthfulness and integrity of those furnishing the information to reach conclusions and provide statistical data for the audit.” The letter can be found at www.usccb.org.

Rockford Diocese spokesman Dr. Owen Phelps said: “It’s not really a self-audit. We provided them (Gavin Group) with the data. We sent it to them instead of them coming and picking it up. They had an option of coming into the Diocese. That was left to the auditor to determine if that was necessary.”

“The auditor decides what we get asked about,” Phelps added.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) President Barbara Blaine did not respond to phone calls in time for publication. However, in a statement published on the group’s Web site, www.snapnetwork.org, Blaine said, “Bishops can’t be trusted to monitor themselves.”

Part of the CPYP reads as follows: “Dioceses/eparchies are to evaluate the background of incardinated and non-incardinated priests and deacons who are engaged in ecclesiastical ministry in the diocese/eparchy and all of diocesan/eparchial and parish/school or other paid personnel and volunteers whose duties include ongoing, unsupervised contact with minors. …They (Diocese/eparchies) are to utilize the resources of law enforcement and other community agencies. In addition, they are to employ adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding the fitness of candidates for ordination.”

Phelps said the main change since the implementation of the 2002 charter was the requiring of background checks for volunteers. He added that the Catholic Diocese of Rockford has performed background checks on its employees “since prior to the charter.”

“We cannot hire anyone without a background check,” Phelps said. “They’re expected and required as a condition of our employment.”

Phelps also said background checks at the Diocese are kept separate from personnel files.

The Rockford Diocese Web site, , also cites psychological testing and one-on-one interviews as screening measures.

A Seattle Post Intelligencer article, “N.H. audit: Church didn’t ensure checks,” by Associated Press reporter J.M. Hirsch, reported the Diocese of Manchester in New Hampshire “have failed to make sure all workers, volunteers and clergy have passed criminal background checks. …” This conclusion was based on a state audit separate from the USCCB audit.

The Catholic Bishop’s audit did not note the failure of performing background checks, according to Hirsch’s article.

Rev. Edward Arsenault, spokesman for the Manchester Diocese, said “auditing firm KPMG failed to understand…its (diocesan’s) methods of ensuring compliance with abuse prevention policies.”

State audits are not performed on the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, according to both the Office of the Auditor General and Phelps.

Hirsch’s article said a state audit was required of the Diocese of Manchester as part of a 2002 settlement concerning priests sexually abusing children.

Phelps said regarding the state audit: “They (New Hampshire state auditors) could have missed something because they are not familiar with the church structure.”

Phelps added: “If I didn’t think the (Rockford) Diocese put children’s protection first, I’d be out of here. I get my primary motivation as a parent, grandparent and uncle. I want to see children safe.”

Phelps also cited the Diocese’s educational programs on the treatment and prevention of sexual abuse as adding to the Catholic Diocese of Rockford’s efforts.

The Catholic Diocese of Rockford is currently fighting a five-count lawsuit filed Feb. 23 by Rockford resident Donald Bondick who alleges he was sexually abused when he was 14 by Father Theodore Feely, a Conventual Franciscan Friar of the Province of St. Bonaventure assigned to St. Anthony of Padua Church in Rockford in 1969. The Conventual Franciscans are also named as defendants in the case, in which Bondick is asking for a judgment of $50,000 on each of the five counts.

The Gavin Group, Inc., did not respond to phone calls in time for publication.

From the April 12-18, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!