Panel Cites Progress in Fight
Against Church Abuse
ive years to the day after Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston resigned for mishandling the clergy sex abuse scandal, a lay review board said the Catholic Church has made significant progress but said some work remains undone.
The National Review Board, an independent watchdog panel authorized by U.S. bishops in 2002, said on December 13 the church has succeeded in abuse-prevention education and conducting background checks on church employees and volunteers.
In addition, audits conducted by the Boston-based Gavin Group since 2003 found that 98 percent of U.S. dioceses are in compliance with standards adopted by the U.S. Conference of Bishops five years ago.
However, the 12-member panel said the church must study what churches are actually doing, and suggested random audits on the parish level -- something that was recently tested in several dioceses. "We have to make sure that the program that they say they're doing, they're actually doing," said Judge Michael Merz, a magistrate judge in Dayton, Ohio, who heads the panel.
Since 1950, more than 5,400 priests have been accused, and more than 13,000 victims have alleged abuse in a scandal that has cost the U.S. church more than $2 billion.
Victims' advocates, however, criticized the report, saying bishops who failed to stop the abuse have yet to be held fully accountable. A small group held a vigil outside the offices of the pope's ambassador in Washington, asking for several bishops who have been personally accused to be defrocked. "It's more of the same, self-congratulation for long-overdue baby steps that evade the crux of the issue," said David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
According to the report, more than 6 million children have participated in sex-abuse prevention education programs, and more than 1.6 million background checks have been conducted on employees and volunteers who have regular access to children.
The small number of dioceses not in compliance are mostly small Eastern-rite jurisdictions, who say they can't afford the studies, and the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, which has repeatedly refused to participate, Merz said.
While most of the report focused on abuse prevention, the board said the church needs to launch a long-overdue conversation with priests, who say the reforms left accused clergy in legal limbo and undercut due-process rights for priests. "One of the first things that needs to happen is conversation at a formal level between the bishops and priests," Merz said. "What we hear is ... a lot of priests felt abandoned."
Merz expressed confidence that the U.S. church had turned the corner in the abuse crisis, noting the dearth of fresh allegations. In a report issued last April, nearly three-quarters of new allegations reported in 2006 occurred before 1984; just 17 were alleged to have occurred in 2006. "I think we've made an enormous amount of progress in putting procedures in place that will avoid any repetition of the crisis," he said. "The crisis in 2002 consisted largely in revelation of abuse that had happened in the past."
Robertson's Son Takes Reins of Christian Broadcasting Network
Gordon Robertson, the son of religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, has been elected new chief executive officer of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).
The elder Robertson told CBN directors that he would remain as board chairman but wanted to "relinquish his duties as chief executive officer of the Christian Broadcasting Network, effective immediately," the network said in a statement released December 3.
Pat Robertson, who will turn 78 in March, has been the ministry's CEO since he founded it in 1960. In his role as CBN's chairman, he will continue to be actively involved in the ministry and to serve as president of Regent University.
The younger Robertson, 49, was voted unanimously by the board as CEO of the corporation and vice chairman of the board. He spent 10 years in corporate and real estate law before joining CBN. He has led CBN's Asia operations and serves as the executive producer and a co-host of "The 700 Club," CBN's flagship program.
"I thought that some of this day-to-day operation, it was important to pass down the line especially to somebody a little bit more adept at figuring out the new technologies coming at such a bewildering speed to all of us," the elder Robertson said.
Gordon Robertson said of the transition: "It's a lot easier when you sit on the shoulders of a giant."