Abuse audit team lauds Maine diocese

Posted Feb. 05, 2009, at 9:39 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:47 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has been found to be in full compliance with the nationally mandated child protection policies and practices for the second year in a row.

The audit team commended the diocese for its commitment to protecting children and for effective procedures that are permanently part of the church’s operations, according to a statement the diocese issued Thursday.

“This is the second year the audit has included parishes where we can best determine if our policies are really working,” Bishop Richard Malone said.

“Churches and schools are where children are on a regular basis. Compliance on this level is important so that parishioners can be assured their children are safe.”

The annual reviews conducted by auditors from outside the diocese were implemented in 2002 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after the clergy abuse scandal centered in Boston gained international attention.

Because the diocese had a clean audit last year, it had the option of not taking part in a full, on-site audit, said diocesan spokeswoman Sue Bernard.

But Malone welcomed the inspection in order to ensure accountability, for transparency and to rebuild credibility, she said Thursday.

In the audit completed in December 2005, the diocese fell short because background checks had not been completed for all of its volunteers and children enrolled in Catholic schools or education programs had not completed training programs in abuse prevention. It was found to be in compliance the next year.

The most recent audit was conducted in September by the Gavin Group, an independent company of investigators led by Bill Gavin, who has nearly 30 years’ experience with the FBI, according to Bernard. One auditor’s sole responsibility was visiting parishes and schools to verify that only trained adults who received back-ground checks were working with children, and that they knew how to report abuse.

“This is the second year the audit has included parishes where we can best determine if our policies are really working,” Malone said Thursday.

On-site visits to nine parishes, representing 15 churches and three schools, were included in the audit, according to Bernard. Auditors examined compliance between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008, and found that 100 percent of active clergy, 99 percent of all employees, including educators working in the diocese, along with 97 percent of all volunteers who work with children, had undergone background checks.

A total of 11,798 individuals have been checked since 2003. During the audit period, 9,413 children were trained in the abuse-prevention program, Bernard said. That represents 80 percent of all children in Catholic schools and faith formation. The parents of the other 20 percent chose not to have their children participate in the program.

In addition, 95 percent of all active individuals working and volunteering in the diocese and 100 percent the clergy have been trained in the Protecting God’s Children Program. That training remains under way because of the annual turnover rate of 34 percent for volunteers and employees.

Data on accusations of abuse made during the audit period also were compiled with the following results:

• Nine complaints were made relating to eight priests, seven of whom are dead; the other had been removed earlier from ministry because of a previous allegation.

• Five of the eight priests were diocesan priests in Maine; the others were priests from religious orders.

• One of the claims was concerning reported incidents between 1940 and 1945; two of the complaints were regarding reported incidents between 1960 and 1965; four of the claims were regarding reported incidents between 1970 and 1974; one of the complaints was concerning reported incidents between 1975 and 1979; and one of the complaints was concerning reported incidents between 1980 and 1984.

“This sad episode of church history will continue for as long as victims are in pain,” Malone said. “While we are making great strides in prevention, and I pledge my diligence to those efforts, I also encourage anyone who has been harmed by a church representative to make a report to civil and church authorities.”

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

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