Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Auditors give Spokane Diocese clean report for work with abuse crisis

by Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor, Inland Register

(From the Nov. 13, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Butler, Bishop William Skylstad, Judge Phil ThompsonBishop Skylstad is flanked by Mary Butler, Victims Assistance Coordinator, and Judge Phil Thompson, chairman of the Diocesan Review Board, at a Nov. 5 press conference announcing preliminary results of the Spokane Diocese’s audit by The Gavin Group. (IR photo)

In days when it seems as though the bad news about church never abates, there was some proud celebration at the Catholic Pastoral Center last week.

On Wednesday, Nov. 5, Bishop Skylstad had the pleasure of announcing at a press conference that the auditors from The Gavin Group had given a preliminary thumbs-up to how the Diocese of Spokane is living up to the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults.

That charter was adopted by the U.S. bishops at their historical meeting in Dallas, Texas, in June of 2002.

The Gavin Group was hired by the bishops to travel the country, visiting each diocese, and auditing the dioceses’ compliance with the charter. Most of the firm’s auditors are former FBI agents.

The auditors had specific parameters set regarding what should be examined and who should be interviewed in the course of their visit to a diocese.

They arrived the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 27, and left the following Friday.

During their visit they interviewed Bishop Skylstad; Mary Butler; Judge Thompson; Father Steve Dublinski, the diocese’s Vicar General; victims and family members; and individuals working with and within the church community.

Although the final document has not yet been received from the auditors, the preliminary verbal report had high praise for the Spokane Diocese’s efforts.

No recommendations for improvement were made. The diocese in fact garnered two commendations from the auditors: for the way the diocese works with law enforcement officials, and for its outreach program. Also given special note is the diocese’s Safe Environment program.

Speaking at the press conference with Bishop Skylstad were Judge Phil Thompson, head of the diocese’s Review Board, which examines issues and instances of sexual abuse and makes recommendations for action to the bishop, and Mary Butler, the Victims Assistance Coordinator. The conference was held in the Catholic Pastoral Center in Spokane.

In a prepared statement which he read to the press, Bishop Skylstad reminded reporters that he had promised to release results of the audit, good or bad, as soon as he could. That promise, made last April, was further evidence of his commitment to transparency and openness in dealing with the sexual abuse crisis.

“The bottom line is this,” the bishop said: “The Spokane Diocese successfully met or exceeded all the requirements of the 17 articles promulgated last year by the Conference of Bishops as guidelines for ensuring that children and vulnerable adults are protected, for reaching out to victims to provide counseling and assistance in beginning the process of healing, and for putting into place appropriate procedures with regard to prompt reporting and cooperation with police authorities.”

Reporters also were supplied with copies of the diocese’s newly-revised Code of Conduct. (Note: That code, in English and Spanish, can be found on pages 9 and 10, respectively, of the Nov. 13, 2003 edition of the Inland Register. The code also is available on the diocese’s web site.)

The judge pointed out that the newly-issued code was not really new, but rather was a revision of an existing code in place since 1989.

The diocese, he said, was “bending over backwards” to make sure no one ever took advantage of a position of authority in the church. The code’s detail was to help assure that inappropriate conduct did not occur, or even appear to occur.

Bishop Skylstad said that additional audits might take place in the future, though in all likelihood years down the road.

The audit process, he said, was “very helpful to us. We continue to refine” what the diocese is doing to adhere to the charter. “We are plowing new ground,” he said. “We need to look at ourselves as church,” he said.

Mary Butler, Victims Assistance Coordinator, said that her office receives 10-15 calls per month from victims, though not all of the calls are new reports. Often victims will call her more than once, she said.

It’s all part of the process of healing and reconciliation which is the next step, Bishop Skylstad said. It’s a process that will take time. It is a process that is also a promise, however, and a commitment by the bishop and the diocese.

Though the work can be difficult, he called it “a grand opportunity for the church, to be a church of healing and reconciliation.”

(Victims are encouraged to contact Mary Butler for assistance. Call her at 353-0442, or 998-8340.)

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