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

The response of the diocese to the sexual abuse crisis

the Inland Register

(From the Nov. 10, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Bishop William S. Skylstad became Administrator of the Diocese of Spokane in 1989, and was named Bishop of the Spokane Diocese in April 1990.

During this time, the bishop has led the diocese’s response to the sexual abuse issue by providing and offering support to the victims of sexual abuse, reforming diocesan operations to provide improved transparency regarding finances and historic and present abuse allegations, and reforming diocesan operations to prevent future abuse from occurring and to appropriately respond to abuse allegations.

• In 1989 Bishop Skylstad approved the policy “Administrative Policies for Responding to Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Inappropriate Behavior by Church Personnel,” developed by the Sexual Abuse Committee. The committee was established in 1988 by the late Bishop Lawrence Welsh, Bishop Skylstad’s predecessor. Bishop Skylstad’s approval established a sexual abuse policy which provides that any person in ministry who abuses another person will be reported to the public authorities and will immediately be removed from ministry.

This committee continued to meet until it was reconstituted in 2002.

• In 1990 the Diocesan School Board began requiring Criminal History Information and a Washington State Patrol background check for all employees and volunteers in schools. This requirement was later expanded to include all diocesan employees and volunteers who work with children.

In 2001 the Diocesan School Board began requiring FBI checks on all school employees.

• In 1991 a diocesan-wide sexual abuse awareness training workshop was held for all diocesan pastoral employees.

• In December of 1992, Bishop Skylstad wrote two open letters to the community regarding sexual abuse.

• In 1993 a diocesan wide training on sexual abuse and harassment was given to all diocesan employees.

• Since 1993 the diocesan policies have been annually reviewed with all ministerial employees.

• In 1994 the Sexual Abuse Committee developed a list of “Behaviors Deemed Inappropriate” (Code of Conduct) and added this list to the diocesan policies on sexual abuse. The Code of Conduct was approved by Bishop Skylstad.

• All new employees in the diocese since 1994 have attended a one day workshop on sexual abuse and harassment.

• All newly ordained priests, since 1994, have attended both the above mentioned workshop on sexual abuse and harassment and a personal review of the diocesan policies with the Vicar General.

• Hired a Victim Assistance Coordinator (VAC), in August of 2002. The VAC is responsible to see that an abuse victim who is seeking assistance will receive appropriate care through a process that respects that person’s privacy. When a person calls the VAC, a report is made both to law enforcement. Child Protective Services and to the diocese so that the allegation can be investigated. If the person is an adult at the time of their reporting and refuses to give permission to file a police report, then their request for privacy is respected. Each allegation is either investigated by law enforcement or, when law enforcement declines to investigate because the alleged behavior occurred too long ago or the perpetrator is deceased, the allegation is investigated by the diocese. Without waiting for any determination of the credibility or the validity of the allegation, the VAC offers counseling services through Lutheran Social Services or, if the individual prefers, through an independent licensed or certified professional. Counseling is offered to all victims, regardless of whether the abuse took place in the Spokane Diocese or not.

• In October 2002, a full day workshop by Dr. Donna Markham, OP, for all diocesan employees was held dealing with psychosexual development and maintaining professional boundaries.

• In October 2002, Bishop Skylstad held public meetings at many of the parishes that were directly affected by sexually abusive priests.

• In October 2002, the Sexual Abuse Review Committee, established in 1988, was revitalized and reconstituted as the Diocesan Review Board. The Board reviews all policies and procedures related to child abuse (reporting, prevention, response to victims) and makes recommendations on how to strengthen policies and procedures.

The Board was reconstituted so that it had more independence from the bishop and the ability to give unbiased feedback to the bishop. This was accomplished by the bishop no longer sitting on the Board and only one priest included among the Board’s eight members. In October of 2003 the Review Board updated and continues to revise the “Administrative Policies for Responding to Allegations of Sexual Abuse and Inappropriate Behavior by Church Personnel” as well as the “Code of Conduct.”

They also have reviewed and continue to review all accusations of sexual abuse by clergy and church personnel.

• In 2002 the Diocese entered into a relationship with Spokane County under which the diocese reports all allegations of sexual abuse of children it receives or of which it becomes aware to Crime Check (and to Child Protective Services when an individual is still a minor), so that law enforcement can initiate an appropriate investigation and response. As part of this relationship the Diocese shares all information about any abuse by a priest that has ever been known or rumored, with detectives from the Spokane Police Department. Up to this date, reporting had been made in each jurisdiction where the abuse took place. The new procedure allows the diocese to report to local law enforcement and they contact the appropriate authorities in other jurisdictions.

• In November of 2002, Bishop Skylstad published the names of all living priests against whom there were credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving children. This list is updated when new credible allegations arise.

• In December 2002, Bishop Skylstad surveyed the people of the diocese on his response to victims of sexual abuse and how that response could be improved. There were 3,000 responses. People expressed confidence in and satisfaction with the response of the bishop to victims. The suggestions that were made were considered by the Review Board and incorporated where appropriate.

• In April 2003, Father Donald Cozzens, author of Sacred Silence, came and spoke with the priests about institutional structures in the church that made the sexual abuse crisis possible and helped us explore how priests might respond to the crisis today.

• In June 2003, Bishop Skylstad wrote “A Message to Unnamed Victims of Sexual Abuse,” a full-page statement in his diocesan newspaper. Bishop Skylstad expressed his grief for the pain suffered by victims. In the message, he again apologized, and pledged to continue to help.

• On Respect Life Sunday, the first Sunday in October, 2003, the diocese asked priests and deacons to include the subject of sexual abuse in their homilies. A sample homily was written and distributed to all, along with a suggested outline. That weekend, parish bulletins included brochures, produced by the diocese’s Victims Assistance Coordinator and the Communications Office, titled “A Safe Net for Children and Youth.” The brochures were produced in both English and Spanish for distribution throughout Eastern Washington, in parishes and other Catholic entities, as well as in health clinics and other public venues. The brochures described signs of sexual abuse, behaviors typical of abusers, and resources and contacts for reporting abuse.

• From October 2003 to March 2004, Bishop Skylstad and his staff visited each region of the diocese, meeting with all church employees and clergy to review the revised diocesan policies and the revised Code of Conduct.

• In December 2003, Bishop Skylstad approved the recommendation of the Diocesan Review Board to publish the names of deceased priests against whom there were credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving children and a request had been made by the victim to release the deceased priest’s name. These names were published and released to the press.

• In January 2004, in conjunction with the release of the national John Jay College of Criminal Justice Study on the Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Children and Young People by Catholic Priests 1950-2003, the Diocese released detailed statistics regarding allegations of sexual abuse by priests in the Diocese.

• In 2003 and 2004, the Diocese of Spokane participated in annual Compliance Audits by the Gavin Group of Boston, an independent compliance auditing firm, regarding the Diocese’s implementation of policies and procedures for the response to allegations of sexual abuse of minors, for the creation of safe environment programs, and for pastoral response and outreach to victims. Each year the diocese was found to be in compliance with the national policies. An Audit Compliance Team continues to review the Diocese’s compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and continues to identify opportunities for the Diocese to improve in this area.

• Throughout 2003 and 2004, the VAC has organized existing programs, created new programs where needed and implemented the Safe Environment Program that includes training sessions on sexual abuse awareness and diocesan policies, as well as the Code of Conduct. This training is for all parish and school employees and volunteers who work with children. This training is also encouraged for anyone who volunteers in any capacity in the church, as well as for all parents. As part of this training the diocese produced the video “Entrusted to Our Care.” The video emphasizes the importance of providing a safe environment for our children and how that can be done, especially through education and the maintenance of healthy boundaries. This training is currently going on throughout the Diocese.

• The Diocese developed its website so that it includes information about how to report sexual abuse, as well as educational information about sexual abuse.

• Early in 2004, the Diocese supported and helped to organize two community-wide panel discussions on sexual abuse with community experts in sexual abuse and law enforcement. These were held at St. Thomas More Parish in Spokane and St. Mary Parish in Spokane Valley. The success of these meetings has encouraged other parishes to plan similar events in the future.

• Bishop Skylstad continues to reach out to parishes through the efforts of the Victims Assistance Coordinator who works with individual parishes on their response to sexual abuse victims.

• The diocese continues to update its web site – http://www.dioceseofspokane .org – with information about the sexual abuse situation, including posting biographies and photos of priests who have been removed from ministry, and deceased priests against whom credible accusations of sexual misconduct have been made, when the victims ask that the information be released.

• The web site includes an entire section, “A Safe Net for Children and Youth” – which features links to information, resources, contact information, policies, and the Code of conduct.

• This edition of the Inland Register includes information about a deceased Benedictine priest who served briefly in the Diocese of Spokane, who has been accused of sexual abuse in Oregon.

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