(CNS) -- With the Aug. 14 release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on
priestly sexual abuse of minors, the U.S. Catholic Church again is confronting questions
about its response to abuse allegations dating back several decades.
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken steps to address abuse claims and prevent abuse, including
the 2002 adoption of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young
People" and special legal norms. Annual reports have documented compliance
with mandated policies and practices to protect children and respond to
allegations of clergy abuse. The charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
are some key events in the U.S. church's response to allegations of abuse during
the past 35 years.
-- The Diocese of Lafayette,
Louisiana, suspends Father Gilbert Gauthe
after he admits having sexually abused at least three dozen boys and girls. Over
the next three years, lawsuits against the diocese and the priest's criminal
trial and conviction draw national media attention for the first time to the clergy
sexual abuse of children.
dioceses and state Catholic conferences develop policies for responding to abuse
their spring meeting, the bishops discuss the abuse problem. A few bishops are
given a report by three specialists, labeled confidential, warning that the
problem is of crisis proportions and could cost the church billions of dollars.
the fall, Father Michael Peterson, one of the report's authors, mails it to bishops
who head dioceses. Although the bishops already have started addressing many of
the issues at a national level through their own internal procedures and
structures, several years later the report is leaked and victims and their
lawyers cite its recommendations as evidence that the bishops were given a plan
to follow in 1985 but simply ignored it.
dioceses establish stronger personnel policies and training programs to prevent
abuse. In fall 1987, the bishops discuss the issue again, focusing on canonical
issues of dealing with accused priests.
conference sends bishops guidelines on developing personnel policies to prevent
and respond to abuse. Many bishops re-evaluate decisions whether to return a
treated priest to ministry after therapy or what kind of ministry to permit him to do.
the numbers of allegations and lawsuits grow, a new trend develops: As time
goes on, more of the new claims concern abuse from the distant past rather than
a daylong discussion behind closed doors at the bishops' annual June meeting, the
bishops' conference president issues a five-point statement summarizing
principles behind the guidelines sent to dioceses four years earlier: Respond
promptly to allegations; remove the offender and provide treatment for him if evidence
supports an allegation; report incidents as required under civil law and
cooperate in any criminal investigation; reach out to victims and their
families; and "deal as openly as possible with members of the community
about this incident."
their November meeting, the bishops discuss the issue further and a group of
bishops meets with adult survivors of abuse. The bishops' Committee on Priestly
Life and Ministry forms a subcommittee on sexual abuse to make recommendations
to the bishops.
new subcommittee develops proposals for the bishops to discuss and recommends
the bishops form a special task group to address the legal, moral, canonical,
medical, therapeutic, pastoral, ministerial and administrative issues
surrounding sexual abuse and its prevention.
Robert F. Sanchez of Santa Fe, New Mexico, resigns following allegations of
past sexual impropriety with two teenage girls.
their June meeting, the bishops openly discuss clerical sexual abuse and the
conference president appoints an Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse to address
years of Vatican-U.S. discussions culminate in a meeting of a U.S. bishops delegation
with Vatican officials and a letter from Pope John Paul II publicly condemning
sexual abuse of minors by U.S. priests.
their November meeting, the bishops petition the Vatican for U.S. exceptions to
general church law to make it easier to laicize priests who commit sex crimes
John Paul authorizes special U.S. church laws for five years extending the
statute of limitations on church trials and penalties for clerics who sexually
Boston priest, John Geoghan, frequently accused of inappropriate conduct with
children during 32 years of priesthood, is quietly removed from all ministry,
and four years later is laicized by special papal decree.
ad hoc committee commissions a survey of seminaries to assess their
psychological screening of candidates and formation in sexuality issues.
committee gives the bishops and the media the first volume of "Restoring
Trust," which includes a detailed evaluation of existing diocesan policies
and recommendations for more effective policies. Updated volumes are released
in 1995 and 1996.
the committee's request, a video on boundary issues in ministry is developed
to help dioceses improve formation of church personnel.
committee is reauthorized for three more years and mandated to focus on issues
of healing for victims, education and future options for priest offenders.
Vatican extends the special U.S. legislation on clerical sexual abuse of minors
for 10 years.
committee continues working on education and prevention issues and on diocesan
policy reviews. It updates "Restoring Trust" resources and meets with
victims and victim advisory groups.
pope reserves certain especially serious church crimes, including clerical
sexual abuse of minors, to the immediate jurisdiction of the Vatican
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The new legislation also extends
the special U.S. legislation, with slight modification, to the entire church.
Boston Globe begins an investigative series in January on decades of Boston
archdiocesan mishandling of child abuse allegations and the priests who were
accused. Archdiocesan personnel files on Geoghan -- released to the Globe by
court order less than two weeks before Geoghan's criminal trial for child
molestation -- are the most important evidence for the series.
in civil suits of imposing indecent conduct or sexual abuse on at least 130
children, Geoghan is convicted of a single crime Jan. 18 and later sentenced to
10 years in prison.
Globe series quickly sparks dramatic policy changes by the Boston Archdiocese. The
story quickly burgeons into a national one as other news media begin similar
investigations in their dioceses.
-- By April, the U.S.
cardinals are summoned for a Vatican summit. The pope declares there is no
place in ministry or religious life for anyone who would harm the young. The
Vatican authorizes the U.S. bishops to propose special legislation that would
bind all U.S. dioceses to adopt certain policies and practices to prevent and
respond to clerical sexual abuse of minors.
in Dallas in June, the bishops adopt a "Charter for the Protection of
Children and Young People" and special legal norms, subject to Vatican
approval, to assure that all dioceses adhere to the charter.
National Review Board is formed to oversee the compliance of dioceses with the
charter and to commission two major national studies on the scope of the
problem and its causes. A national Office for Child and Youth Protection is
formed to help dioceses meet charter requirements and to assess each diocese's
across the country begin updating their policies, establishing or modifying
diocesan review boards, naming outreach coordinators, developing programs for
victims and their families, forming or expanding safe environment programs and requiring
background checks on staff and volunteers who work with children.
December, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, faced with massive loss of confidence after
nearly a year of intense scandal and controversy, resigns as archbishop of
pope approves the norms as law for the U.S. church.
Gavin Group, composed mainly of former FBI agents, is commissioned to conduct
the first independent audit of dioceses to assess whether their policies and
practices comply with the requirements of the charter and norms.
first annual report on the diocesan compliance audits is released Jan. 6. Annual
reports continue to be released.
-- A new Program of Priestly Formation
that emphasizes human formation of seminarians, especially on formation for
celibacy, is issued for all U.S. seminaries. It explicitly forbids seminary
applicants who were involved in sexual
abuse of minors.
-- During a U.S. visit, Pope Benedict
XVI meets in Washington with victims of priestly sexual abuse after
pledging the church's continued efforts to help heal the wounds caused by such
-- The Vatican revises procedures for
handling priestly sexual abuse
cases, streamlining disciplinary measures, extending the statute of limitations
and defining child pornography as an act of sexual abuse.
Jay College of Criminal Justice releases "The Causes and Context of
Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States,
1950-2010," as required by the charter. The report concludes there is
"no single identifiable 'cause' of sexually abusive behavior toward
minors" and encourages steps to deny abusers "the opportunity to abuse."
William Lynn, secretary for clergy
of the Philadelphia Archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, is convicted of conspiracy
for failing to properly supervise an abusive priest and ensure the welfare of
his victim. He receives a three- to six-year prison term.
-- A Missouri judge convicts Bishop
Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph of failing to report suspected child abuse, a misdemeanor. The charge was
filed after the bishop learned a priest's computer contained child pornography
and failed to report the incident to authorities.
Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, announces that
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony would not have any administrative or public
the archdiocese because of past failures to protect children from clergy
sex abuse, although the cardinal remained in "good standing."
Francis says the leaders of the world's bishops' conferences and religious
orders must do everything possible to protect children and vulnerable adults from
abuse and are offer appropriate
care for victims and their families.
Francis approves new procedures for the Vatican to investigate and judge claims
of "abuse of office"
by bishops who allegedly failed to protect minors and vulnerable adults from
Francis accepts the resignations of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt and Auxiliary
Bishop Lee A. Piche of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Days earlier, the Ramsey County
Attorney's Office filed criminal and civil charges against the archdiocese
alleging it failed to protect three boys who were sexually abused from 2008 to 2010
by an archdiocesan priest who was later dismissed from priesthood.
of New York receives an allegation that then-Msgr. Theodore E. McCarrick abused
a teenage boy in 1971 and 1972.
bishops approve changes to the charter that Bishop Timothy
L. Doherty of Lafayette, Indiana, chairman of the Committee for the Protection
of Children and Young People, said would strengthen protections for young
York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan announces that Cardinal McCarrick has been removed from
ministry at the Vatican's direction after an investigation by the Archdiocese
of New York found credible a charge that he sexually abused a teenager. Later, The
New York Times publishes a front-page story detailing alleged abuse of two
seminarians who became priests in the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, by
Cardinal McCarrick in the 1980s that resulted in settlements to both men.
-- Pope Francis
accepts Cardinal McCarrick's resignation from the College of Cardinals and
suspends him from public ministry, ordering him to a "life of prayer and
penance until the accusations against him are examined in a canonical trial.
Pennsylvania grand jury releases a report linking more than 300 priests
abuse claims involving more than 1,000 victims in six of the state's
stating the Catholic Church hid allegations of abuse and brushed aside
In a joint statement Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston,
USCCB president, Bishop Doherty, committee chairman, said the bishops
"are shamed by
and sorry for the sins and omissions by Catholic priests and Catholic
bishops" and were "committed to work in determined ways so that such
abuse cannot happen."