Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jun
  • 6

New head of advisers on child protection praises Church’s efforts

Posted By June 6, 2013 | 1:14 pm | Lead Story #2
6-7 Cesareo

By Tanya Connor

The Catholic Church has led the way in addressing sexual abuse of minors, the incoming chairman of the National Review Board said.
Francesco C. Cesareo, president of Assumption College (in Worcester, Mass.) and a Review Board member for one year, is to succeed Al Notzon III as chairman on Sunday, at the conclusion of the board’s June meeting. Since the board meets four times a year, the first meeting President Cesareo will oversee as chairman will be in September.
His appointment by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, raises the visibility of the college and the Worcester Diocese, he said, and he expressed hope that it would be a positive reflection on both. His three-year term as chairman is a contribution the college is making to the life of the Church, he said.
His plans are to do what the NRB was set up to do. He said the USCCB established this lay board in 2002 to collaborate with the bishops in preventing sexual abuse of minors in the United States by people working for the Church –  now and in the future.
The board does this by making sure that the bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is being implemented, he said.
President Cesareo said he was very active in his year on the board, contributing ideas and suggestions and engaging in debates. He said he has an understanding of how Church institutions work, and a sensitivity to the delicate balance between what the NRB can recommend and the

way the hierarchy and the Church operate.
“The NRB recognizes that it is simply an advisory body to the bishops for the implementation of the Charter;” it has no authority to make changes, he said.
He also said many skills a college president needs can be used in the chairman’s job: working with people with different perspectives, seeing the big picture, being able to think through situations and make and communicate decisions.
The husband and father of three teenagers said that as a father, one can understand how parents whose children were abused may feel.
“You want to create an environment where you would feel your own children are safe,” he said.
Speaking of the NRB’s role, President Cesareo said, “Our task is to oversee the implementation of all aspects of the Charter and, when necessary, to point out when the Charter is not being implemented fully, so that can be rectified.”
Any violation or non-implementation of the Charter undermines trust and leads people to be skeptical that children are being protected and bishops are taking this seriously, he said. So, in addition to protecting children, a positive result of implementing the Charter is restoring trust, helping the bishops regain their moral authority and credibility, which can give them the opportunity to address other issues.
“If society takes an honest look at what the Church has done in the last 10 years and the seriousness with which the bishops have taken this issue, they have to acknowledge the Catholic Church is the only institution that has such a clear mechanism to protect children and to deal with the whole sexual abuse issue,” President Cesareo said. What the bishops and the NRB have done “sets a model for other institutions and organizations.”
He said the Charter established a response mechanism: an allegation is to be reported immediately to civil authorities and the accused person is to be removed from duties until it has been determined whether the allegation is credible. If it is, the Charter sets in motion a process of working with civil authorities. The Charter also makes sure the victim is taken care of, he said.
President Cesareo said he thought the bishops saw that sexual abuse by church personnel was an issue they could not sweep under the rug; they saw that they had to show their remorse for the past and their commitment to the future.
“And I think the Charter was also to demonstrate to the victims the seriousness with which they were taking this issue, as one of the steps to the overall healing process,” he said. If the bishops work to stop abuse now, that can help victims heal, because it acknowledges that what they suffered was a horrible crime, he said.
Sexual abuse by Church personnel must be put in a broader context; it is a societal problem, President Cesareo said. Since the Charter was put into effect, there have been significantly fewer allegations against church personnel, he said. But he said while he didn’t think the Church could ever guarantee that there will be no more abuse, the Church must do all that it can to create an environment where abuse is extremely rare.
“There’s always going to be a possibility of someone falling through the cracks and perpetrating this horrible crime,” he said. But the majority of bishops have taken seriously their role in implementing the Charter, he said.
The bishops are reviewing the Charter again, and the NRB will give them recommendations, which will come from the results of audits of the dioceses, President Cesareo said.
At this point almost all dioceses and eparchies have been audited; they have an on-site audit one year, and the next two years submit information to the independent auditing firm, he said. Stone Bridge Business Partners is currently doing the work, and last year the NRB recommended this firm continue for three more years, he said.
The NRB is studying whether on-site audits of dioceses should include on-site audits of parishes, where there is the most contact between children and church personnel, and where the most abuse is thought to have occurred, President Cesareo said. On-site parish audits would be better indicators of the implementation of the Charter on the local level, he said.
He said the NRB will discuss this costly, time-consuming possibility with the firm to see if there is a way to do it without burdening the parishes or dioceses.
“We started talking about that last year,” he said. “Now it will really be an important focus.”
In considering recommendations, the NRB can look at what has gone well and what hasn’t.
Best practices that went beyond Charter requirements could be included in the Charter if it is revised, President Cesareo said.
Problems, such as the ineffective monitoring of those removed from public ministry or ministry to children, are a reminder not to be complacent in implementing the Charter and demonstrate the need to look for ways to improve it, he said.
He said lessons can also be learned from instances where the Charter was not followed or was ambiguous or not understood. Issues to study include cultural differences in priests from other countries, background checks of priests visiting from other dioceses, and whether there should be a standard for the frequency of background checks and training for church personnel, and the content of training.
The NRB is concerned about how bishops are held accountable if the Charter is not being followed, President Cesareo said. While only the pope can hold bishops accountable, in the past the NRB has expressed concern about specific cases and urged that something be done, he said. The NRB can make clear to the bishops that accountability signifies that they’re taking the Charter seriously, he said.
The NRB will also seek a mechanism to assist bishops if allegations are made against members of religious orders in their diocese, he said. Religious order priests, brothers and sisters are directly accountable to their superiors, not to the bishop who admits them into his diocese, when it comes to implementing the Charter,  he said. He said the NRB is trying to recommend a regular process for communication between bishops and superiors of the religious orders.