Audit of Burlington Diocese shows some improvement needed in preventing abuse

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(Host) An audit of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington has found four areas where the diocese needs to improve how it deals with the prevention of sexual abuse of minors.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Each of the nation’s Catholic diocese is audited annually by an outside firm under the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter was created by American bishops two years ago after sexual abuse allegations surfaced against priests in Boston and elsewhere.

The audit found the Burlington Diocese deficient in four areas. Auditors say the diocese has yet to conduct background checks of volunteers and employees.

The Reverend Wendell Searles of the Burlington Diocese says some background checks have been completed. But checks for priests and deacons haven’t been conducted. Searles says so far background checks have turned up no instances of sexual abuse. He says the remainder of the background checks will be conducted over the next several months.

The audit also found that two people who had been removed from the ministry for sexual abuse of a minor were celebrating mass and administering the sacraments in nursing homes in violation of the charter. Searles says the priests have been told they aren’t permitted to represent themselves as priests.

(Searles) “Some of the priests who had been removed from the ministry had not clearly understood what their restrictions were. There was a communications problem and we were made aware of it as a result of the audit and this is in the process of being corrected. The diocese thought that there had been clear directives. Some of the priests did not.”

(Zind) The audit also found that the diocese hadn’t reported to church authorities all priests removed from the ministry for sexually abusing minors.

Finally, the diocese has yet to institute a “safe-environments” program for children and parents. The program is designed in increase awareness of what constitutes sexual abuse.

Searles says compliance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a work in progress. He says the diocese wasn’t surprised by the findings of the audit.

The audit found that the diocese was in compliance in other areas, including having policies in place to deal with sexual abuse allegations, a code of conduct for employees and volunteers and a committee to assist victims.

It won’t be known how the audit of the Burlington Diocese compares with other audits until the U.S. Conference of Bishops issues its annual report in February.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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