WASHINGTON — Ten years after passing their "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," the heads of nearly all U.S. dioceses are in full compliance with the 17-point document, according to recently completed audits.
Two dioceses — Baker, Ore., and Lincoln, Neb. — and six Eastern Catholic eparchies refused to participate in the audits, as they had in past years, and were found to be noncompliant.
In dioceses where the audits took place, however, only one diocese was found in noncompliance with one article of the charter. The Diocese of Shreveport, La., was found to be noncompliant because its diocesan review board had not met in two years.
The diocese had not "experienced any charter-related violations in at least four years," and the board was immediately convened when the diocese was notified of the gap, according to the report from StoneBridge Business Partners of Rochester, N.Y. StoneBridge conducted the audits for the first time in the year ending June 30, 2011. Earlier audits had been carried out by the Gavin Group of Boston.
The 2011 annual report on implementation of the charter was published April 10 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"As we were introduced to the various dioceses/eparchies around the country this year, we were impressed by the dedication of the safe environment coordinators and other diocesan and eparchial representatives who oversee the implementation of the charter on a daily basis," said James Marasco, director of StoneBridge Business Partners, in a letter submitted with the audit report.
"It is our hope that with our help, the Catholic Church in the United States may continue to restore the trust of the faithful and heal the wounds caused by abuse," he added.
Marasco noted in his letter that the bishops had updated the charter for 2012 to include child pornography and abuse against vulnerable adults as violations.
"It is important for everyone in the dioceses and eparchies to be made aware of these changes so that safe environment programs can be modified accordingly," he said. "The ability to remain fluid and open to suggestion are key attributes in building and maintaining a strong system."
Two dozen dioceses or archdioceses also agreed to audits at the parish level, which uncovered some inconsistencies in where and how records are maintained on such matters as background checks and safe environment training for employees and volunteers and training for children, the report said.
StoneBridge issued 178 "management letters" to dioceses, designed to point out problem areas that could lead to a judgment of noncompliance if they continued. The majority were related to article 12 of the charter, on safe environment programs, and article 2, on diocesan review boards and other diocesan policies.
"In full on-site audits of dioceses/eparchies, it was found that the diocesan review boards (DRBs) are still in place and for the most part are active and being used as confidential, consultative bodies to the bishops," the report said. "However as the number of allegations decreases, the frequency of the DRB meetings decreases as well. So as not to lose this charter-focused talent, the (Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection) has suggested ... that the bishops consider having their DRBs continue to meet frequently and consistently to ensure that the charter implementation in a diocese/eparchy stays strong and does not become diluted."
The audit teams found that dioceses "in quite a few states" were relying on local public schools to provide safe environment training for children, without confirming that the training was actually taking place or that the programs were in accord with Catholic moral teaching.
The report said more than 99 percent of priests, deacons and Catholic school educators had received safe environment training, as had 98.6 percent of candidates for ordination, more than 96 percent of church employees and volunteers and 94.3 percent of children attending Catholic schools or parish religious education programs.
More than 62,000 children, or about 1.2 percent of the total, were excused from safe environment training at the request of their parents.
In addition to the dioceses of Baker and Lincoln, six Eastern Catholic jurisdictions refused to participate in the 2011 audits -- the Eparchy of St. Peter the Apostle for Chaldeans, the Eparchy of Newton for Melkites, the Eparchy of Our Lady of Nareg in New York for Armenian Catholics, the Eparchy of St. Josaphat of Parma for Ukrainians, the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford and the Eparchy of Our Lady of Deliverance of Newark for Syriacs.
Under canon law, dioceses and eparchies cannot be required to participate in the audit, but it is strongly recommended.