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  Home :: 2006 September :: USA - Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People
Preamble
Since 2002, the Church in the United States has experienced a crisiswithout precedent in our times. The sexual abuse of children and youngpeople by some deacons, priests, and bishops, and the ways in whichthese crimes and sins were addressed, have caused enormous pain, anger,and confusion. As bishops, we have acknowledged our mistakes and ourroles in that suffering, and we apologize and take responsibility againfor too often failing victims and the Catholic people in the past. Fromthe depths of our hearts, we bishops express great sorrow and profoundregret for what the Catholic people have endured.

With this revision of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,we re-affirm our deep commitment to creating a safe environment withinthe Church for children and youth. We have listened to the profoundpain and suffering of those victimized by sexual abuse and willcontinue to respond to their cries. We have agonized over thesinfulness, the criminality, and the breach of trust perpetrated bysome members of the clergy. We have determined as best we can theextent of the problem of this abuse of minors by clergy in our country,and we await the results of a study of the causes and context of thisproblem.

We continue to have a special care for and a commitment to reaching outto the victims of sexual abuse and their families. The damage caused bysexual abuse of minors is devastating and long-lasting. We apologize tothem for the grave harm that has been inflicted on them, and we offerour help for the future. The loss of trust that is often theconsequence of such abuse becomes even more tragic when it leads to aloss of the faith that we have a sacred duty to foster. We make our ownthe words of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II: that the sexual abuse ofyoung people is “by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crimeby society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God” (Address tothe Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers, April 23,2002).

Along with the victims and their families, the entire Catholiccommunity in this country has suffered because of this scandal. In thelast three years, the intense public scrutiny of the minority of theordained who have betrayed their calling has caused the vast majorityof faithful priests and deacons to experience enormous vulnerability tobeing misunderstood in their ministry and even to the possibility offalse accusations. We share with them a firm commitment to renewing theimage of the vocation to Holy Orders so that it will continue to beperceived as a life of service to others after the example of Christour Lord.

We, who have been given the responsibility of shepherding God’s people,will, with his help and in full collaboration with all the faithful,continue to work to restore the bonds of trust that unite us. Wordsalone cannot accomplish this goal. It will begin with the actions wetake in our General Assembly and at home in our dioceses and eparchies.

We feel a particular responsibility for the “the ministry ofreconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) which God, who reconciled us to himselfthrough Christ, has given us. The love of Christ impels us to askforgiveness for our own faults but also to appeal to all—to those whohave been victimized, to those who have offended, and to all who havefelt the wound of this scandal—to be reconciled to God and one another.

Perhaps in a way never before experienced, we have felt the power ofsin touch our entire Church family in this country; but as St. Paulboldly says, God made Christ "to be sin who did not know sin, so thatwe might become the righteousness of God in him? (2 Cor 5:21). May wewho have known sin experience as well, through a spirit ofreconciliation, God?s own righteousness.

We know that after such profound hurt, healing and reconciliationare beyond human capacity alone. It is God’s grace and mercy that willlead us forward, trusting Christ’s promise: “for God all things arepossible” (Mt 19:26).

In working toward fulfilling this responsibility, we have relied firstof all on Almighty God to sustain us in faith and in the discernment ofthe right course to take.

We have received fraternal guidance and support from the Holy See that has sustained us in this time of trial.

We have relied on the Catholic faithful of the United States.Nationally and in each diocese, the wisdom and expertise of clergy,religious, and laity have contributed immensely to confronting theeffects of the crisis and taking steps to resolve it. We are filledwith gratitude for their great faith, their generosity, and for thespiritual and moral support that we have received from them.

We acknowledge and affirm the faithful service of the vast majority ofour priests and deacons and the love that their people have for them.They deservedly have our esteem and that of the Catholic people fortheir good work. It is regrettable that their committed ministerialwitness has been overshadowed by this crisis.

In a special way, we acknowledge those victims of clergy sexual abuseand their families who have trusted us enough to share their storiesand to help us appreciate more fully the consequences of thisreprehensible violation of sacred trust.

Let there now be no doubt or confusion on anyone’s part: For us, yourbishops, our obligation to protect children and young people and toprevent sexual abuse flows from the mission and example given to us byJesus Christ himself, in whose name we serve.

As we work to restore trust, we are reminded how Jesus showed constantcare for the vulnerable. He inaugurated his ministry with these wordsof the Prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. (Lk 4:18-19)

In Matthew 25, the Lord, in his commission to his apostles anddisciples, told them that whenever they show mercy and compassion tothe least ones, they show it to him.

Jesus extended this care in a tender and urgent way to children,rebuking his disciples for keeping them away from him: “Let thechildren come to me” (Mt 19:14). And he uttered a grave warning thatfor anyone who would lead the little ones astray, it would be betterfor such a person “to have a great millstone hung around his neck andto be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Mt 18:6).

We hear these words of the Lord as prophetic for this moment. With afirm determination to restore the bonds of trust, we bishops recommitourselves to a continual pastoral outreach to repair the breach withthose who have suffered sexual abuse and with all the people of theChurch.

In this spirit, over the last three years, the principles and procedures of the Charter have been integrated into church life.

  • The Office for Child and Youth Protection provides thefocus for a consistent, ongoing, and comprehensive approach to creatinga secure environment for young people throughout the Church in theUnited States.

  • The Office also provides the means for us to be accountable for achieving the goals of the Charter, as demonstrated by its two reports on the implementation of the Charter based on independent compliance audits.

  • The National Review Board is carrying on its responsibility to assist in the assessment of diocesan compliance with the Charter and to commission studies on the sexual abuse of minors, and it has issued its own Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States.

  • The descriptive study of the nature and scope of sexual abuseof minors by Catholic clergy in the United States, commissioned by theNational Review Board, has been completed. The resulting study,examining the historical period 1950-2002, by the John Jay College ofCriminal Justice provides us with a powerful tool not only to examineour past but also to secure our future against such misconduct.

  • Victims’ assistance coordinators are in place throughout ournation to assist dioceses in responding to the pastoral needs of thosewho have been injured by abuse.

  • Diocesan/eparchial bishops in every diocese are advised andgreatly assisted by diocesan review boards as the bishops make thedecisions needed to fulfill the Charter.

  • Safe environment programs are in place to assist parents andchildren—and those who work with children—in preventing harm to youngpeople.
Through these steps and many others, we remain committed to the safety of our children and young people.

While it seems that the scope of this disturbing problem of sexualabuse of minors by clergy has been reduced over the last decade, theharmful effects of this abuse continue to be experienced both byvictims and dioceses.

Thus it is with a vivid sense of the effort which is still needed toconfront the effects of this crisis fully and with the wisdom gained bythe experience of the last three years that we have reviewed andrevised the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.We now re-affirm that we will assist in the healing of those who havebeen injured, will do all in our power to protect children and youngpeople, and will work with our clergy, religious, and laity to restoretrust and harmony in our faith communities, as we pray for God’skingdom to come, here on earth, as it is in heaven.

To make effective our goals of a safe environment within the Church forchildren and young people and of preventing sexual abuse of minors byclergy in the future, we, the members of the United States Conferenceof Catholic Bishops, have outlined in this Charter a series of practical and pastoral steps, and we commit ourselves to taking them in our dioceses and eparchies:

To Promote Healing and Reconciliation with Victims/Survivors of Sexual Abuse of Minors

ARTICLE 1. Dioceses/eparchies are to reach out tovictims/survivors and their families and demonstrate a sincerecommitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being. The firstobligation of the Church with regard to the victims is for healing andreconciliation. Each diocese/eparchy is to continue its outreach toevery person who has been the victim of sexual abuse* as a minor byanyone in church service, whether the abuse was recent or occurred manyyears in the past. This outreach may include provision of counseling,spiritual assistance, support groups, and other social services agreedupon by the victim and the diocese/eparchy.

Through pastoral outreach to victims and their families, thediocesan/eparchial bishop or his representative is to offer to meetwith them, to listen with patience and compassion to their experiencesand concerns, and to share the “profound sense of solidarity andconcern” expressed by His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, in his Addressto the Cardinals of the United States and Conference Officers (April23, 2002).

ARTICLE 2. Dioceses/eparchies are to have policies andprocedures in place to respond promptly to any allegation where thereis reason to believe that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred.Dioceses/eparchies are to have a competent person or persons tocoordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care of persons whoreport having been sexually abused as minors by clergy or other churchpersonnel. The procedures for those making a complaint are to bereadily available in printed form in the principle languages in whichthe liturgy is celebrated in the diocese/eparchy and be the subject ofpublic announcements at least annually.

Dioceses/eparchies are also to have a review board that functions as aconfidential consultative body to the bishop/eparch. The majority ofits members are to be lay persons not in the employ of thediocese/eparchy (see Norm 5 in Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons,2002). This board is to advise the diocesan/eparchial bishop in hisassessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in hisdetermination of a cleric’s suitability for ministry. It is regularlyto review diocesan/eparchial policies and procedures for dealing withsexual abuse of minors. Also, the board can review these matters bothretrospectively and prospectively and give advice on all aspects ofresponses in connection with these cases.

ARTICLE 3. Dioceses/eparchies are not to enter into settlementswhich bind the parties to confidentiality unless the victim/survivorrequests confidentiality and this request is noted in the text of theagreement.

To Guarantee an Effective Response to Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors

ARTICLE 4. Dioceses/eparchies are to report an allegation ofsexual abuse of a person who is a minor to the public authorities.Dioceses/eparchies are to comply with all applicable civil laws withrespect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors tocivil authorities and cooperate in their investigation in accord withthe law of the jurisdiction in question.

Dioceses/eparchies are to cooperate with public authorities about reporting cases even when the person is no longer a minor.

In every instance, dioceses/eparchies are to advise victims of theirright to make a report to public authorities and support this right.

ARTICLE 5. We affirm the words of His Holiness, Pope John PaulII, in his Address to the Cardinals of the United States and ConferenceOfficers: “There is no place in the priesthood or religious life forthose who would harm the young.”

Sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law ofthe Church (CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1). Because of theseriousness of this matter, jurisdiction has been reserved to theCongregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (Motu proprio, Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela, AAS, 93, 2001). Sexual abuse of a minor is also a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States.

Diocesan/eparchial policy is to provide that for even a single act ofsexual abuse of a minor*—whenever it occurred—which is admitted orestablished after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, theoffending priest or deacon is to be permanently removed from ministryand, if warranted, dismissed from the clerical state. In keeping withthe stated purpose of this Charter,an offending priest or deacon is to be offered therapeutic professionalassistance both for the purpose of prevention and also for his ownhealing and well-being.

The diocesan/eparchial bishop is to exercise his power of governance,within the parameters of the universal law of the Church, to ensurethat any priest or deacon subject to his governance who has committedeven one act of sexual abuse of a minor as described below shall notcontinue in ministry.

A priest or deacon who is accused of sexual abuse of a minor is to beaccorded the presumption of innocence during the investigation of theallegation and all appropriate steps are to be taken to protect hisreputation. He is to be encouraged to retain the assistance of civiland canonical counsel. If the allegation is not proven, every steppossible is to be taken to restore his good name, should it have beenharmed.

In fulfilling this article, dioceses/eparchies are to follow the requirements of the universal law of the Church and of the Essential Norms approved for the United States.

ARTICLE 6. There are to be clear and well-publicizeddiocesan/eparchial standards of ministerial behavior and appropriateboundaries for clergy and for any other paid personnel and volunteersof the church in positions of trust who have regular contact withchildren and young people.

ARTICLE 7. Dioceses/eparchies are to be open and transparent incommunicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergywithin the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation ofthe individuals involved. This is especially so with regard toinforming parish and other church communities directly affected byministerial misconduct involving minors.

To Ensure the Accountability of Our Procedures

ARTICLE 8. By the authority of the United States Conference ofCatholic Bishops, the mandate of the Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuseis renewed, and it is now constituted the Committee for the Protectionof Children and Young People. It becomes a standing committee of theConference. Its membership is to include representation from all theepiscopal regions of the country, with new appointments staggered tomaintain continuity in the effort to protect children and youth.

The Committee is to advise the USCCB on all matters related to childand youth protection and is to oversee the development of the plans,programs, and budget of the Office of Child and Youth Protection. It isto provide the USCCB with comprehensive planning and recommendationsconcerning child and youth protection by coordinating the efforts ofthe Office and the National Review Board.

ARTICLE 9. The Office for Child and Youth Protection,established by the Conference of Catholic Bishops, is to staff theCommittee for the Protection of Children and Young People and be aresource for dioceses/eparchies for the implementation of “safeenvironment” programs and for suggested training and development ofdiocesan personnel responsible for child and youth protection programs,taking into account the financial and other resources, as well as thepopulation, area, and demographics of the diocese/eparchy.

The Office is to produce an annual public report on the progress made in implementing and maintaining the standards in this Charter.The report is to be based on an annual audit process whose method,scope, and cost are to be approved by the Administrative Committee onthe recommendation of the Committee for the Protection of Children andYoung People. This public report is to include the names of thosedioceses/eparchies which the audit shows are not in compliance with theprovisions and expectations of the Charter.

As a member of the Conference staff, the Executive Director of theOffice is appointed by and reports to the General Secretary. TheExecutive Director is to provide the Committee for the Protection ofChildren and Young People and the National Review Board with regularreports of the Office’s activities.

ARTICLE 10. The whole Church, especially the laity, at both thediocesan and national levels, needs to be engaged in maintaining safeenvironments in the Church for children and young people.

The Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People is to beassisted by the National Review Board, a consultative body establishedin 2002 by the USCCB. The Board will review the annual report of theOffice of Child and Youth Protection on the implementation of this Charterin each diocese/eparchy and any recommendations that emerge from it,and offer its own assessment regarding its approval and publication tothe Conference President.

The Board will also advise the Conference President on future members.The Board members are appointed by the Conference President inconsultation with the Administrative Committee and are accountable tohim and to the USCCB Executive Committee. Before a candidate iscontacted, the Conference President is to seek and obtain, in writing,the endorsement of the candidate’s diocesan bishop. The Board is tooperate in accord with the statutes and bylaws of the USCCB and withinprocedural guidelines to be developed by the Board in consultation withthe Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People andapproved by the USCCB Administrative Committee. These guidelines are toset forth such matters as the Board’s purpose and responsibility,officers, terms of office, and frequency of reports to the ConferencePresident on its activities.

The Board will offer its advice as it collaborates with the Committeefor the Protection of Children and Young People on matters of child andyouth protection, specifically on policies and best practices. TheBoard and Committee for the Protection of Children and Young Peoplewill meet jointly several times a year.

The Board will review the work of the Office of Child and YouthProtection and make recommendations to the Director. It will assist theDirector in the development of resources for dioceses.

The Board is to oversee the completion of the study of the causes andcontext of the recent crisis. The Board will offer its assessment ofthe data gathered and preliminary results to the Committee for theProtection of Children and Young People as the study moves forward.

ARTICLE 11. The President of the Conference is to inform the Holy See of this revised Charterto indicate the manner in which we, the Catholic bishops, together withthe entire Church in the United States, intend to continue ourcommitment to the protection of children and young people. ThePresident is also to share with the Holy See the annual reports on theimplementation of the Charter.

To Protect the Faithful

ARTICLE 12. Dioceses/eparchies are to maintain “safeenvironment” programs which the diocesan/eparchial bishop deems to bein accord with Catholic moral principles. They are to be conductedcooperatively with parents, civil authorities, educators, and communityorganizations to provide education and training for children, youth,parents, ministers, educators, volunteers, and others about ways tomake and maintain a safe environment for children and young people.Dioceses/eparchies are to make clear to clergy and all members of thecommunity the standards of conduct for clergy and other persons inpositions of trust with regard to children.

ARTICLE 13. Dioceses/eparchies are to evaluate the background ofall incardinated and non-incardinated priests and deacons who areengaged in ecclesiastical ministry in the diocese/eparchy and of alldiocesan/eparchial and parish/school or other paid personnel andvolunteers whose duties include ongoing, unsupervised contact withminors. Specifically, they are to utilize the resources of lawenforcement and other community agencies. In addition, they are toemploy adequate screening and evaluative techniques in deciding thefitness of candidates for ordination (cf. National Conference ofCatholic Bishops, Program of Priestly Formation, 1993, no. 513).

ARTICLE 14. Transfers of clergy who have committed an act ofsexual abuse against a minor for residence, including retirement, shallbe as in accord with Norm 12 of the Essential Norms. (Cf.Proposed Guidelines on the Transfer or Assignment of Clergy andReligious, adopted by the USCCB, the Conference of Major Superiors ofMen, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the Council ofMajor Superiors of Women Religious in 1993.)

ARTICLE 15. To ensure continuing collaboration and mutuality ofeffort in the protection of children and young people on the part ofthe bishops and religious ordinaries, two representatives of theConference of Major Superiors of Men are to serve as consultants to theCommittee for the Protection of Children and Young People. At theinvitation of the Major Superiors, the Committee will designate two ofits members to consult with its counterpart at CMSM. Diocesan/eparchialbishops and major superiors of clerical institutes or their delegatesare to meet periodically to coordinate their roles concerning the issueof allegations made against a cleric member of a religious instituteministering in a diocese/eparchy.

ARTICLE 16. Given the extent of the problem of the sexual abuseof minors in our society, we are willing to cooperate with otherchurches and ecclesial communities, other religious bodies,institutions of learning, and other interested organizations inconducting research in this area.

ARTICLE 17. We pledge our complete cooperation with theApostolic Visitation of our diocesan/eparchial seminaries and religioushouses of formation recommended in the Interdicasterial Meeting withthe Cardinals of the United States and the Conference Officers in April2002.

We commit ourselves to work individually in our dioceses/eparchies andtogether as a Conference, through the appropriate committees, tostrengthen our programs both for initial priestly formation and for theongoing formation of priests. With new urgency, we will promoteprograms of human formation for chastity and celibacy for bothseminarians and priests based upon the criteria found in Pastores Dabo Vobis, the Program of Priestly Formation, and the Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests. We will continue to assist priests, deacons, and seminarians in living out their vocation in faithful and integral ways.

We bishops and eparchs commit ourselves to work as one with our brotherpriests and deacons to foster reconciliation among all people in ourdioceses/eparchies, especially with those individuals who werethemselves abused and the communities that have suffered because of thesexual abuse of minors that occurred in their midst.

Conclusion

As we wrote three years ago, “It is within this context of theessential soundness of the priesthood and of the deep faith of ourbrothers and sisters in the Church that we know that we can meet andresolve this crisis for now and the future.”

We wish to re-affirm once again that the vast majority of priests anddeacons serve their people faithfully and that they have the esteem andaffection of their people. They also have our love and esteem and ourcommitment to their good names and well-being.

An essential means of dealing with the crisis is prayer for healing andreconciliation, and acts of reparation for the grave offense to God andthe deep wound inflicted upon his holy people. Closely connected toprayer and acts of reparation is the call to holiness of life and thecare of the diocesan/eparchial bishop to ensure that he and his priestsavail themselves of the proven ways of avoiding sin and growing inholiness of life.

It is with reliance on prayer and penance that we renew the pledges which we made in the original Charter:

We pledge most solemnly to one another and to you, God’s people, thatwe will work to our utmost for the protection of children and youth.

We pledge that we will devote to this goal the resources and personnel necessary to accomplish it.

We pledge that we will do our best to ordain to the priesthood and putinto positions of trust only those who share this commitment toprotecting children and youth.

We pledge that we will work toward healing and reconciliation for those sexually abused by clerics.

Much has been done to honor these pledges. We devoutly pray that Godwho has begun this good work in us will bring it to fulfillment.

This Charter is published for the dioceses/eparchies ofthe United States. It is to be reviewed again in five years by theCommittee for the Protection of Children and Young People with theadvice of the National Review Board. The results of this review are tobe presented to the full Conference of Bishops for confirmation.


*In accord with Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (SST), article 4 §1, sexual abuse, for purposes of this Charter, shall include any offense by a cleric against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue with a minor as understood in the Code of Canon Law,c. 1395 §2 (“A cleric who in another way has committed an offenseagainst the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the delict wascommitted by force or threats or publicly or with a minor below the ageof sixteen years [raised in SST to eighteen years which has been theage of majority for the USA since 1994], is to be punished with justpenalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the caseso warrants”) and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches,c. 1453 §1 (“A cleric who lives in concubinage or gives permanentscandal by publicly sinning against chastity is to be punished with asuspension, to which, other penalties can be gradually added up todeposition, if he persists in the offense”).

If there is any doubt whether a specific act qualifies as an external,objectively grave violation, the writings of recognized moraltheologians should be consulted, and the opinions of recognized expertsshould be appropriately obtained (Canonical Delicts Involving Sexual Misconduct and Dismissal from the Clerical State,1995, p. 6). Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the diocesanbishop/eparch, with the advice of a qualified review board, todetermine the gravity of the alleged act.


The document Charter for the Protection of Children and Young Peoplewas developed by the Ad Hoc Committee for Sexual Abuse of the UnitedStates Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It was approved by thefull body of U.S. Catholic bishops at its June 2005 General Meeting andhas been authorized for publication by the undersigned.

Msgr. William P. Fay
General Secretary, USCCB


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia