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Baltimore archbishop takes steps to increase reporting of abuse, seeks to move archdiocese ahead on reform

Archbishop William Lori encouraged the more than 500,000 Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore on Tuesday to report wrongdoing by clergy at all levels as part of an effort to regain public trust as church leaders worldwide confront a sexual abuse crisis.

Lori outlined the expansion of a reporting system to cover himself and his three auxiliary bishops, as well as a code of conduct the bishops will sign, as steps he is taking to address any abuse up to the highest levels.

Reports of abuse — sexual, financial or otherwise — can be filed anonymously online and are collected by a private contractor, which shares them with a board that does not contain any archdiocesean officials.

In addition, Lori said the archdiocese plans to incorporate more lay people in church affairs and update its child protection policies.

The local push for reforms comes in the wake of a national conference of bishops in Baltimore in November at which church leaders postponed voting on additional measures to curb abuses, at the request of the Vatican.

At the same time, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office is investigating records of child sexual abuse in the state — an investigation the attorney general’s office declined to confirm, but Lori says the archdiocese is cooperating with.

“The church is undergoing a genuine crisis,” Lori said. “It’s a crisis that threatens to undermine the faith of a lot of Catholics, caused a lot of Catholics to question their faith and maybe even to lose trust in the institution.”

Lori laid out his plans Tuesday at a meeting with reporters, noting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops considered a code of conduct for bishops and an independent system for reporting abuses by them two months ago before delaying action.

“We’re not quite there yet nationally, but boy, we can do it locally, and that’s the decision that we made,” Lori said.

U.S. bishops met again at the start of the year for a retreat in Chicago to pray about the issue, and bishops from across the world will convene at the Vatican in February to discuss sexual abuse within the church. American bishops will then return to Baltimore for another conference in June.

As the Baltimore archdiocese works to re-establish trust among congregants in the city and the nine counties it encompasses, the organization is working to improve accountability among its leaders.

“We’ve tried really hard,” Lori said. “We have a rigorous and thorough approach for dealing with allegations of those credibly accused.”

Lori and the three auxiliary bishops oversee the archdiocese, which has 153 parishes, 545 priests and hundreds of deacons, brothers, nuns and lay ministers.

The system the public can use to report abuses by bishops, EthicsPoint.com, allows people to report criminal or ethical violations, including sexual abuse, financial impropriety or violations of the code of conduct. The archdiocese has been using EthicsPoint for 12 years as a way for the public to report abuses by priests and other church employees, Sean Caine, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in an email. In that time, he said, it’s been an effective tool that has allowed the archdiocese to prevent or stop misconduct.

Allegations against bishops that come through EthicsPoint will be sent to the Independent Review Board for the archdiocese, rather than Lori’s office.

“We’re not just including ourselves in the process that everyone else is subject to,” Lori said. “We’ve actually honed it to make it appropriate for how you investigate and report when someone happens to be in charge.”

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest and writer, said he was pleased to see the archdiocese setting up processes for reporting such abuses.

“We can learn from their experience in attempting this, even though it may not be perfect,” Reese said. “We’ll see how it works, whether it works and the possibility that it becomes a model for other dioceses around the country as a whole.”

David Lorenz, the Maryland director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, worried abuse allegations against bishops reported to the board would not be fully pursued because the board is affiliated with the archdiocese.

“It’s got to be lay-run, lay-organized, lay-appointed,” he said. “Nobody with the clerical state can be part of that group … and it should include survivors.”

The 10-member panel is chaired by retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Joseph Murphy and the other members are former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld; Beverly Cooper, vice president of the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation; Beowulf Energy managing director Michael Enright; retired Baltimore City Circuit Judge Ellen Heller; Monsignor Robert Jaskot, pastor of the St. Mary-St. Francis-Holy Family Catholic Community; Notre Dame Preparatory School headmistress Sister Patricia McCarron; community volunteer Mary Page Michel; Bon Secours Mercy Health chief community health officer Dr. Samuel Ross; and Iona Rudisill, an anti-human trafficking and exploitation program manager for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.

The archdiocese in December released an inaugural annual report by the board, a body established in 1993, detailing the board’s oversight of child protection efforts. The report, which covered July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, found no clergy or religious personnel serving in the archdiocese were accused of child sexual abuse during that time. Nine clergy, who had died or were already permanently removed from ministry because of prior allegations, were accused of child sex abuse based on events that occurred “many years earlier,” according to the report. Two volunteers and one other employee were also accused of child sex abuse. Those three people were terminated, and two cases resulted in criminal convictions, according to the report.

During the same period, the archdiocese spent $319,086 on counseling, therapy and other medical costs for 64 sexual abuse survivors and their families. The archdiocese also paid $619,500 in settlements to 14 child sex abuse survivors for claims that occurred more than 40 years ago, according to the report.

The worldwide crisis in the church intensified in August, when a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed more than 300 priests in that state were credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children during seven decades as church officials covered up the crimes.

No new allegations of abuse in the Baltimore archdiocese have come to light since the grand jury report was released, said Baltimore Auxiliary Bishop Adam Parker.

Shortly after that report came out, Frosh launched his investigation into sex abuse at houses of worship and schools in Maryland.

Parker said the archdiocese has sent more than 50,000 pages of internal documents that date to 1965 to the attorney general’s office.

The attorney general’s office set up an email system in September, followed by a hotline launched Jan. 10, for the public to report abuse. Since September, the office has received more than 100 reports, Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said in an email.

Parker said he expects the archdiocese to finish relaying documents to the attorney general’s office within the coming weeks.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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