CHILD USA is Shining a Light on the Institutional Failure in the Catholic Church’s Diocese with Child Sex Abuse
September 28, 2022

In 2002, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team broke a story that would unleash an avalanche of disturbing revelations about the catholic church. For decades, thousands of children had been sexually abused by priests – men in positions of power, prestige, and trust.

Catholic leaders often knew about the abuse. But they covered it up by transferring priests to new parishes or coming to hush-hush agreements with the families. The abuse and associated cover-ups occurred all over the world, making the Church one of the starkest examples of a powerful institution unwilling to take responsibility for its failure to protect children.

Our work pushes institutions to act in the best interests of children.

CHILD USA published peer-reviewed articles which showed that, despite bishops’ claims to the contrary, U.S. archdioceses failed to put adequate policies in place to prevent child sexual abuse (CSA).

Church leaders often point to the 2002 Dallas Charter as their own “gold standard” for child protection. But CHILD USA researchers, led by Stephanie Dallam, Ph.D., used the policies in the Dallas Charter as a foundation for an innovative policy scoring tool and found that archdioceses only scored an average of 40%.

Even by their own standard, Catholic leaders continue to fail on what should be their number one priority: keeping children safe from predators.

Catholic Church leaders have led the way in using bankruptcy law to avoid doing right by survivors.

Not only have Catholic leaders failed to protect children, but they also go to great lengths to escape survivors’ attempts to secure justice, healing, and accountability.

CHILD USA’s article, Roman Catholic Dioceses in Bankruptcy: An Exploratory Study of Victims’ Experiences, documents how bankruptcy law acts as a shield for institutions like the Catholic Church as they look to protect their reputations and assets.

Many dioceses have entered bankruptcy after survivors have bravely come forward to identify their abusers, seek compensation for lifelong damage, and find out the truth of what happened to them – and why it was often covered up for years.

Survivors want answers and apologies from Church officials. Instead, they are blocked from accessing records and faced with a stonewall of denial.

Our survey findings illustrate how difficult this process is for survivors. The emotional toll is heavy. Feelings of betrayal, anger, and distrust are common.

We must reform bankruptcy law to support victims of crime, not those who facilitate it.

Our work to hold institutions accountable continues.

CHILD USA is fighting to pass legislation that will change bankruptcy laws in favor of survivors. No longer will powerful individuals and organizations be able to use bankruptcy as a shield from taking responsibility for the abuse.

Reforms will also allow victims and their attorneys to seek out the truth through the discovery process rather than being kept in the dark by the law.

Victims must also be given the opportunity to read impact statements in bankruptcy court. These measures are essential for bringing true accountability and healing to the process.

But it is not enough to seek solutions to the challenges survivors face following their abuse. Prevention must be a priority for all youth-serving organizations.

CHILD USA has the true Gold Standard for child protection.

CHILD USA’s pioneering work on archdiocesan policies led to the creation of a comprehensive set of policies for CSA prevention – the Gold Standard.

Based on research and designed to be enforced through insurance coverage, the Gold Standard covers crucial aspects of child safety, including:

  • Background Screening
  • Adequate supervision
  • Prevention training
  • Reporting abuse
  • Victims’ rights and assistance

The Catholic Church is not the only example of an institution that has fallen woefully short of protecting children. But the example shows us that a shadow of secrecy and neglect will continue to hang over the lives of abused children unless others step in to shine a light on institutional failings.