America’s Roman Catholic bishops are keeping promises to try to stamp out child sex abuse, a report has found.
Bishops pledged 18 months ago to better protect children and punish offenders, following a wave of abuse scandals.
The review found that 90% of the nearly 200 Catholic dioceses in the US were in compliance with the pledge, adopted during a meeting in Dallas, Texas.
But victim support groups rejected the report as biased, and accused senior clergy of still covering up the truth.
The audit – unprecedented in the Church – was based on visits by former FBI investigators to 191 of the 195 dioceses.
Seattle was branded excellent, but New York and Omaha were among dioceses who were given “instructions” because they fell short of the recommendations.
Kathleen McChesney, head of the bishops’ watchdog Office of Child and Youth Protection who oversaw the investigation, said much progress had been made.
But in a letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, she said there was still room for improvement in effectively implementing the charter.
Bishop Gregory said bishops had made a “tremendous effort” to make the charter part of the life of the Church.
“I believe these findings show that we bishops are keeping our word,” he said.
“I hope it doesn’t tempt us to be complacent.”
Claims of bias
The auditors, mostly former FBI agents or investigators, travelled around the country between June and October interviewing bishops, church personnel, victims, alleged abusers and prosecutors.
But victims’ groups dismissed the report as biased. One group, Snap (Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests), said only two of its nearly 5,000 members were invited to speak to auditors.
The bishops recommended whom the auditors should interview. One victim said it was a case of the “bishops grading themselves based on a test they devised.”
A spokesman for the bishops denied any prejudice and said the review was totally independent.
The exercise will be repeated annually, but there is no mechanism to sanction church officials who do not comply with the plan.
Two separate reports on the causes and nature of the crisis are due to be released next month.
BBC religious affairs correspondent Jane Little says those reports are likely to cause greater embarrassment to the embattled church leadership.
The abuse scandal broke two years ago this week with revelations about a cover up of sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The Archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, was forced to resign amid allegations that he had failed to act on accusations that priests were abusing children, instead transferring priests from one parish to another.
The crisis spread rapidly through the United States. Hundreds of priests were suspended and several bishops resigned.
In an attempt to address the loss of trust, US bishops asked forgiveness and drew up a plan of “zero tolerance”.
They set up an office to protect children, launched training programmes to help spot abuse and pledged to remove priests from active ministry where credible allegations were made against them.