Mixed reviews for US church child protection audit

 Most American Catholic bishops are carrying out the mandatory child protection policies introduced last year, an audit commissioned by the church claims. However critics say the study is 'fundamentally flawed'. The review found 90 percent of the 195 US dioceses were fully complying with the new regulations. Among the 20 considered out of compliance were the archdioceses of New York; Anchorage, Alaska; and Omaha, Nebraska. Four dioceses were not audited. The report was conducted by the Gavin Group - a firm led by former FBI official William Gavin. The investigation was overseen by Kathleen McChesney, a former top FBI agent and head of the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. Campaigners supporting abuse victims have said that the bishops had too much control over how the audit was conducted, and say they are viewing the results with scepticism. They point out that the bishops recommended whom the auditors should interview. The report states that auditors were unable to view personnel files that would enable them to check whether bishops were complying with the policy's ban on transferring offenders from one diocese to another. "This is the bishops grading themselves based on a test they devised," said Peter Isely, from the Midwest chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He said: "I don't think anyone is going to be too surprised that after years of chronic failure they are now going to tell us they have miraculously become star performers." The Gavin Group however, insists that the audits were "comprehensive and accurate". A spokesperson explained that investigators did not view personnel records because of "sensitivity to laws and privacy violations that may occur." He said that otherwise, they had "free rein." The auditors travelled around the United States from June to October in small teams, interviewing bishops, diocesan personnel, victims, abusive priests, prosecutors and lay people. In future the review will be conducted annually. It is part of a child protection policy introduced last June following the devastating series of child abuse scandals that were uncovered across the country. The new policy not only requires bishops to bar guilty clergy from all public church-related work, but put safeguards in place to prevent molestation, such as conducting background checks on all diocesan priests and lay workers and training them to identify abuse. The most common violations found by the audit were a failure to implement programmes to protect children and establish codes of conduct for and conduct background checks on diocesan workers. A spokesman for the Gavin Group said: "For the most part, it was not a refusal to adhere to the policies, it was a lack of understanding of how to do so." The auditors also concluded that American bishops need to make much more effort to contact and meet victims.

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