Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sex abuse and the Diocese of Manchester

I was spurred on by Dom's post to take a look into what the Diocese of Manchester has to say about the apparently negative review of its sexual abuse prevention program by KPMG on behalf of the NH Attorney General's office. You'll have to forgive me just a bit though if I'm a bit jaded regarding the Boston Globe's coverage of anything related to this issue - their recent history is not one of trying to see the Church's side in any way in this matter. Sad, but not surprising. The Union Leader article, which is both longer and slightly more even-handed is here. The Nashua Telegraph editorial which is far less even-handed (being an editorial, I suppose this should be expected, but calling for "regime change" is a step too far in my book) is here. More coverage: Concord Monitor, New Hampshire Public Radio. The actual report can be found here and supplemental information here, and the Diocesan response can be found here.

The Diocese further responded here by laying out changes it has made since KPMG last visited the Diocese. Unfortunately, I can't tell for sure if these changes have been factored in to the AG's report or not since this document is undated, although the wording suggests it was not a factor. The list is rather decisive, including (note these are direct quotes, so the "we" is the Diocese, not "me"):

  • In accordance with the action plan, we are making site revisits to each parish and school based upon the risk-based model created to determine which parishes and schools should be revisited. These site revisits include the detail testing of support maintained at the parish or school for the safe environment requirements. This eliminates the “self-reporting” that KPMG has mentioned in the past two assessments. The risk-based model contemplates a revisit to every location a minimum of every three years based on risk. This risk-based model is well documented and sustainable for years to come.
  • We are in the final stages of developing a camp specific review procedure that will be followed annually. The Compliance Coordinator determined in the summer of 2006, prior to the start of the Attorney General’s second assessment, that given the number of young people attending camp and the number of camp counselors employed, it was appropriate to visit the camps each year. . As a result, procedures have been developed and will be formalized in a “procedures manual”. The process and procedures will be similar to those used in 2006, and will be required annually before the opening of the camps.
  • We are conducting quarterly reconciliations of all priests, deacons, and seminarians to ensure that all are screened and trained. These procedures are documented and on file in the Compliance Office. We are in the process of completing the same procedures for the Diocesan Review Board (DRB) members, Protecting God’s Children trainers, and administrative employees.
  • Safe environment coordinators (SEC), pastors and principals can now update their own contact information and inform the Compliance Office if a SEC resigns or if there is a new coordinator. This update feature is part of the new on-line database that was effective April 9, 2007. The on-line database will be available to all entities. The Compliance Coordinator has established an implementation plan to transition all parishes and schools to the on-line database over the next few months.
  • Monthly reports continue to be made to the Bishop and DRB, and full reports on each review are also provided.
Whether the AG will review and revise these changes or wait until the next audit remains to be seen. One thing I will say regarding the KPMG audit report which is disturbing tone whereby it is suggested that those accused sexual abuse must be regarded as guilty until proven innocent. That is neither Christian nor American - nor is it legal. If this is typical of the position from which this audit was conducted it is simply no wonder that Fr. Arsenault could be faulted for being "difficult". One also finds it interesting that the Diocese asserts there are certain factual errors in the report.

Even more disturbing is reading the letter from the Diocesan attorney here. In it are relayed items whereby KPMG could be perceived as being specifically antagonistic and borderline irrational rather than acting as an impartial observer and auditor. One gets the feeling they were investigating in a dark room someone they picked up with a dime bag on the street rather than auditing what should be a respected organization. Some of the most relevant sections I've taken the liberty to cut-n-paste below.
With respect to the "tone at the top" section on page 2 of your letter, you may not be aware that this "finding" represents an isolated instance in which a disagreement arose in the context of an assessment interview conducted by KPMG with the Delegate for Ministerial Conduct, Fr. Edward Arsenault. To the extent your letter suggests that the 2006 KPMG Assessment illustrates a lack of "acceptance or commitment to cooperation with" the Agreement reached between your Office and the Diocese of Manchester in 2002, we strongly disagree. Indeed, the criticism in the 2006 KPMG Assessment is based on a single interview with Fr. Arsenault from which it is grossly unfair and inaccurate for KPMG to conclude a lack of acceptance or commitment to cooperate with the Agreement. Unfortunately, this results in unfounded conclusions in your letter.
If only that's where it stopped, but it continues to get worse.
...Based upon what we perceived to be inappropriate and unnecessarily aggressive interview procedures during the 2005 audit, we agreed that KPMG would follow certain protocols in conducting interviews during the 2006 audit. Regrettably, in the particular instance of the interview with Fr. Arsenault, and with others, it was reported to me that KPMG ignored these protocols. When Fr. Arsenault called the protocols to the attention of Mr. Donovan of KPMG, this created tension in the interview process, causing Mr. Donovan to unilaterally suspend the interview with Fr. Arsenault after 15 minutes. ... When he was asked to speculate, retrospectively or prospectively, about hypothetical situation posed by the assessor, he resisted doing so. Fr. Arsenault also asked Mr. Donovan to clearly define the meaning of terms to ensure that his understanding was clear. I concur with this effort to remain focused on providing clear, factual responses to questions.
Not that it takes much, but that downright gets my dander up. They were interviewing an otherwise respected member of the clergy who is responsible for overseeing the safety and well-being of thousands of children and yet they treated him like a dime store thief? Come now, that is certainly not the way to hold a respectable audit. For my two cents (and since I'm a tax payer in this state it is my two cents) if KPMG can't find a way to hold a professional interview working within established and agreed-upon protocols then it is incumbent upon the Attorney General to find an auditor who can. I certainly hope either KPMG or the AG's office intend to comment on this issue.

As for some editorial content, I'm not at all surprised there are problems with this audit in terms of representing any level of respect for the Diocese or its employees. For reasons more tangential than topical there is a palpable willingness in this Diocese to blame anyone who works at the Diocesan offices first as soon as anything goes wrong; this extends to your average Joe and Jane Catholic who want to blame anything wrong on the Bishop. At the Cluster Task Force session this past weekend I heard specifically at least once and indirectly several more times people complain "they need to replace the Bishop". For my money, that goes right along with firing the manager when your baseball team is losing. You'll notice it rarely has any effect other than to make it look like someone is trying.

Conversely, when I talk to people who actually know the Bishop, they say he is a warm, knowledgeable and truly concerned person who cares deeply about his priests and his flock. If people are asking why he doesn't solve this, that or the other problem by some sort of fiat, they need only look in the mirror and ask themselves if they'd be willing to support him. This is a crisis, an ongoing problem we need to deal with now and for the future, but we can only solve it like the Church has solved all of Her problems in the past: in union with the Bishops, united with the Holy Father. There is simply no other way this will work.

Finally, since it's more than marginally topical, some interesting from the 2006 CARA survey:

Dates when reported abuse of minor began

1954 or earlier 11985-19890
1980-19840Time period unknown0

Ages of complainant when abuse began:

0-9 years1
10-14 years6
15-17 years1
Age unknown1

Hmmm... That data seems awfully familiar to me. Equally interesting is that we have had no reported cases since Bishop McCormack took office. If this is all his fault, how do you explain the data?