success stories

A Brief History of the Official Catholic Response on Clergy Sex Abuse

Here is a brief history of the official Catholic response on clergy sex abuse since 1982, based mainly on the document "To Combat Clergy Sexual Abuse Against Minors," posted on the Web site of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

-- 1982: Bishops' conference staff members assist two dioceses in handling child molestation cases.

-- 1984: Misconduct of Father Gilbert Gauthe of Lafayette, La., focuses public attention on problem. In this and other cases, bishops' conference acts as resource to dioceses.

-- 1985: Several state Catholic conferences and individual dioceses begin developing personnel policies governing abuse allegations. At June general meeting, bishops hear from psychiatrist, lawyer and bishop on aspects of the problem.

-- 1986-88: Dioceses develop more definitive personnel policies to respond to claims and training programs for policy implementation.

-- February 1988: Bishops' general counsel issues public statement acknowledging scope and extent of crisis and expressing perspective of the conference.

--- 1988-90: Return to dioceses by some priests after treatment programs raises significant theological, pastoral, canonical, liability and medical questions. Bishops' Administrative Committee commissions staff-level study group on questions of reassignment. Discussions begin with Vatican on streamlining canonical process for laicizing priest abusers.

-- 1992: In June, bishops hold daylong executive session on aspects of clergy sexual misconduct. In November, subcommittee on sexual abuse of the bishops' Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry is formed. A group of bishops led by Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles meets with victims of clergy sex abuse.

-- 1993: The subcommittee convenes a "think tank" of experts. A report from that meeting is discussed by the bishops in public session in June. The Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse is established and begins to seek expert advice from the medical and psychological community. A joint Vatican-U.S. commission studies possible exceptions to canon law regarding clergy involved in sex abuse and makes recommendations.

-- 1994: Pope John Paul II approves some exceptions to canon law. Ad hoc committee issues review of 157 diocesan policies and other materials on abusers, victims, their families and parish communities.

-- 1995: A statement from two bishops' committees, "Walk in the Light: A Pastoral Response to Child Sexual Abuse," urges parishes to help prevent child sexual abuse and to provide healing for victims.

-- 1996: Ad hoc committee issues 42-page report on care and concern for victims and other resource materials.

-- 1997: The committee is reauthorized for three years and mandated to concentrate on healing of victims, education and future options for priest offenders.

-- 1998: Symposium held for bishops on working with victims and healing.

-- 1999: Vatican extends exceptions to canon law for 10 (ten) years. Bishops meet with victims and victims' advocacy groups.

-- 2000: Ad hoc committee is reconstituted with focus on education, prevention and review of diocesan policies for child-safe environments.

-- 2001: "Restoring Trust" resource materials developed by ad hoc committee get wider dissemination.

-- 2002: Vatican announces new norms to deal with cases of clergy sex abuse of minors. Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., expresses regret for "the pain of all those who have been affected by this horror" and pledges that a "careful watch ... cannot and will not be relaxed."