How the Church Responds to Sexual Abuse Allegations – Questions and Answers

How does the Church protect children?
The Archdiocese of Baltimore is committed to healthy ministry, and seeks to utilize only competent, qualified, and responsible personnel. All clergy and Archdiocesan employees as well as all volunteers who work with children undergo criminal background checks. They also receive training on how to create a safe environment and how to recognize and report abuse. Children – including those in Catholic schools and religious education programs – are educated about healthy relationships and boundaries in the context of Catholic moral teaching.

The Archdiocese complies with Maryland laws requiring that suspected child abuse be reported to civil authorities. Under Maryland law any person who has reason to believe a child has been subjected to abuse must report the suspected abuse to civil authorities, even if the potential victim is now over 18-year-old and even in cases where the alleged perpetrator is deceased. If Church personnel are suspected of abuse, then the suspected abuse must also be reported to the Archdiocese’s Office of Child & Youth Protection.

How does the Church help victims?
The Archdiocese of Baltimore has long been committed to the treatment and healing of those who have been harmed through abuse. We apologize and offer counseling assistance and pastoral services. The Archdiocese also recognizes the importance of offering support to family members. We do this for as long as it is helpful, and regardless of the age of the incident. We provide this support regardless of lawsuits and statutes of limitations. We have paid $2.8 million in victim counseling, and more than $7.6 million in direct payments to victims/survivors. The Archdiocese continues to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to assist victims and protect children.

How does the Church respond to allegations of child sexual abuse?
Today, as it has done for many years, the Archdiocese offers assistance and healing to a victim who reports an allegation of abuse. The Church immediately reports the matter to civil authorities. When given permission by the local authorities, the Archdiocese conducts an investigation, presuming the accused is alive, and remains in ongoing communication with law enforcement. If the allegation is deemed credible, the accused is permanently barred from ministry and from serving in any capacity on behalf of the Archdiocese or any Catholic institution.

How have the Church’s policies changed?
Before 1993, the Archdiocese encouraged adults who made allegations that they were abused as children to report their allegations to the authorities. In 1993, the Attorney General for the State of Maryland issued an opinion stating that all allegations of child sexual abuse must be reported to civil authorities, even when the alleged victim was an adult at the time of reporting or when the alleged perpetrator was deceased. The Archdiocese of Baltimore has followed this guidance and has since reported all allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the Church.

How does the Church hold accountable others involved in cases of abuse?
In 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops promulgated the Charter for the Protection of Children & Young People, the landmark document that spells out the Catholic Church’s commitment to protecting children and its zero tolerance policy for anyone who would harm children. With this came a broader evolution by the Archdiocese of responding to child abuse allegations by moving beyond a focus solely on the perpetrator. In addition to trying to learn whether the abuse occurred and making sure no perpetrator was in a position to harm children in the future, the Church began to examine how others in the Church must be accountable for creating safe environments and enforcing the Archdiocese’s policies and procedures. Much of the focus of the Archdiocese and its Independent Review Board (created in 1993 and made up of 9 people of different faiths and backgrounds to review the Archdiocese’s handling of child abuse cases) since 2002 has been on insuring that all people within the Archdiocese know of their responsibilities and duties relating to child protection, and holding all Church personnel accountable for complying with the Archdiocese’s reporting, screening and education requirements. To date, the Archdiocese has screened and trained over 99,000 employees and volunteers working with children in our parishes, schools and institutions.