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Gaps alleged in church plan to prevent sexual abuse

But overseer says program achieves goals

Four years after the clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded, the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has yet to put in place some key parts of its plan to detect and prevent abuse of children by church personnel, according to a top aide to state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.

The archdiocese, like most dioceses around the country, has yet to come up with a method for overseeing or tracking the whereabouts of allegedly abusive priests, and has not completed sexual-abuse prevention programs for all children, according to a letter from Alice E. Moore, chief of the Public Protection Bureau at the attorney general's office.

Moore also charged that church officials have declined to provide even their own advisers with basic statistical information that would show how many priests have been accused of abuse and how those allegations have been handled.

''As we reviewed the draft report, it became clear that there are still several major gaps in implementation and oversight of the new policies and procedures that have us questioning the archdiocese's commitment and whether it learned any lessons at all from the tragedy that led us to issue our report in 2003," Moore wrote in the letter, received by the archdiocese yesterday.

But the chairwoman of a board that was appointed by the archdiocese to review new child protection procedures and which drafted the report Moore reviewed, gave a more upbeat assessment of the church's progress since 2002. Reports in the Globe that year led two years later to the archdiocese's admission that 162 priests, or 7 percent of all priests in Boston, had been accused of sexually abusing 815 children between 1950 and 2003.

The board chairwoman, Regis College administrator M. J. Doherty, said yesterday that the archdiocese has fully complied with the central promise of the child protection program: to remove from ministry any priest credibly accused of abuse.

She said that the archdiocese has also done well at performing background checks not only on priests, but on staff and volunteers, and that clergy and other church officials appear to be complying with a new state requirement that they report suspected child abuse to state or county authorities. And she said she believes that the archdiocese, after some delay, will soon release to her board the statistical information about recent accusations.

But, she said, ''there are some uneven levels of accomplishment in this area or that area."

Doherty said the archdiocese is still working to develop training programs to reach many of the hundreds of thousands of children who pass through parish and Catholic school programs. She said the archdiocese has done better at reaching elementary school children than adolescents and better at teaching students in parochial schools than those who are only in church classrooms as part of Sunday religious education programs.

She also said that the education programs, which teach children what is inappropriate touching and whom to tell when it happens, were delayed in some areas by concerns raised by some parents about whether the abuse prevention programs were too explicit.

''The bottom line is that the archdiocese has done a great deal of work . . . and has sought to do it with some depth, not superficially, and I am proud of this," said Doherty, who is special assistant to the president at Regis, a Catholic women's college in Weston. ''However, the archdiocese, like any large organization, is facing a lot more work to do. The archbishop is aware of this and is very receptive to our efforts to point a direction regarding that work."

Moore expressed particular concern about the monitoring of abusive priests, calling it a ''critical safety issue."

In the letter, she wrote: ''Can anyone still say today, with any certainty, where all these priests are and whether their activities include interactions with children? If not, this is a major public safety issue that the archdiocese must deal with immediately."

Doherty said this issue is a concern, but one faced by all dioceses around the country. Dioceses have no jurisdiction over dismissed priests and generally have few ways to track the activities of priests on leave. Several priests on leave for reasons not related to abuse have told the Globe that years can go by when they hear nothing from the archdiocese.

''They've got to find a way to do that, but it's not easy," Doherty said.

Doherty's board has been conducting a lengthy review of how well the archdiocese is complying with its own program for protecting children, which was issued in May 2003 and would bring the archdiocese into compliance with promises made in June 2002 by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The board has drafted a 100-page analysis of the archdiocese's child protection programs and has sent it for comment to nine outside agencies, including the attorney general's office.

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley plans to release the final report and its recommendations to the public, along with ''a full accounting of settlements and updated information on the archdiocese's compliance with the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," said a spokeswoman, Kelly Lynch.

''The archbishop remains committed to instituting high standards to protect children," Lynch said yesterday. ''He continues to recognize that, while much has been accomplished, more must be done."

Lynch pointed out that, in addition to appointing a board to examine its child protection policies, the archdiocese is also voluntarily participating in regular external audits of its programs by a firm hired by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Moore's letter, which represents the attorney general's response to the draft report, is at least the third missive from Reilly's office and the first to become public, expressing concern that not enough changes have been made.

Reilly, a lifelong Catholic who is now a candidate for governor, has been highly critical of the archdiocese.

In summer 2003, he issued a detailed examination of clergy abuse in the archdiocese in which he blasted church officials for an ''institutionalized culture of acceptance of the sexual abuse of children."

His office has also tangled with the archdiocese over the role of the state in alleged financial misconduct by priests, the role of the archbishop in whether Catholic Charities can restrict adoptions to heterosexual couples, and the disposal of money and objects donated to parishes that were later closed by the archdiocese.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

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