Detroit diocese praised for fighting abuse

Published January 7, 2004

DETROIT (AP) — The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Detroit
received four commendations for its efforts under a new mandatory
policy adopted by bishops nationwide to prevent sex abuse by
priests, according to a church audit released yesterday.

The audit, which determined that 90 percent of the 195 U.S.
dioceses were in full compliance with the plan, also listed four
recommendations for improvement in the Detroit archdiocese, which
ministers to about 1.5 million Catholics and is the fifth-largest
in the United States.

The mandatory policy, adopted by bishops in June 2002, dictates
how priests guilty of sex abuse should be punished and requires
bishops to take steps to protect children.

In its commendations, the Detroit archdiocese was recognized for
adopting a sexual abuse policy in 1988 and mandating background
checks for church personnel. It also was commended for entering
into an agreement with civil prosecutors in the six counties
covered by the archdiocese to handle allegations of sexual abuse by
minors.

Recommendations included better documentation of, and protocol
for, contact between the archdiocese and victims, as well as the
implementation of a basic monitoring plan for clergy removed from
active ministry.

All recommendations had been addressed as of Dec. 1, and would
continue to be worked on, the archdiocese said.

“I think we certainly have tried to take seriously the
recommendations that have been provided. We’re grateful for
the commendations that we’ve received and we’ll
continue to move forward,” Bishop Walter Hurley said
yesterday.

“This is not something that is resolved on one day or in a
week or in a year,” he added. “It’s always an
ongoing process in terms of trying to make sure that children are
being protected and that people are being served.”

Among the 20 dioceses considered out of compliance are the
archdioceses of New York, Anchorage, Alaska and Omaha, Neb. Four
dioceses were not audited.

Also considered out of compliance was the Eparchy of St. Thomas
the Apostle of Michigan. An eparchy is a geographic district for
Catholics who accept the authority of the pope, but follow
different rituals.

Hurley said the Southfield church belongs to one the
nation’s two Chaldean dioceses, which he said have not had
any reported cases of sexual abuse by priests and therefore may not
have implemented all the recommendations of the bishop’s 2002
policy. But Hurley said St. Thomas now is working with the Detroit
archdiocese to adopt some of its practices and programs designed to
protect children.

The prelates commissioned the audit from the Gavin Group of
Boston, a firm led by former FBI official William Gavin, and the
investigation was overseen by Kathleen McChesney, a former top FBI
agent and head of the bishops’ watchdog Office of Child and
Youth Protection.

Victim advocates said bishops had too much control of how the
audit was conducted, so it should be viewed skeptically.

To check on the effort to carry out the reforms, the auditors
— mostly former FBI agents or investigators — traveled
the country from June to October in small teams, interviewing
bishops, diocesan personnel, victims, abusive priests, prosecutors
and lay people. The audit, which is to be conducted annually, is
part of the church’s plan to prevent abuse.

The most recent case in the Detroit archdiocese involved the
Rev. Thomas Physician, a retired priest who was placed on an
administrative leave of absence effective on Saturday.

The archdiocese, which announced Physician’s leave
yesterday, said it received an allegation of sexual misconduct
involving the retired priest and a minor boy.

The allegation dates back more than 30 years to
Physician’s early years of service in the archdiocese, Hurley
said. It was turned over to Wayne County prosecutors who chose not
to investigate further because of the passage of time, the
archdiocese said.

Physician, who retired in 2002, may not exercise public
ministry, wear his Roman Catholic priest’s collar or identify
himself as a priest while on leave.

The archdiocese of Detroit has removed or suspended 20 priests
because of sexual abuse allegations during the past two years,
Hurley said. It has paid about $950,000 in settlements to abuse
victims during the past 15 to 20 years, he said.