When the Archdiocese of Baltimore receives any allegation of child sexual abuse by clergy, employees or volunteers in the church, archdiocesan officials take very seriously the person who has come forward, according to Bishop Adam J. Parker, moderator of the curia and vicar general.
“That is where we begin. The investigation will try to examine every facet that we can possibly examine to get to the truth,” he said in April 2022.
In an interview with the Catholic Review, Bishop Parker, who is a member of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People and oversees the group responsible for implementing the Charter in the archdiocese, said that once an allegation has been brought to the archdiocese, it is immediately reported to law enforcement and the archdiocese then investigates, after ensuring its investigation will not interfere with law enforcement.
“We want to obtain as much information as we can from the person who’s making the allegation and from as many other people who may be witnesses or have corroborating information about the allegation.”
In the course of any investigation, some conversations lead to other individuals who might have information the archdiocese would need.
An investigation by the archdiocese does not depend on whether local law enforcement officials file charges or make an arrest in a specific case.
“There are different thresholds that would need to be met,” Bishop Parker said. “For law enforcement to file charges in a criminal matter would require a certain burden of proof on their part. For us, the question is different. For the church, it’s not about filing charges; the question for us is about suitability for ministry.”
He added that even if the evidence in a given case does not result in criminal charges, the archdiocese still wants to know whether or not an incident occurred, in order to ensure that a priest, deacon, employee or volunteer would remain suitable for ministry.
“In some senses, the suitability for ministry is a higher standard (than for filing criminal charges) because we want to ensure the safety of environments for all people concerned, and especially those who are minors,” Bishop Parker said, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and its accompanying norms, approved in June 2002 by the U.S. bishops.
Jerri Burkhardt, director of the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection, said, “One of the main goals of that Charter is making sure that we promptly and effectively respond to allegations of child sexual abuse against clergy, including immediately reporting to law enforcement and offering pastoral support to promote healing of victim-survivors.”
In that light, the archdiocese typically offers pastoral support in the way of counseling to those who bring forward an allegation.
“The first thing we do is listen to what they have to say; that’s the first and most important thing,” she said.
“The archdiocese pays for counselors chosen by the victim-survivors,” she said. “In some cases, victim-survivors just want us to also help them identify resources in the community, and that’s something that we do. And the archdiocese offers a meeting with the archbishop or one of his auxiliary bishops.”
Burkhardt noted that an Independent Review Board ensures the archdiocese and Archbishop William E. Lori are doing everything they can to promote reconciliation and healing for victim-survivors. She said some people find healing in the fact that the archdiocese reports allegations right away to law enforcement. Allegations are reported to law enforcement “no matter how long ago it took place, whether the perpetrator is living or deceased.”
“As far as the review board is concerned, the other thing that they do is that they make sure that we are removing from ministry anybody who’s been credibly accused of abuse, and they help us assess the credibility of allegations and suitability of ministry of those who have been accused,” she said.
The IRB is an eight-person group of mostly lay people, which reviews individual allegations of abuse and helps shape archdiocesan child protection policies. It is currently chaired by Dr. Jay Perman, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, and includes one pastor, one religious sister, and five other lay professionals with expertise in law and social services.
Burkhardt said the Independent Review Board oversees and advises the archbishop’s efforts to live up to and secure the promises of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
One of the important things about the review board is that they represent diverse areas of expertise, including social work, law enforcement, the legal system and caring for victims of child abuse and other traumatic experiences, she said.
“We rely on them to give us advice and ask questions to make sure that we’re asking all the questions that need to be asked and that no stone goes unturned that could help us understand what happened, often, in situations that allegedly occurred years ago,” Burkhardt said.
With this combination of expertise and independence, members of the IRB “are not afraid to question conclusions or investigative methods or the thoroughness of our work or our response to survivors,” she said.
Bishop Parker said the archdiocese provides the Independent Review Board with all the information it needs to come to a consensus on recommendations to the archdiocese.
“The investigation, and especially the results of the investigation, go broader than our own internal team,” he said. “Those who are examining the evidence and making recommendations to the archbishop are largely laypeople. …
“It’s not the archbishop alone or even just the archbishop and me alone making the decision” about the suitability for ministry of a member of the clergy, an employee or volunteer who have been accused of misconduct. “We rely upon the expertise of those who are advising us, who are knowledgeable in this realm and have been working in this type of investigative environment for many years,” Bishop Parker said.
Email Christopher Gunty at editor@CatholicReview.org.
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