Audit - Most Catholic bishops carrying out abuse reforms

Nearly all of the nation's Roman Catholic bishops, including those in Missouri, are carrying out a new policy they adopted to prevent sex abuse by priests, according to a church audit released Tuesday. Critics said the study was fundamentally flawed.

The review found 90 percent of the 195 U.S. dioceses were fully complying with the plan, which dictates how guilty priests should be punished and requires bishops to take steps to protect children. Among the 20 considered out of compliance are the archdioceses of New York; Anchorage, Alaska; and Omaha, Neb. Four dioceses were not audited.

The audit just reiterates to parishioners what the diocese has been trying to tell them about its policies, said Recy Moore, communications director of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese.

The audit only considers actions taken by dioceses since June 2002.

In 1993, the local diocese adopted a policy about how to respond to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest. Allegations are reviewed by a board of clergy, church members, doctors and lawyers. The diocese also reports all complaints to civil authorities.

The diocese has responded to three allegations of sexual abuse -- one under then-bishop Cardinal Bernard Law and two since 1984, when Bishop John J. Leibrecht was installed.

In March 2002, Leibrecht released information to parishioners about all three cases and removed one priest from his office in Farmington, Mo. The other priests had since retired and were not serving in a parish role.

Since the sexual abuse scandal broke two years ago this month, bishops nationwide vowed to be more transparent in their dealings with parishioners regarding any allegations, Moore said.

To help with that, the prelates commissioned the report from the Gavin Group of Boston, a firm led by former FBI official William Gavin.

Victim advocates said bishops had too much control of how the audit was conducted, so it should be viewed skeptically. But Moore said there has been little criticism locally.

Features editor Laura Johnston contributed to this report.