Clergy abuse panel requests more money

Catholic group says funds inadequate for 2 studies

March 02, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA - A national lay panel responsible for monitoring clergy sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church says that to do its job, it will need millions more dollars than the American bishops have budgeted.

Members of the National Review Board, which oversees the Office of Youth and Child Protection, say it could cost from $3 million to $5 million to fulfill its mission.

With $1.12 million for this year from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the review board is preparing to tap Catholic philanthropic sources for the difference.

The heads of some prominent Catholic philanthropies said last week that they are not going to "let the bishops off the hook" by making up all of the difference. The bishops' conference authorized the creation of the office and board in June.

"It's their commission, and it appears to be underfunded," said the director of a leading philanthropic association who asked not to be identified.

He said he hopes the bishops were not evincing a lack of support for the work of the review board and the child-protection office, "since it's extremely important they succeed."

Frederick J. Perella Jr., executive vice president of Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities, based in Wilmington, Del., agreed.

Whether to donate to the review board and child-protection office came up at a meeting in January of Catholic philanthropic executives, Perella said, "and the response was kind of a mixed bag."

Many of the executives felt that two big studies the bishops ordered in June - one on the scope of the sex-abuse problem, the other on its "causes and context" - "really are the bishops' responsibility," Perella said. With an endowment of about $145 million, the Raskob Foundation gives about $6 million annually to Catholic causes.

The "scope" study is estimated to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said, and the causes-and-context study could run into the millions, far more than even a foundation the size of Raskob would be willing to give. The bishops "may have to go to the laity for these," Perella said.

Some foundation leaders, he said, indicated a willingness to "help those projects with the greatest leverage," such as compliance training for diocesan employees or audits of how each diocese is complying with the new church laws on sex abuse.

"Auditing is very important," he said. "So I think you will see some donors respond if it's presented right."

Frank Keating, chairman of the review board, estimated last week that the audits could cost as much as $1.4 million, more than both agencies' budgets for this year.

Each diocese is obliged by the charter to prepare a report on how it is responding to sex abuse by clergy, and Keating said the child-protection office must verify those studies by sending auditors into each diocese.

"If a diocese tells us they have no sex-abuse cases, and a district attorney says, `Yes, they do,' then a red flag goes up," he said. "And if a diocese tells us they appointed a review panel, and we find out all the members quit, that would be another red flag."

The review board - whose 12 members are unpaid except for travel expenses - has an operating budget of $265,000 and a research budget of $250,000.

Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the protection office, defended the bishops' budget allotment for this year.

"Nobody was quite sure what all of this was going to entail, and we're still trying to find out," she said in a phone interview Wednesday, calling the budget "very generous."

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