Diocesan Review Board responds to questions about its work


By Barb Arland-Fye

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Review Board chairwoman has made recommendations she thinks all review boards should follow to ensure fair and thorough review of allegations of clergy sexual abuse against minors. Ana Maria Catanzaro’s comments were published May 12 in Commonweal magazine in response to a grand jury’s findings that the Philadelphia Archdiocese allowed abusive priests to continue to minister. Catanzaro stated that the archdiocese had not provided the names of all accused priests to its review board.

In a May 19 statement responding to and clarifying the Commonweal article and media reaction to it, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia stated that “Despite the pain and negative effects caused by the article, the Archdiocese remains committed to the work ahead, collaborating with the Review Board, to which it is most grateful.”

The Catholic Messenger asked the Diocese of Davenport’s Review Board to address its review process and how it avoids the breakdown in communication that occurred in Philadelphia. The six-member Diocesan Review Board functions as a confidential consultative body for the bishop that advises him in the assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and the suitability of accused priests for ministry; reviews policies and procedures dealing with sexual abuse of minors; and offers advice on all aspects of responses required in connection with these cases.


Three of the Review Board members who met with The Catholic Messenger last week are: The Honorable Clarence Darrow, partner in the law firm of Law Offices of Clarence Darrow; Bernard Hardiek, retired president of Deere & Co.’s Worldwide Agricultural Equipment Division; and Chris McCormick Pries, ARNP, clinical director with Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport. Also joining the discussion were Msgr. John Hyland, the diocese’s vicar general; Victim Assistance Coordinator Alicia Owens; Deacon David Montgomery, diocesan communications director; and Rand Wonio, an attorney for the diocese.

How did the Diocese of Davenport select members to serve on its Diocesan Review Board?

Members were appointed based on criteria established in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” and “Essential Norms for Diocesan/ Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons,” and the Davenport Diocese’s “Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior.”

The diocese’s policy, which dovetails with the USCCB policy, states that the Review Board will consist of at least five members of outstanding integrity and good judgment who are in full communion with the Church. The majority will be lay people not employed by the diocese. At least one member should be a priest who is an experienced and respected pastor in the diocese and at least one member should have expertise in the treatment of sexual abuse of minors. See full policy (www.davenportdiocese.org).

What are the Review Board’s responsibilities in our diocese?

Advise the bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in his determination of suitability for ministry; offer advice on all aspects of these cases; make recommendations the Review Board deems appropriate to reduce the risk to children; recommend guidelines for board proceedings and programs for treatment, rehabilitation and supervision of clerics; submit, with the assistance of the vicar general, an annual budget proposal; review policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse of minors; cooperate with the vicar general in developing and implementing educational programs; and seek the advice of experts and consultants as necessary and appropriate.

How often does the Diocesan Review Board meet?

The Review Board meets as often as necessary. When the bankruptcy court opened up the opportunity for more abuse survivors to come forward, the Review Board was meeting about once a month, members told The Catholic Messenger. “We meet on demand, as needed,” McCormick Pries said.

Who determines which cases the Diocesan Review Board will review?

Every allegation of clergy sexual abuse submitted to the Davenport Diocese is referred to Owens, who then notifies Msgr. Hyland without disclosing the victim’s name or other identifying information. Msgr. Hyland informs Bishop Martin Amos and diocesan attorney Rand Wonio, who notifies Scott County Attorney Mike Walton of the allegation. The diocese and Scott County Attorney have a memorandum of agreement concerning the reporting of allegations of clergy sexual abuse against clergy who are still living. The county attorney investigates to determine whether the allegation can be prosecuted. If the abuse occurred elsewhere, he refers the case to the county attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction.

“I think the county attorney has done a superlative job,” Darrow said. The office’s attorneys “have been very open to receiving the allegations, processing them and talking about what they are going to do. They have an open door policy,” McCormick Pries said.

If the case does not meet the statute of limitations requirements, the county attorney returns it to Msgr. Hyland who forwards the case to private investigator Jim Sweeney and also notifies the Review Board. Sweeney shares his investigative report with the Review Board, which studies it before making a recommendation to the bishop. “Ninety percent of the work is done by Jim … we not only get Jim’s report, he’ll sit with the Review Board and we can ask him questions,” Hardiek said. The Review Board may have questions that require further investigation, which Sweeney does “in order for us to determine whether there is a credible allegation,” Hardiek added.

 The Review Board does not receive the victim assistance coordinator’s intake report; that information is held in strictest confidence, McCormick Pries noted. For allegations concerning deceased priests and deacons, the Review Board makes recommendations based on a higher standard of proof because the accused is unable to defend himself, she added.

Does the Diocesan Review Board see every allegation made against a priest or deacon?

Yes, once the allegation has been reviewed by the county attorney’s office and returned to the diocese, Wonio said. The Review Board doesn’t receive the allegation beforehand because of the possibility of criminal prosecution. “The county attorney’s office doesn’t want us talking to witnesses of a crime,” Darrow said.

Does the Diocesan Review Board take testimony from the accused or the accuser?

“The Review Board has been open to having victims and their counsel or the alleged perpetrators and their counsel come before us,” McCormick Pries said. “Some of them want to come before the board,” Darrow said. “If they want to talk to us we are very open to talking with them,” McCormick Pries added. “It’s been helpful to us in giving us a better perspective,” Hardiek said.

When did the Diocesan Review Board last convene to review an allegation of clergy sexual abuse?

The Review Board met in March to discuss an allegation concerning a previous case, but declined to share details of that meeting.

Who decides whether to accept or reject the Diocesan Review Board’s recommendations?

Bishop Amos, who said he sits in on all of the Review Board’s meetings.

How often has a recommendation been rejected?

“The bishop has accepted every recommendation the Review Board has made,” Darrow said.

How helpful are the Charter and the norms in providing the Diocesan Review Board with criteria for determining credibility of allegations?

The Review Board used the national charter and norms as its foundation, but “the Iowa Statute (on the sexual abuse of minors) is more stringent,” Darrow said. “That’s where we get our definition, in the Iowa Statute.”  The Davenport Diocese revised its Policies Relating to Sexuality and Personal Behavior about five years ago, with Msgr. Robert Gruss (then chancellor of the diocese) spearheading the revision and Owens conducting considerable research of diocesan policies across the country, Review Board members said.

What guarantee does the Review Board have that it sees all allegations of clergy sexual abuse?

For one thing, the victim assistance coordinator joins the Review Board for its meetings. She would certainly raise questions if an allegation hadn’t been brought before the board, Hardiek said. “I feel very comfortable that if there’s an allegation it will come before the Review Board,” he added. “There’s a sense of trust, a sense of openness” in the discussions and deliberations, McCormick Pries said. Hardiek noted that Bishop Amos and Msgr. Hyland have been very supportive when the Review Board has asked for further investigation.

What are your thoughts about discrepancies that may exist between canon law and civil law? For example, a 17-year-old was not considered to be a minor before 1994 according to canon law.

Msgr. Hyland said the Review Board has never rejected a credible claim from anyone who was younger than 18 at the time of the abuse and in fact also reviewed complaints from individuals who were 18 or older at the time of the abuse.

Among the recommendations the Commonweal author makes to review boards across the country is that all allegations should be reviewed — whether or not the inappropriate behavior with minors involves sexual abuse. What are your thoughts?

 “It’s an issue all review boards are looking at now,” McCormick Pries said. “We are seen by the diocese as helping the bishop to protect children,” she added. “We’ll call a priest in if we have any reason to suspect he’s been engaged in inappropriate behavior with a minor,” Msgr. Hyland said. “Protecting the children — that has to be the primary objective, keeping our children safe,” Hardiek noted.

The Commonweal author also recommended that dioceses keep tabs on the whereabouts of laicized clergy and make that information accessible to the public. What are your thoughts?

“We have no authority over them once they’ve been laicized,” Msgr. Hyland said. “Victims do expect us to know,” Owens said. It’s a difficult issue, agreed Darrow, because “these men are all free citizens of the United States.”

Another recommendation cited in the Commonweal article was to publish an annual report on the Review Board’s work. What are your thoughts?

Msgr. Hyland noted that the diocese undergoes an annual audit as part of its commitment to the national charter.

The nation’s bishops, who meet in Seattle in June for a regularly scheduled meeting, will review implementation of the charter as well as whether the system broke down in Philadelphia.

Members of the Diocesan Review Board

• The Honorable Clarence Darrow: partner in the law firm of Law Offices of Clarence Darrow; Illinois circuit judge with jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases 1986-1996; Illinois Senate and House of Representatives for 11 years; assistant state’s attorney in Rock Island County for four years; psychiatric social worker from 1966-1971 in group, marital and family counseling as well as a child abuse investigator/court liaison.

• Catherine Fouts: past president of the Diocesan Board of Education and vice president of the Newton Community School District Board of Education. 

• Bernard Hardiek: retired president of Deere & Co.’s Worldwide Agricultural Equipment Division; Internal Revenue Service for 16 years as field audit branch chief, chief of the appeals office and assistant regional commissioner, appeals, in Chicago.

• Msgr. James Parizek, JCL: promoter of justice for the Diocese of Davenport and pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish, Davenport; past vice chancellor and diocesan judicial vicar.

• Chris McCormick Pries, ARNP: clinical director with Vera French Community Mental Health Center in Davenport; advanced registered nurse practitioner, holding certification as a clinical nurse specialist in child and adolescent psychiatric and mental health nursing from the American Nurses Association; and earlier held positions of assistant director for quality assurance, coordinator of adolescent outpatient services, chief of nursing services, psychiatric nurse on the child/adolescent team, and consultant on the consultation team.

• Very Rev. Anthony Herold, VF: pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington.

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