Church Review Boards and Priest Abuse Scandal

When Diocesan Review Boards were implemented by the Dallas Charter in 2002, they were supposed to independently review sexual abuse complaints against priests of the particular diocese or archdiocese. They were also to be staffed (they’re usually volunteers) by competent professionals who would make recommendations to the bishop regarding what to do with the priest. At the time, most observers of the scandal were cautiously hoping that the church had made a step in the right direction in dealing with the scandal.
Five years after their formation, the review boards are a mixed bag depending on the diocese in which they are implemented. There is no provision in canon law forcing the bishop to utilize the Review Board or follow its recommendations. It remains up to the bishop of the local church how their work is to be used in dealing with priest abusers. Some dioceses have done a good job and have tried to work with these Boards. However, some have not. Two glaring instances of an abuse of the Review Board can be found in the Archdiocese of Chicago headed by Cardinal Francis George and the Diocese of Bellevill, Ill formerly headed by Bishop Wilton Gregory, now the Archbishop of Atlanta.
In deposition testimony released recently, Cardinal George admits to disregarding the recommendations of the Review Board citing a lack of evidence. When questioned, George continues to give the same answer: the investigation is not complete so he didn’t remove the priest.
In the Belleville case, then Bishop Gregory only turned over certain documents about an offending priest to the Review Board. As it turns out, the missing documents contained testimony and facts about other victims of the same priest. According to Margaret Mensen, the Board’s civilian administrator, these omissions prevented the board from investigating and offering counseling to at least four potential victims. Mensen also testified that diocesan officials didn’t help Board officials in interviewing priests who refused to cooperate after they’d been accused of sex abuse. During the trial, Mensen was shown documents revealing that former Belleville Bishop James Keleher, former vicar general Monsignor James Margason and former vice chancellor the Rev. Joseph Schwaegel had known for years about detailed written reports thata girl was raped and about other sexual crimes against children allegedly committed by Rev. Raymond Kownacki. These documents showed that instead of calling the police Kownacki was transferred 7 times. Each time he was transferred the new parishioners were never informed of Kownacki’s past. The last transfer in 1988 placed him right next to a Catholic grade school!
Shortly after the rapes of this girl, diocesan officials met with the girl. Reports of the meeting were obtained by the attorney at trial but never given to Mensen or the Review Board. Mensen testified that the girl felt abandoned by the diocese.