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A test for the Catholic Church
Minnesota's six Catholic dioceses are complying with a mandate to prevent sexual abuse, according to a national report released in Washington D.C. Catholic leaders in Minnesota say the report shows the church is living up to its pledge to stop sexual abuse by priests. But some abuse victims say the report has major problems.

Collegeville, Minn. — In June 2002, the nation's Catholic bishops passed The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The measure required that American dioceses ban priests accused of sexual abuse and put policies in place to prevent future abuse.

The audit was essentially a report card on how dioceses are doing implementing the charter. It was completed by a firm in Boston and was commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The group's president, Bishop Wilton Gregory, unveiled the report at a Washington D.C. news conference.

"The audit results represent solid progress on the journey toward fulfilling the vision set out in the charter. I believe that these findings show that we bishops are keeping our word," Gregory said.

The audit describes how each diocese responded to the sexual abuse crisis. All six Minnesota dioceses are in compliance with the charter's requirements.

In the report, the St. Cloud Diocese was given a commendation for the work it's done.

"We're doing criminal background checks on all our volunteers and staff who have contact with young people or vulnerable people," says Steve Gottwalt, communications director for the St. Cloud Diocese. "We have a diocesan review board that is advising the bishop and saying, 'Here are things you could do better, here's what's going well, here are some things that we think you should consider.'"

Gottwalt says the high marks are nice, but the St. Cloud Diocese will do more training and outreach to prevent sexual abuse.

Four Minnesota dioceses, those in St. Paul-Minneapolis, Winona, Duluth and New Ulm, were given recommendations for improvements. The recommendations were simple things to fix, according to church leaders.

The Rev. Douglas Grams in the New Ulm Diocese says they've already responded to the report's recommendations.

"One was to contact each of the county attorneys in our 15 counties to say that we do have a sexual abuse policy. The second one involved putting in place backgound checks for volunteers who work with youth on a consistent basis, and we've moved in that direction as well," Grams says.

Critics of the audit say it didn't go far enough in its investigation of sexual abuse and flawed policies in the church.

Belinda Martinez is co-founder of the Minnesota chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. Martinez, who says she was abused by two priests 30 years ago, compares the audit to students taking a test they wrote themselves.

"It's a doctorate degree level of people who are grading themselves on a kindergarten test. Of course they're going to pass. They get to make up (the test), then they get to decide that they passed the test," Martinez says.

The Rev. Kevin McDonough with the St. Paul-Minneapolis Diocese says the audit process wasn't that easy. McDonough points to the fact that the audit was carried out by an independent firm, and the investigators were retired FBI agents.

"These retired FBI folks went out and talked to pastors, talked to victims, talked to members of the general Catholic public. 'This is what this diocese says it's doing, have you seen this?' And that of course was the tough part of the test," McDonough says.

Another report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church will be released on Feb. 27. That report will try to document every case of abuse in the church from 1950 to 2002. It will also attempt to tally the scandal's cost to the church in settlement and counseling payments over 52 years.

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