Diocese addresses audit

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Auditors gave five of Louisiana’s seven Catholic dioceses a clean bill of health dealing with sexual abuse of minors, but said the dioceses of Alexandria and Lake Charles had some shortcomings.

But diocese officials said the violations were not serious enough to cause concern among parishioners.

Audit teams from the Gavin Group visited those dioceses from August to October and interviewed church leadership, lay workers, some local law enforcement officials and asked to see new reform policies and procedures.

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The Alexandria diocese covers 13 civil parishes, including Concordia and Tensas parishes.

Ann Masden, director of development and public affairs for the diocese of Alexandria, said the diocese was not in full compliance simply because it had not finished background checks of people working with children and had not started the training required.

Alexandria was among a handful of dioceses in the nation found to be &uot;significantly behind&uot; putting reforms in place when first examined Aug. 18-21.

Another check in early December found substantial improvement, but by the end of the year Alexandria still had not completed a &uot;safe environment program&uot; for clergy, nor finished background checks of people working with children, the auditors said.

The &uot;safe environment program&uot; is training, according to Masden, &uot;to understand and prevent sexual abuse.&uot;

This training will start next week. As far as background checks, they were started but to be in compliance, had to be 50 percent complete.

&uot;Target date for full compliance is April 15,&uot; Masden said, when training will be finished as well as background checks.

Alexandria fell behind because former Bishop Sam Jacobs, who was transferred to Houma-Thibodaux on Aug. 1, &uot;was under the impression before then that even though he had not physically moved, he was in no position to make law or policy changes relating to the charter in that diocese,&uot; said the Rev. William Maestri, spokesman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Bishop William Friend, the bishop of the Shreveport diocese and formerly of the Alexandria diocese, began as apostolic minister for Alexandria in October. Friend said he did not think there were any repercussions for the diocese not completing the policies and procedures.

&uot;Certainly the auditors were understanding,&uot; Friend said. &uot;The reality of the matter was let go for some time. We did initiate action.&uot;

Friend said there is a great benefit to the policies.

&uot;I think reassures parents and those that have responsibility for children that the church does provide safe harbor,&uot; Friend said.

The Catholic Church is saying &uot;this is what we consider a very serious matter and if you do (abuse children) there are serious consequences.&uot;