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Diocese protects young, audit says

An auditor has found that the Diocese of Buffalo is complying with a national effort by Catholic bishops to protect children from sexual abuse.

The Gavin Group of Boston determined during an October visit that the diocese is in full compliance with the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," a policy adopted in 2002 by the nation's Catholic bishops in response to a sexual abuse crisis within the U.S. Catholic church.

The charter stipulated that each diocese be reviewed annually for its efforts to prevent child sexual abuse.

The Buffalo diocese has been in full compliance each year since the audits began in 2003.

"Our commitment to protecting children and young people in the church is unwavering," Bishop Edward U. Kmiec said in a statement.

But advocates for victims of sexual abuse say the audits are largely ineffective because information provided to auditors is voluntarily disclosed by dioceses, and no penalties for noncompliance exist.

And despite the charter, the diocese in August was accused of ignoring inappropriate behavior and sexual advances by a Niagara Falls middle school teacher toward students.

The alleged misdeeds were reported just months after the Catholic bishops enacted the charter, but not acted upon by the school until the teacher later was charged with possessing child pornography and endangering the welfare of a child, some parents charged.

Diocesan officials have reported spending $1.16 million on settlements, legal fees and therapy for victims and offenders between 1950 and 2006, a period when 53 clergy were accused in 108 alleged incidents of sexual abuse.

Since 2002, the diocese has conducted "safe environment training" for 22,000 employees and volunteers who work with children and young people. About 14,000 criminal background checks also have been done on employees and volunteers, and children in Catholic elementary schools and religious education programs have participated in special training the past two years aimed at preventing abuse.

e-mail: jtokasz@buffnews.com

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