The results of the 2020 Annual Audit relative to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People indicate that the implementation of Safe Environment protocols in dioceses throughout the United States continues to have an impact on reducing risk and prompting survivors of abuse to come forward. There are 22 allegations nationwide involving current cases of abuse, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Child and Youth Protection, the office that released the results of the report on Nov. 9. The report covers the annual audit period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020 and reflects statistics for the entirety of the U.S. “Our goal here in the United States will always be to see zero allegations,” Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Mark Brennan said. “Even one allegation is too many. This statistic does, however, give us hope that nationwide efforts in keeping children safe and prompting survivors to come forward are making a difference.” There were 4,250 total allegations reported nationwide during the 2020 annual audit period, with the overwhelming majority of them stemming from the 1960s to the 1990s, according to the report. Three percent of the total allegations nationwide stem from the years 2000 to present, and, as indicated, 22 of the total allegations nationwide are from the current year. According to the report, 195 dioceses and eparchies across the U.S. participated in the annual audit. “When we see the number of current allegations decreasing across the country, it indicates that pre-vention efforts are working. When we see the total number overall, with most of the allegations coming from decades ago, it indicates that survivors are taking the courageous step to come forward and disclose. This step, although painful and difficult, is oftentimes the first step toward healing,” Bishop Brennan said. A combination of various Safe Environment protocols and efforts, legal rulings and proceedings at the state level, investigations, and media coverage over the past few years in the U.S. continues to prompt survivors to come forward, according to the report. “As time goes on, we continue to see current numbers decreasing and survivors disclosing and getting the help and resources they need to move toward healing,” Bishop Brennan said. “All across the U.S., employees, volunteers, and children are much more aware today as compared to the past because of Safe Environment requirements. They have the knowledge to recognize warning signs and the mechanisms to report concerns and allegations. Nonetheless, we still have more work to do. Now is not the time to relax on any of our efforts as far as the sex abuse crisis is concerned. As a diocese and as a country, want to keep moving forward. We want to keep seeing decreases in those numbers. We want to foster healing.” The report states that during the 2020 audit period, approximately 5.6 million adults and children received sex abuse awareness training and approximately 2.5 million background checks were conducted for employees and volunteers who work with children across the U.S. These are two of the primary ways Safe Environment protocols in the U.S. help protect children. The Charter requires that every diocese in the U.S. implements sex abuse awareness training for adults and children, background checks for employees and volunteers, and a sex abuse policy specifying zero tolerance. The Charter also requires that every diocese convenes a lay-led Sexual Abuse Review Board to help determine the credibility of allegations and ensure that reporting to civil authorities is accomplished in accordance with state and local laws. U.S. dioceses and eparchies are regularly audited for compliance with the Charter. The auditing agency is Stonebridge Business Partners, based in Rochester, New York. At the local level, since 2018, the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston has implemented the following measures to help establish and grow a culture of safety, in addition to aforementioned Charter requirements: – Release of the lists of credibly accused here and elsewhere – Implementation of Navex Global’s EthicsPoint platform which facilitates reporting of suspected financial, professional, and personal misconduct of any priest, deacon, religious, or lay employee of the diocese, parish, or Catholic school in West Virginia – Promotion of the USCCB’s third-party reporting system called the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service, – Implementation of fingerprinting of priests, deacons, teachers, principals, and Catholic school-related personnel – Engagement of an independent, third-party organization – Corporate Security and Investigations of Monaca, PA – to conduct audits and spot checks for compliance with Safe Environment protocols; this is in addition to the required and regular USCCB audits conducted by Stonebridge Business Partners “The Catholic Church in the U.S. is no longer a place where sex abuse is facilitated, tolerated, or covered up. Catholics in the church today are much more informed and empowered when it comes to this crisis. They have recognized over time that preventive measures and robust mechanisms for reporting are making a difference all across the country,” Bishop Brennan said. In June, at the USCCB’s virtual Spring General Assembly, Bishop Brennan stressed the importance of on-site audits at the parish and school level and encouraged his brother bishops to increase this component of Safe Environment efforts in their dioceses and eparchies. He was lauded by the chair of the USCCB National Review Board for his stance. “The safety of children and the healing of survivors come first,” Bishop Brennan said. “There is no end date for these two endeavors. We will continue our work toward building a culture of safety in our diocese and all across the U.S. Children deserve a culture where they can safely grow and thrive. Survivors deserve a culture where they can find support and healing.”