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    Cleveland Diocese Discourages Anonymous Sex Abuse Reports

    The Roman Catholic diocese of Cleveland is discouraging its employees and volunteers from making anonymous reports of sexual abuse of minors, a policy change that appears to be unique among U.S. dioceses and has outraged church watchdogs. However, it has the support of the local prosecutor's office.

    Church policy had required any suspicion of sexual abuse by church personnel be immediately reported to civil authorities. The revised policy says a person reporting abuse to civil authorities should include his or her name, address, and telephone number to help assist in an investigation.

    ''That's just as wrongheaded as possible. That's just silly,'' said David Clohessy, spokesman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ''All reports of abuse should be encouraged, anonymous and otherwise, especially with an institution with such a horrific track record on this issue. Many victims and witnesses are terrified of retribution, and some information always beats no information.''

    Diocese spokesman Bob Tayek said there have been few anonymous reports in past years and that they're being discouraged only because they're often not helpful.

    ''Terminating an employee on an anonymous allegation is really unlikely,'' Tayek said.

    Bishop Richard Lennon approved the revised policy, and it took effect on January 1. It changes a policy that was last updated in 2003 during the height of the church's clergy sex abuse scandal.

    The revised policy makes it appear as though church officials are trying to control the information that civil authorities get, said Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of, an online archive of documents related to sexual abuse in the church.

    ''That's really stepping over the line and trying to suppress what could be very valid reports,'' she said.

    But officials with the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office said the revision is appropriate.

    ''The best possible policy for the diocese is to tell its employees you must report suspected child abuse and we expect you to give your name,'' said Rick Bell, supervisor of the major trial unit for the prosecutor's office, who led an investigation into the diocese's abuse cases in 2003.

    ''They're encouraging reporting and openness,'' he said. ''Anonymous information may not be helpful whatsoever and encourages a climate of secrecy.''

    Teresa Kettelkamp, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, wasn't aware of other dioceses adopting similar policies.

    She agreed that anonymous reports were difficult to investigate and substantiate and noted that the Cleveland diocese is only discouraging them.

    ''If they were saying, 'We're not taking any more anonymous complaints,' that would be of concern to me,'' Kettelkamp said. ''I just hope it doesn't discourage people from coming forward.''

    The revised policy, which was drafted by a lay review board, also establishes that in alleged abuse cases involving nonclergy, the diocesan legal office should be contacted and will coordinate an investigation.

    Clohessy believes that's the last office that should be involved because church lawyers will only seek to limit damage claims against the diocese.

    Tayek said the change was made so the legal office can ensure that parishes and church institutions are following the policy for reporting abuse, and to make sure employment law is followed.

    More than 13,000 molestation claims have been made to dioceses nationwide and more than $2 billion in settlements have been paid since 1950. The Cleveland diocese has paid about $23 million in abuse-related claims.

    The 195 U.S. dioceses also have taught more than 6 million children to protect themselves from sexual predators and have conducted 1.6 million background checks on workers in response to clergy sex abuse. (AP)

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