The Capuchin Province of St. Joseph, a subdivision of the Capuchin order, released its report on the issue of sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, on Tuesday, June 18.

The report was the result of a voluntary, independent audit of provincial files in Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit that began last June.

Read the full report, "Audit 2013," executive summery and other documents, including the provincial policies and procedures by clicking on the green "Safe Environment" button at the top, left-hand side of the

According to the executive summary, Capuchin Fr. John Celichowski, provincial minister of the province, commissioned the comprehensive, independent audit of the province’s personnel files, policies and procedures, and other documents and materials, to determine how many and which friars and employees had sexually abused minors and vulnerable adults, how the province responded to reports, what they did with friars who abused and how they responded to and treated victims.

The audit included a review of 1,093 personnel files, provincial council meeting minutes, and other documents, including the 1993 “Special Counsel’s Report to the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Franciscan Order” also known as the “Kersten Report,” generated by special counsel following Milwaukee Journal reports of sexual abuse of students at St. Lawrence Seminary in Mount Calvary, as well as interviews with friars and others associated with the province, according to the summary.

Fr. Celichowski, who developed the idea for the audit after attending a conference on clergy sexual abuse, said the province did the audit voluntarily to ensure it has the best policies and practices in place for preventing and responding to sexual abuse, but also out of a sense of mission.

It was also done as  “the continuation of the 20-year history of the province subjecting itself to a process of external review,” according to a list of frequently asked questions and answers from the province that encompasses Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., and the Dioceses of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Gary and Lafayette, Ind.

The three auditors, unaffiliated with and non-members of the order, found:

  • Documented reports of sexual abuse by friars dating to 1932; reports through 1951 are “sparse and undetailed Provincial Council minutes”
  • Five friars were restricted in ministry when the audit started in May 2012; one didn’t involve sexual misconduct with minors. Three additional friars were placed on restricted ministry during the audit; one as a result of the audit, one as a result of a report from the Milwauke Archdiocese’s bankruptcy process, and one because of a new allegation. However, the friar has filed an appeal pending with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
  • At least 1,283 Capuchin friars have been associated with the St. Joseph Province since the 19th century; the auditors reviewed information on 1,101 friars, including 180 current friars in temporary/perpetual vows, 587 former living/deceased friars, nine postulants in the formation program, six friars without files mentioned in the provincial council minutes, and two friars from other provinces temporarily in St. Joseph Province
  • 23 of the 46 current, former or deceased members with reports of alleged sexual abuse of minors have been confirmed; 23 are unconfirmed; none have reports of sexual abuse of statutorily defined vulnerable adults; four lay employees have unconfirmed reports of alleged sexual abuse of minors.

Along with the 132-page audit report, the order released the names of current, former and deceased friars who have allegations of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult confirmed by their admission, an investigation, or what the auditors determined to be sufficient evidence, according to a statement from the order. The auditors made the recommendation to release the names, with the support of the order’s provincial review board and audit work group, with the hope that it will: help some victim-survivors by validating their experiences and encourage others to seek help; the transparency in the audit report and openness about the order’s members with confirmed allegations of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults will “underscore the seriousness” of the order’s prevention and response efforts, helping to heal and restore trust; and aid in accountability and community support that may lower the risk of re-offending.

Fr. Celichowski said one of the key findings is that the province hasn’t responded well to victims in the past, but that they are improving and can always continue to improve.

“We have learned from our painful past and have made significant progress in our efforts to prevent and respond to the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults,” he wrote in an email to your Catholic Herald. “Two examples are in our reporting practices and in our responses to victims/survivors. We also know that we can continue to improve, and we trust in our partners (e.g. Provincial Review Board) and people of good will to help us in that effort.”

The auditors’ recommendations for the province, some of which are already being done, are also listed in the executive summary, and include suggested changes to its policy, a need for better record-keeping and adequate file maintenance, educational opportunities and training and for provincial leaders to “prioritize compassionate and pastoral outreach and resolution over an aggressive legal defense” as has happened in the past.

“The auditors have given us a good set of recommendations that we have to, we can address,” Fr. Celichowski said.

He also wrote in his email that the province has received mixed responses about the audit report, but that it has been “pretty positive.”

“Some people believe it disclosed too much, while a few thought it disclosed too little. Some are concerned that it spent too much time dwelling on the past or second-guessing decisions in the light of today’s understandings and standards,” he wrote. “Most people appreciate the effort has been made, even though a report of this size and scope will never please everyone.”

Fr. Celichowski said people’s responses are being shared with the auditors and the Provincial Council, and that they will be included in the province’s considerations of how they plan to move forward.

Fr. Celichowski wrote in the email that the Provincial Council along with Amy Peterson, director of the Office of Pastoral Care and Conciliation, will review the recommendations and develop a plan for responding to them. “Some items, e.g. changes to our policies and procedures, can occur more quickly and will involve consultation with our Provincial Review Board,” he wrote.

“The audit has been difficult and sometimes painful,” he wrote. “Its true fruits will only be known in the months and years to come. It is my hope that we have introduced a different thought process; one that is based on healing for everyone involved.”