Lincoln, Neb. — The Lincoln, Neb., diocese will again take part in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' clergy sexual abuse audit.
It will be the first time since the first audit, in 2003, that the diocese is undergoing the audit.
The announcement was made by Lincoln Bishop James Conley in his column in the Sept. 10 issue of the Southern Nebraska Register, Lincoln's diocesan newspaper.
"The audit is a voluntary process. It involves review of diocesan policies, and review of the extent to which we follow our policies. It does not involve review of our priests' personal information, or of the personal and private information of diocesan employees or parishioners. It is designed to be a tool," Conley said.
He said his decision is for the 2016 audit alone. "After that time, I will consult with our priests and local lay experts again, in order to determine whether or not we should continue," he said.
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Conley became bishop of Lincoln in 2012. He succeeded Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz, who after 2003 opted not to have the diocese participate in the audit, saying it is "only and advisory document and not a law of the Catholic church.
"At that time, the process was still being worked out and it needed refinements. Legitimate questions were raised about its purpose and methodology. For that reason, the Diocese of Lincoln elected not to participate in subsequent audits. I believe that was a prudent decision," Conley said.
"Since 2003, the audit process has improved. It now offers some clear benefit to dioceses that undergo it, with minimal interference in the ministry of the church. It helps bishops hold themselves accountable, and it offers the virtue of transparency -- an assurance that the church takes child protection seriously. It also offers 'best practices' to help every diocese be vigilant about safety for children. For that reason, in consultation with priests of the diocese, I have decided to participate in the audit in 2016."
The annual audit was a recommendation included in the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was approved in 2002 and revised in 2005 and 2011, as the clerical sexual abuse crisis was erupting. The diocese has "participated in most of the recommendations" of the charter, Bishop Conley said. He added the diocese has followed the "Essential Norms" also approved by the USCCB that year, "These norms are concerned with ensuring that child abuse has no place in the church -- that there is no room for it to take place, and that is not tolerated, under any circumstances, if it does take place," he said.
The diocese "observes every civil law regarding child abuse protection and reporting," he added.
Conley said he believed the audit "will demonstrate clearly that the Diocese of Lincoln does an excellent job creating and maintaining safe environments for children."
The most important tool for safeguarding children, he said, "is our integrity -- our commitment to do good and to avoid evil. Holiness, in each one of us, is the best way to keep our children safe."