Policy and Procedure For Investigating Allegations of Sexual Abuse By Clergy Against a Minor Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston


Sexual abuse by a priest or deacon violates human dignity, clerical commitment and the very mission of the Church. It diminishes and, at times, destroys the relationship of trust that is necessary for ministry.

The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston considers allegations of sexual abuse by its clergy a very serious matter and is committed to promptly responding to such allegations. The safety and protection of children and young people is our primary concern. We are deeply saddened by any abuse of minors and are committed to assisting the victims/family in healing and reconciliation. Towards this end, compassionate support will be offered to victims/families and a thorough and timely investigation of all allegations will be undertaken in accordance with the procedure stipulated in this document.

For purposes of this document, clergy will include not only priests and deacons, but also seminarians of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. When the accused cleric is a member of a religious institute, his superiors will be contacted and informed of the allegation. If the accused cleric is a diocesan priest/deacon from another diocese, his diocesan bishop will be contacted and informed of the allegation. In these cases, it is responsibility of the superior/bishop to investigate the allegation in accordance with their policies. 

The Bishop, by virtue of his role and function in the Church, is charged with the pastoral care of both the faithful and the clergy, and with the promotion of unity in the diocese in a communion of charity and reconciliation. Hence, this document is intended to assist the Bishop of Galveston-Houston in the exercise of his pastoral ministry to the faithful and clergy entrusted to him by Christ, the Good Shepherd, and to assist him in carrying out his canonical responsibilities in the internal governance of the Archdiocese. The persons and bodies referenced in the policy, such as the Victim Assistance Coordinator and the members of the Review Board and the Special Panel, are part of this procedure and are considered advisors to the Bishop in carrying out his canonical responsibilities.

These procedures are subject to the provisions of canon law and will be reviewed at least every two years and will be modified or supplemented as laws, circumstances and situations require.

1. Allegations of sexual abuse of a minor (whether the person is a minor at the time of the reporting or whether the person is now an adult but was a minor at the time of the alleged abuse) are to be immediately referred to the Archdiocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator (VAC). The VAC will take an initial account of the data as presented by the informant, attempting to gather as much pertinent information as possible pertaining to the allegation(s). The VAC will express the concern of the Bishop, begin the discussion of counseling for the victim/family, advise the victim/family of their right to report to legal authorities, and inform the alleged victim/parents of minor that the VAC will be their communication contact with the Diocese. In the event that the VAC is unable to respond to the alleged victim within a 24 hour period, the Chancellor, or another delegate of the Bishop, is to take the initial account.

2. The VAC will immediately provide a verbal report of the allegation to the Bishop (Chancellor in the Bishop's absence).

3. The Bishop (Chancellor in the Bishop's absence) will immediately consult with legal counsel regarding compliance with applicable civil law reporting statutes.

4. The Bishop will assign a Case Manager, in most cases the Chancellor, to ensure that the policy is followed and the records properly kept.

5. The VAC will provide a written memo reporting the allegation to the Bishop and the Chairperson of the Archdiocesan Review Board. The Bishop will convene the Review Board to assess the allegation and advise him regarding the credibility of the allegation and the need for an investigation.

6. The Bishop or his delegate shall arrange to promptly meet with the accused cleric to inform him of the allegation. In this meeting the accused cleric should be:

a. informed of the allegation against him;
b. encouraged to retain the assistance of civil and canonical counsel;
c. encouraged to utilize spiritual direction; and

d. informed if any restrictions are placed upon him or his ministry during the period of investigation, up to and including being relieved of ministry and/or the parish.
7. If the cleric admits the allegation, the Bishop will consult with the Review Board regarding the appropriate action to be taken. The cleric will be urged to have a medical and psychological evaluation. If it is deemed advisable, he will be urged to participate in a residential treatment program. He will be removed permanently from ministry, and if the case so warrants, dismissed from the clerical state (Canon 1395). The cleric will be informed that he may not wear clerical garb, nor may he present himself publicly as a priest.

8. If the accused cleric denies the allegation or declines comment during the meeting with the Bishop, then the Bishop shall convene a Special Panel (3-5 persons, including at least one priest), who will conduct an investigation to determine if the allegation can be established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law (Canon 1717-1719).

9. The Special Panel will:

a. interview the alleged victim, the parents/guardians if alleged victim is still a minor, the accused cleric and any other persons it deems appropriate to form a judgment regarding the substantiation of the allegations;

b. prepare a written report of its findings to the Bishop (copies shall be provided to the Case Manager and the Chairperson of the Board); and

c. make recommendation(s) regarding subsequent action to be taken with respect to the accused cleric and the alleged victim.

10. The Bishop shall reconvene the Review Board to review the Special Panel's report and to advise the appropriate next course of action.

a. If the Bishop determines that there is sufficient evidence that sexual abuse of a minor has occurred, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith will be notified and the cleric will be removed from ministry or any ecclesiastical office (Canon 1722).

b. The Bishop will proceed with a canonical trial when directed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, unless it reserves the case to itself because of special circumstances.

c. If the case would be barred by prescription, the Bishop shall apply to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a dispensation from prescription, indicating the appropriate pastoral reasons.

d. The alleged offender may be requested to seek appropriate medical and psychological evaluations at a mutually acceptable facility.

e. If the Bishop determines that there is insufficient evidence that sexual abuse has occurred, he will receive any recommendations from the Review Board as to an appropriate course of action. The Bishop will notify the alleged victim and the cleric of the advice of the Review Board by a proper forum.