Audit: MS Catholic Dioceses Following Sex Abuse Prevention Rules

Mississippi's two Roman Catholic dioceses have complied with the church's policy to prevent the sexual abuse of children, an audit by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops shows. The Jackson and Biloxi dioceses were each commended in audits conducted last year and made public Tuesday.

The Biloxi diocese was praised for its "forward-thinking approach'' in implementing a comprehensive sexual abuse policy before the new policy became mandatory.

The Jackson diocese received four commendations: one for Bishop Joseph Latino's appearance on a televised panel discussion on the sexual abuse of minors; one for continually updating its "excellent'' sexual abuse policy since 1986; one for establishing a review board in 1994; and one for cooperation with civil authorities in dealing with sexual abuse of minors.

The Biloxi diocese was audited July 7-11 last year. The Jackson diocese's audit was from Oct. 20-24.

The audit was conducted at Catholic dioceses across the nation to see whether they were complying with the reforms established by the Conference of Bishops in June 2002.

The auditors - mostly former FBI agents or investigators - traveled the country from June to October in small teams, interviewing bishops, diocesan personnel, victims, abusive priests, prosecutors and lay people.

Victim advocates said bishops had too much control of how the audit was conducted, so it should be viewed skeptically.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)