By PAUL WIRTH Diocesan Communications Staff
A group of lay people with special expertise plays a key role in preventing abuse and keeping children safe in the Diocese of Allentown.
Known as the Independent Review Board, this panel of medical and law enforcement professionals, along with one member of the clergy, reviews every child abuse accusation that is made against a priest.
A recent news article by the Associated Press quoted critics of such review boards as saying they operate in secrecy and are ineffective. That is not the case in the Diocese of Allentown.
The review board in the Diocese is independent and focused on a careful review of the facts. The board maintains confidentiality about cases, of course, but there is no secrecy: The Diocese is transparent about its membership, its process, and its role. The Diocese lists members of the board on its website and has always listed their names in the diocesan directory. The board has been the subject of previous articles in the AD Times.
Victims who make an accusation against a priest have the option of speaking with the review board if they desire to do so.
The board deliberates in private, without the presence of Bishop Alfred Schlert or diocesan legal counsel. When it makes a decision, the board advises the Bishop on whether the accused priest is suitable for ministry.
Dioceses around the nation created review boards after American bishops adopted the Charter For the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002. The Charter also included such reforms as Zero Tolerance for abuse and policies and procedures designed to keep children safe.
The Diocese of Allentown board is chaired by Dr. Eugene Decker, a physician with expertise in examining children who have been sexually abused.
Other members include Gwen Millets, a children and youth caseworker; Christopher Moughan, a federal probation officer; Richard Podguski, of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections; and Father Michael Mullins, pastor of St. Paul Parish, Allentown.
Recently, members of the board recommended adding a new member, retired Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent James Doolin. Bishop Schlert accepted the recommendation.
“The Independent Review Board is an extremely important part of the Diocese’s ongoing response to the abuse crisis,” Bishop Schlert said. “I am extremely grateful to have a group of people with the integrity, commitment and expertise to advise me in the event of an accusation.”