Crime

This is how Boise’s Catholic Diocese investigates sexual abuse accusations

Bishop Peter F. Christensen is the final word on sexual abuse or misconduct investigations within the Catholic Diocese of Boise. Here, he sprinkles holy water as he enters St. John's Cathedral in December 2014, shortly before the ceremonies installing him as the diocese’s bishop.
Bishop Peter F. Christensen is the final word on sexual abuse or misconduct investigations within the Catholic Diocese of Boise. Here, he sprinkles holy water as he enters St. John's Cathedral in December 2014, shortly before the ceremonies installing him as the diocese’s bishop. Idaho Statesman file

Until his recent arrest, Catholic Church officials say they didn’t investigate any complaints about the Rev. W. Thomas Faucher because they had none.

If the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise had been aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against 72-year-old Faucher before his arrest, it would have followed existing policy, officials said.

Faucher, a longtime Catholic priest in Boise, was arrested last week on accusations of possessing and sharing child pornography, and possessing drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy. Prosecutors have no reason to believe any of the images were of local children, though they had not verified all of the victims’ identities last week.

The diocese’s 63-page policy is readily available and easily accessible. But it’s unclear how often the diocese investigates complaints of sexual misconduct, because investigations are not public record.

The results are made public if the diocese takes action, such as defrocking a priest, according to diocese spokesman Gene Fadness.

Fadness said that on Sunday, Bishop Peter Christensen spoke at all five masses at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church, where Faucher was most recently a priest. The bishop urged people to come forward if they have been abused or know of abuse. He also sent a letter to every priest in the diocese, instructing them to read the message at every mass last weekend.

“I do not know what the eventual outcome of Father Faucher’s legal case will be,” Christensen wrote. “Regardless, damage has been done to so many who have put their trust in his past leadership and friendship.”

The church’s bulletin and the Idaho Catholic Register also published statements that encourage anyone who’s been abused to go to law enforcement, or to contact the diocese’s safe environment and victim assistance coordinator, Veronica Childers.

As of Monday, neither Boise police nor the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office had received any allegations of abuse regarding Faucher.

While a review board offers suggestions on what to do with a case, final power rests with Bishop Christensen.

Christensen declined Monday, through his spokesman, to be interviewed by the Idaho Statesman.

The diocese takes its name from Boise but crosses all of Idaho. Its abuse and misconduct policy stems from a template set in the early 2000s, as the Catholic Church grappled with broad public revelations, spanning decades, of priests across the country molesting children.

Almost 20 years later, advocates for those victims remain critical of how the church approaches such misconduct. Boise, meanwhile, has avoided much of the controversy and high-profile investigations that hit churches in cities such as Spokane.

Last week, Bishop Christensen said in a public statement that the diocese has never received similar complaints regarding Faucher, and if the diocese had, it would have immediately contacted law enforcement officials, as it would for any such report.

Under Idaho’s Child Protective Act, any person who believes a child may have been abused, abandoned or neglected must report to law enforcement within 24 hours. Failure to report is a misdemeanor crime.

However, ordained minsters — including priests — do not have to report the abuse if the confession was made directly to a minister or in the process of confidential confession with a minister and reporting the action would violate church doctrine.

Fadness said that the diocese was following its sexual misconduct policies for situations like Faucher’s and there has not been any contact with the priest since his release from jail. Last week, Fadness said Faucher will be served an eviction notice. A certified letter regarding the eviction will also be sent to Faucher, who rents a home owned by the diocese.

Amid the police investigation into Faucher, here’s a look at how the Catholic Church in Boise handles misconduct today.

Church review board

The process of investigating sexual misconduct by a deacon or priest differs from that of law enforcement, and discipline is an internal decision.

A diocese review board is designated to examine any reports of sexual abuse of minors. The board must have from five to 12 voting members, including a priest, an expert in “the evaluation and treatment of sexual abuse of minors,” and a “promoter of justice.” The majority of voting members must be lay members, not employed by the diocese.

The board is obligated to meet twice a year. If an allegation is made against a priest or deacon involving a child, the board would call another meeting to review the allegation.

After an investigation, the board would make a recommendation to the bishop. The bishop has the final say on how to handle the complaint or if he’ll follow the board’s recommendation.

If the investigation finds “reasonable cause to believe” allegations of child abuse or other crimes are true, the policy calls for the diocese to notify the appropriate government agency and cooperate with that agency.

Since the board’s creation in 2003, Fadness said there was one complaint that was referred to law enforcement. Fadness would not say how many complaints the board has reviewed since its inception. “We prefer not to answer this question as the work of the Review Board is confidential,” Fadness wrote in an email to the Idaho Statesman.

In reference to the one complaint sent to law enforcement, Fadness wrote, “I cannot comment on the outcome of that case other than to say the individual involved is not a part of this diocese.” Fadness said he did not have the reported person’s name or the year it was reported to police.

The Diocese of Boise submits a confidential annual report to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which uses Idaho’s information, as well as that from other dioceses, to issue a public report, Fadness said. The public report does not specify which dioceses the data comes from.

Atop the local diocese’s board is Canyon County Prosecuting Attorney Bryan Taylor, who serves as chair. In his year or two on the board, Taylor said, they’ve never had to review a complaint of sexual misconduct by a priest or deacon.

“I am always mindful of potential conflict — which can typically only be determined on a case-by-case basis,” Taylor wrote in an email. “Generally, I believe that my role as prosecutor and the obligation to the public safety is a strong complement to the review board’s other membership and its overall purpose — which is to review misconduct by priests/deacons against children independently through the lens of canonical processes.”

Taylor says he is passionate about protecting children, and was humbled when the bishop asked him to serve on the independent board.

“As the PA, I approach every potential conflict with great care and am mindful that an appearance of impropriety on a given case can be as damaging as actual conflict and of course would bring that same approach to this service,” he said.

How investigations begin

Diocese policy states that the bishop first reviews any allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a priest or deacon to determine whether the allegation “has at least the semblance of truth.”

If it passes that bar, the bishop assigns someone to investigate. Options include the diocese’s director of child, youth and adult protection, or even a private investigator.

The accuser will be asked questions by the bishop’s investigator and must provide a statement. If the complaining person doesn’t respond, the church will tell that person their decision may make it impossible to enforce a punishment for the accused.

The accused priest or deacon has the right to speak to the bishop. He can choose to admit to the offense, but also has the right to protect himself from self-incrimination.

Throughout the investigation, interviews are taken under oath with the church, not a court, and are audio-recorded and transcribed.

The diocese’s policies follow those outlined in the charter for the protection of children and young people, a set of procedures established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in 2002. Boise’s policy was first drafted in 2003 and last revised in February 2016.

In a 2016 audit, the USCCB tallied a national total of 1,318 sexual abuse allegations from 1,232 adults reporting sexual abuse they suffered as children. No Idaho-specific figures were available.

The USCCB has promoted background checks of all clergy members, employees and volunteers, as well as training those people how to identify the warning signs of abuse and how to report those signs.

In Faucher’s case, law enforcement learned about the allegations before the church. Faucher’s criminal investigation began with a tip to police from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Gene Fadness, spokesman of Diocese of Boise, shared that parishioners at St. Mary's were 'deeply sadden' by the news of Rev. W. Thomas Faucher's arrest.

 

Community action

Barbara Dorris is executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. She said the network believes Bishop Christensen has not done enough to combat the issues around accusations against Faucher.

The bishop has expressed his outrage about Faucher, Dorris said. But more work must be done because the bishop is a man with “great moral authority,” she said.

“We think he should go to every parish and beg the parishioners and employees and former employees if they have seen anything or suspected anything, to report that,” she said.

And those reports shouldn’t go to the church, Dorris said — they should go to law enforcement.

“This is a crime,” she said about abuse. “It may also be a sin. But it’s a crime.”

Christensen, she said, should take this opportunity to reach out to church members and turn over any documentation about Faucher, who was retired at the time of his arrest, to authorities.

“We would like him to say (to parishioners), ‘You have a moral obligation to report what you know,’ ” Dorris said. “The bishop has a chance here to set a very good example and do outreach for any parish.”

Rev. Faucher’s case

Faucher is due in court Feb. 15.

Most of the crimes he’s accused of involve Idaho’s law against child pornography. He is charged with 10 counts of sexual exploitation of a child, and two counts of distributing sexually exploitative material involving children. His last two charges are for misdemeanor drug possession.

Faucher was released from the Ada County Jail on a $250,000 bond Feb. 6. The diocese is not paying his legal fees, as Fadness said they would not pay the fees even if Faucher was still an active priest.

Prosecutors say they found ecstasy, marijuana and LSD in Faucher’s home, though they only filed charges regarding the first two drugs.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman

  Comments