What is the Task Force?
In his August 17, 2018 column, Bishop Conley announced that he was creating an independent Task Force to perform an outside review of diocesan safe environment procedures, the recent allegations of sexual misconduct against priests of the diocese, and the handling of those allegations by the Diocese of Lincoln. In his Novemember 2, 2018 column, Bishop Conley announced the members of this task force: Richard Herink of St. Peter parish in Lincoln, a Lincoln banker; Mari Lane Gewecke of St. Peter parish in Lincoln, who operates a consulting company; William Mickle of St. Joseph parish in Lincoln, retired assistant U.S. Attorney; and Susan Wilkinson of St. Michael parish in Lincoln, insurance executive. He described them as "honest, objective and independent... well-known and reputable members of the Church locally... respected in the business and legal community across Nebraska... persons of great leadership and integrity."
Bishop Conley identified the scope of the Task Force, and gave them full discretion to act freely and independent from the Diocese:
- to review how the diocese has responded in handling all prior allegations made against clergy of the diocese and all diocesan personnel, including both allegations of sexual abuse of a minor and any allegations of non-consensual contact with an adult based on an abuse of power
- to learn about each alleged victim and accused priest; review the diocese’s files and information on the alleged victims and accused diocesan personnel; and collect additional necessary information through interviews of past and/or current diocesan personnel
- to review existing diocesan policies and practices in response to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor and non-consensual contact with an adult; to propose specific changes in all of these policies, practices, and programs to ensure that the Diocese of Lincoln is operating under best practices
What is the Review Board?
Every diocese in the United States is mandated by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to establish a Review Board. Article 2 of the Charter describes the role of the Review Board:
- to advise the Bishop in his assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests or deacons
- to advise the Bishop in his determination of suitability for ministry of priests or deacons accused of sexual abuse of minors
- to review Diocesan policies on the sexual abuse of minors
- to advise the Bishop, as requested, on all aspects of his response to these cases, whether retrospectively or prospectively
Note: the Review Board is not investigatory; rather it evaluates evidence presented by the investigator and offers advice to the Bishop. Bishop Conley has also asked their counsel in responding to allegations that do not involve minors.
It is specifically mandated by the Charter that the majority of members be lay people not in the employee of the Archdiocese. It is recommended that review board members include representation from professions such as: law enforcement, judiciary, health care providers, mental health practitioners, attorneys, counselors, etc. The current membership of the Review Board is: Greg Baumann, St. Wenceslaus, Wilber - Former Magistrate Judge to the Nebraska Supreme Court; Holly Burns, St. Michael, Lincoln- Mental Health Practicioner; Debi Crotty, St. Joseph, Auburn; Jodi Gabel, St. Mary, Denton - Social worker, professor; Manuel Gallardo, Cathedral of the Risen Christ, Lincoln - Former police; Harold LeGrande, St. Peter Parish, Lincoln; Marcy Overcash, St. Joseph, Lincoln - background in laws and nursing; Msgr. Robert Tucker, St. Vincent De Paul, Seward.
Note how the role of the Task Force went beyond that of the Review Board; as the Task Force also examines allegations not only against clergy but all diocesan personnel, and not only allegations of sexual abuse of a minor but also non-consensual contact with an adult. It also was given the authority to investigate and collect additional information it thought necessary.
What is the hotline for reporting misconduct?
The first step in the report of any crime or suspected crime is to call law enforcement. Nebraska law requires all suspicions of child abuse or neglect to be reported to law enforcement or DHHS (Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-652-1999).
The purpose of the anonymous Reporting Hotline and Website, from the nationally known company NAVEX Global, is to assist persons in making reports to Diocese of Lincoln of any misconduct involving diocesan personnel. This hotline is not a substitute or alternative to calling law enforcement; it is intended to offer an additional opportunity to make sure any wrong in the Church is uncovered and reported. It provides a way for employees, volunteers, parishioners, and other interested parties to report financial misconduct, code of conduct violations, or internal control concerns, and makes it easier for victims and others to come forward and to be anonymous if they wish.
The Misconduct Reporting Hotline and Website allows for all kinds of concerns and complaints – of sexual misconduct, boundary violations, suspicious behavior, financial impropriety or any other potential wrongs – to be brought out into the open. Bishop Conley encourages people to report anything that make them uncomfortable, even if they may not be crimes or constitute “abuse.” You are encouraged to submit reports relating to violations of the diocese's Adult and Youth Protocols.
The Misconduct Hotline is: 1-844-527-0596 (English and Spanish) or Reporting Website: lincolndiocese.ethicspoint.com.
What is the investigation by the Nebraska Attorney General?
The Nebraska Attorney General is conducting a state-wide investigation of all three Catholic dioceses in Nebraska. The Diocese values the efforts of law enforcement in holding those that have committed crimes accountable. The Diocese has fully cooperated with the Attorney General and will continue to do so.
The Diocese encourages all victims of abuse to report their abuse to the Attorney General, local law enforcement or the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services Adult & Child Abuse & Neglect Hotline at 1-800-652-1999.
Bishop Conley has pledged his cooperation with the investigation of the Attorney General and directed all diocesan staff to do the same. The investigation of the Attorney General has nothing to do with the independent Task Force: the Attorney General is conducting his own investigation, while the diocesan Task Force was created to advise the Bishop and diocese.