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Research Update – July 2015

On July 13, 2015, cover letters were sent to 240 clergymen serving the three Catholic dioceses in the western and northern regions of Wisconsin. The letter briefly described the project, “The purpose of the questionnaire is to ask you about your perceptions and opinions of the allegations of sexual abuse that were directed towards the Church within the past 10-15 years,” and the respondents’ thoughts about the effectiveness of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in keeping minors safe. Standard language about the voluntariness of participation and maintaining confidentiality of the participants also was included; this information is expanded upon in the Informed Consent that will be mailed with the survey in approximately 10 days.

Today, July 16, 2015, I placed the order for the Informed Consent and Surveys from University Printing Services at UWEC. In addition to expanding the voluntariness and confidentiality sections, the Informed Consent also discusses the risks and benefits for the respondents. Members of the IRB at UWEC, especially Chair Axelrod, were very helpful in making suggestions for this section. Initial concerns that the IRB raised focused on my ability to identify participants based on certain responses. To assuage these concerns, the following language was added to the Informed Consent, “There are no identifiers on the survey, though some demographic questions may have the potential for indirect identification. I will not know who returns surveys and I have no interest in connecting responses to specific individuals.” Additionally, Chair Axelrod wrote the following, “The IRB concluded that you are required by law to contact Wisconsin Child Protective Services should details of sexual abuse of a minor (or suspected sexual abuse of a minor) be reported by a subject…The IRB would like your thoughts on this issue, including whether language in the Informed Consent form should state that should a subject identify himself or someone else, by name, that suggests some abuse of a minor, that you, as the researcher, are obligated to report the incident to Child Protective Services.”

After thinking about that question, I decided to add language to the Informed Consent detailing my obligation to report instances of sexual abuse of a minor to Child Protective Services. The language that I added is direct, but I tried to word it in a way that would not cause somebody to not reply. This section of the Informed Consent reads, “Please keep in mind that the Institutional Review Board at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire has concluded that I am required by law to contact Wisconsin Child Protective Services if details of sexual abuse (or suspected sexual abuse) of a minor is reported by a participant in this research, though no survey questions ask about specific instances of abuse.”

We have another project on the horizon. As I’ve written on multiple occasions, UWEC is renowned for the faculty-student research opportunities that are available for undergraduate students. Annually, the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at UWEC offers the Student-Faculty Research Collaboration grant opportunity; first call for proposals was due yesterday, July 15. Along with one of the Criminal Justice Program’s top students, I hope to retrospectively analyze content from the files of accused priests in the Diocese of Joliet in Illinois. This analysis will mirror prior research that the Clergy Abuse Research Consortium has conducted on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and with another entity (unnamed because the manuscript is under review).

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