by Cara Gardner and Joel Smith

Bad News for Bishops -- WASHINGTON, D.C. - According to an independent audit of sex abuse-prevention policies in American dioceses, released by the U.S. bishops' conference last Friday, the Catholic church received 1,092 new abuse claims against American priests in 2004. The report also states that the church has shelled out at least $840 million to victims of abuse since 1950.

Church leaders are downplaying that 1,092 figure, saying that most of those new claims are for incidents decades old and that nearly three quarters of the 756 clerics accused are now either dead or out of public service.

The audit was conducted by a private firm, largely composed of former FBI agents, which criss-crossed the country to check on compliance to church abuse policies. The result? Almost all of America's 195 dioceses are in full compliance. One (in Nebraska) refused to participate, and four (in Vermont, California, West Virginia and Ohio) were deemed out of compliance.

Spokane Bishop William Skylstad, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, when asked in an Associated Press story whether bishops have taken adequate steps to hold each other accountable for abuse, called it a "complex issue," saying that the Pope alone is responsible for the discipline of bishops.

Skylstad added, "I can't second-guess the individual decisions of bishops."

Later in the week, David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), sent out a veritable manifesto to the press, highlighting some of the facts and findings in the bishops' audit that the church wasn't too quick to point out.

The report points out that less than a third of the dioceses have completed background checks for personnel, meaning "three years after the crisis erupted, a convicted molestor might still be working in two-thirds of the America's dioceses." It also states that 2,801 priests in America have not undergone background checks, and that last year "church officials spent five times more money on their lawyers than on therapy for the more than 11,000 acknowledged victims." -- Joel Smith

Tin Can Technology -- SPOKANE - Remember when The Oregon Trail computer game was considered the "latest" technology used in public schools? Thanks to a $1.2 million grant awarded to TINCAN, The Inland Northwest Community Access Network, teachers in Stevens, Ferry, Pend Oreille and North Spokane counties will receive training on how to integrate up-to-date technology into the curriculum. This means students in environmental sciences will be able to learn about wildfires by mapping fuel load and wind patterns, simulate wildfires on their computers and even be tested based on their ability to contain the fire using real strategies.

The National Science Foundation awarded the grant to Karen Michaelson, TINCAN's executive director (who is featured in this week's Women in Business coverage). She will work with secondary school teachers throughout the region to implement geographic information systems, modeling and simulation and computer game development into existing programs. -- Cara Gardner

Smoke Out -- SPOKANE -- There are currently nine bills regarding limiting or eliminating smoking in public spaces in different phases of the Washington state legislative process. But the Spokane Regional Health District isn't waiting for the law to change.

SRHD has launched a campaign to encourage people to visit smoke-free public places. It is distributing a Smoke-free Dining Guide with coupons and information about smoke-free establishments in the region. In addition, the Health District is offering free classes and Quit Kits to smokers who are willing to quit.

The Nicotine Replacement Therapy Program is open to all Washington residents between 18 and 29 years of age. The Health Department is specifically targeting this group because it accounts for more than 30 percent of tobacco users in the state, and 18- to 29-year-olds are the most likely to be without a health care plan that covers the cost of nicotine patches or other medications. The program gives participants counseling, nicotine patches and gum and has specialists available by phone seven days a week. -- Cara Gardner

To enroll in the free Nicotine Replacement Therapy Program, call (877) 270-STOP (7867) or visit for more information. To order a Smoke-free Dining Guide, call 324-1553.

Publication date: 2/24/05

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