In photo above, three members of the Diocese of Sacramento's Independent Review Board are, left to right: Michelle Mills, Lindsay Lopez and Jan Scully Royse, chair.
Jan Scully Royse, who retired in 2014 after serving 20 years as Sacramento County District Attorney, chairs the Diocese of Sacramento’s Independent Review Board (IRB). She says her role is to ensure the board functions as an independent and consultative body to Bishop Jaime Soto, primarily with respect to cases involving allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by diocesan clergy.
Scully Royse, who has chaired the IRB for the past year and been a member for two years, says with respect to any such case referred to the board, it’s her job to facilitate board discussions in assessing the information and evidence presented, and determining whether the allegation is credible or not. Her goal is to ensure each board member’s views are heard and considered, and that any determination by the board as a whole is based on credible evidence and free of any bias.
Also in her capacity as chair, Scully Royse represents the IRB in communicating directly with Bishop Soto any and all recommendations regarding whether or not an allegation is credible.
“I am so honored to be part of the IRB,” she notes. “We bring a lot of diversity to our discussions in every possible way – personally, professionally, ethnically and culturally. The bishop respects the independent nature of the board. He leaves it to us to discuss cases and make our own determinations, and then forward them to him by way of recommendations. He respects the process and my job is to make sure the process is fair and just.”
Scully Royse’s 36-year career with the county, first as deputy district attorney, and then as a supervising attorney of various prosecution teams (including adult sexual assault, sexual assault, felony trials and child abuse), proved her devotion to pursuing justice for victims. She led numerous councils and committees involving the community. She believes her background and experience have ingrained in her an appreciation for precedent, proof and fairness for all.
Since 2002, the diocese has had an Independent Review Board to assess allegations of sexual abuse. The IRB is mandated by Article 2 of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The majority of the members are laypersons not employed by the diocese, to ensure the board’s independent nature. Members assist Bishop Soto by assessing allegations of sexual abuse of minors and fitness for ministry of clergy.
The board also reviews and updates the diocese’s policies and procedures for dealing with sexual abuse. The board can act both retrospectively and prospectively on sexual abuse cases and can give advice on all aspects of the responses required. Scully Royse is the fourth chair of the IRB since it was established, with Judges Talmadge Jones, Robert Puglia and Raul Ramirez preceding her.
Scully Royse is one of 10 members who comprise the IRB, which includes people of diverse professional backgrounds and occupations – from the judiciary, law enforcement, mental health, education, social work, psychiatry and children’s services. Eight of the 10 members are laypersons; two are clergy or religious. In addition to Scully Royse, members are Martha Geiger, Mercy Sister Eileen Enright, Jason Isacson, Jimmy Lago, Lindsay Lopez, Jessica Mays, Michelle Mills and Joseph Sison and Father Tom Bland (who concluded his service January 2023),
“As a collective group, we bring a wealth of expertise and talent to the table,” she says. “This group has credibility and integrity, and a good reputation for trying to make the most responsible and ethically-based decisions.”
Michelle Mills, a member of St. Mary Parish in Sacramento for the past 40 years, has served on the board for two years. For nine years she worked in Sacramento County’s Child Protective Services, including the management of caseloads from foster home licensing to family reunification and permanency services. In her work, she guided and assisted children through the child welfare system and served as a resource contact for foster parents caring for children and youth with special needs.
She volunteers extensively in many ministries in her parish, and is a certified spiritual director with a master’s degree in culture and spirituality from Holy Names University in Oakland.
Mills’ professional work in child protection and intervention inspired her to serve on the board so that she could bring her knowledge to help the local Church continue to respond to the clergy sexual abuse crisis from moral and legal perspectives.
The clergy sex abuse crisis and protecting children justifiably have a place of importance among church leaders, laity and religious, she notes. “It is painful to hear about sexual abuse going on, and keeping children safe and preventing the victimization of children by clergy and church workers -- who should be trustworthy above most people -- is paramount for our diocese. I am concerned about what happens to victims – what we do for them – and what is fair to the alleged perpetrator.”
“We have a difficult line to walk,” she adds. “First and foremost, children must always be protected. We also are mindful that the great majority of priests are good men who are trying to do God’s work. Any time there is an accusation against someone, there has to be a weighing of both sides, and sometimes that is difficult. I know I agonize over making these recommendations.”
As a Catholic, “my faith goes with me everywhere,” Michelle notes. “Whatever I am doing, it is such a central part of who I am and affects everything I do. In our deliberations, faith is never far from our minds. It’s definitely a huge part of what I bring to the table and I believe it is for the other IRB members as well. It’s not only our faith we bring, but also our love of the Church and our desire to protect vulnerable members of the Church.”
The diocese needs to be “in constant communication with the faithful about safe environment and child protection measures,” she concludes. “I hope that the faithful understand that so much is being done to keep children safe and the Church healthy and vibrant.”
IRB member Lindsay Lopez, a longtime member of St. John Vianney Parish in Rancho Cordova, worked as a licensed clinical social worker for a decade within school, correctional, foster care, and hospital systems. She also served as clinical director for a hospital in Sacramento, working with the mentally ill and their families.
Lopez, who is beginning her second year on the board, says she feels inspired by her service, noting “serving the Church and serving a higher power is certainly rewarding and purposeful. We all are using some of the talents that God has given us during a trying time for our Church.”
“To bring my professional strengths to the board, as well as my experience and my faith, and to participate in these discussions, does keep your moral compass in line,” she notes. “Often when people think about the clergy sex abuse scandal, they think of the worst parts of the crisis, but are not always thinking of the many steps that have been taken by church leaders and personnel to correct, remedy and heal the situation. Our diocesan policies are well thought out and implemented, and are of benefit to the general community.”